Personal Relationships and Sales: Why Proposals are never Enough

Who knew that Charles Barkley could hone his dramatic skills to reenact so skillfully one of the best cinematic scenes in history? Ok, so maybe that wasn’t Charles Barkley. Frank Caliendo is a comedian and professional impersonator who has made it big by interpreting some of our nation’s most well-known and beloved personalities. He is known mostly for impersonating sports personalities like the aforementioned Charles Barkley and John Madden, movie stars like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and even political figures like George W Bush.

Frank has made his career by being other people and that got me thinking, isn’t that what I do? As the Director of Business Development, don’t I make it my living to be what my prospects need me to be so that I can bring them into the fold? Is that what it is or what it should be?

No One Makes Decisions on Sales Proposals Alone

It would be a wonderful ideal to be judged purely on what I can offer to a client, but that doesn’t seem like a practical possibility. Is it possible, in the web world let alone another sales situation, to be judged solely on the proposal? For starters, no two web companies offer a straight apple-to-apple comparison. There are too many variables:

  • How many hours does it take to build something?
  • What technology will be used to build it?
  • What language will it be written in?
  • How much can company A accomplish in one hour vs. company B?

These are just a few of the questions that make it impractical to judge a proposal purely by what’s on the paper. All shopping cart and ecommerce systems are NOT equal. PHP is not .NET, nor is a WordPress site the same as an Orchard site. What if the client standardized all the technology, languages and structures? Could things be equal then? Unfortunately not, as not all programmers and developers are equal. Some work fast but make lots of mistakes; others the opposite. Some are great at catching the small detail and some aren’t. Judging proposals that are unequal in every way is a task that could make a Federal Court Justice blush; yet is a job left to every business owner.

A Lesson from Sandler Sales

During my years in Sandler Sales Training, it was reinforced many times over that “people buy from people they know, like and trust.” In order for someone to trust you, they must like you, and they can’t like you unless they actually know you. From this perspective, it is all about the relationships. It is incredibly difficult to judge between one proposal and another, which is why I have heard time after time that decisions like this are made because of trust in one party or another. Inevitably, people are going to go with the person or team they trust. This, in reality is the only option, because there is no way for an average web user to fully comprehend the specifics involved in building a website. Not only is the internet world a living, ever-changing industry, I have been working in it for over ten years now and still am learning new standards and practices!

That means (and is fully backed up by my experience over the last handful of years) making buying decisions requires a trusted relationship. That means I can’t just walk in the door to an office with the best web product or internet solution. That means I am being judged, not by the content of my proposal, but the color of my dress shirt.

The Practicality of Relationships in Sales Situations

While professional attire is important, I am not just talking about physical appearance either. Yes, we have to look professional and have a suitable deal for the company in our proposal, but we are best off if we have a personal relationship with our prospect. Take this example:

I recently was invited by a company to offer a proposal for internet marketing services. Our connection to this company was through a friendship that our CEO has with one of the employees there. It definitely helped me to get face time with the owner of the company, but I could tell over our phone conversations there will still a distance; disconnect. We, however, were confident in what we could offer their website and excited to present this proposal.

I am always looking to build relationships and friendships whenever possible, so I always plan to get to know people before pushing a proposal on them, especially in a face-to-face meeting. I figure a little bit of a new friendship is better than no relationship at all. What I would encounter at this meeting, though, caught me by surprise.

A few years earlier I had been doing a lot of business networking around Fort Myers and Naples. I was still new to town and looking to meet anyone who could help me connect in the community. While attending a very target focused, specific industry event (that, in hindsight, I probably should not have attended), I met a gentleman that was incredibly kind and friendly. We became buddies and would catch up and chat every month at that event. He helped me gain approval with other networkers there so I could gain their support. While I knew he would never be a prospect for me, I figured he was worth the time because I liked him…and he knew people that might make good clients. Years passed and my job responsibilities changed; over time we lost our connection and his company drifted to the recesses of my mind. Needless to say I was completely shocked when he walked into the office and I realized that it was that same friend who was now on the receiving end of my proposal!

That’s right; over a year-and-a-half after losing touch, I walked right into my friend’s office and sat down with him to discuss an internet marketing proposal. Even though we had both allowed business to get in the way of our connection, we still held mutual friendship and trust for each other, and that immediately changed the tone of the proposal meeting. All of a sudden I was working from a standpoint of trust and respect as opposed to caution and nerves. My words and advice now carried weight where otherwise they would have been taken with a grain of salt. The content of my proposal and the strength of my advice stayed the same, but it was the relationship that moved the conversation and gave me the perfect opportunity to close an amazing sale.

So, is the lesson from this that you can sell junk in a box as long as you have friends? No; they won’t be staying friends long if you offer junk from your business. However, if you work from a standpoint of honesty and integrity and allow the real you to show through your marketing and networking, intentionally working positive relationships with people in the community will certainly have an impact on your ability to close the sale. So, is this as it is or as it should be? I don’t believe it is plausible to walk into a sales situation and be completely objectively judged based on the merits of your proposal. There are just too many other variables in play. The relationship angle offers too many advantages (and can be done with integrity) to ignore.

Sales: As it is and Should Be

Yet do we become all things to all people? The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians discusses his method of bring the message to other people and cultures by saying this: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

He is not changing who he is at his core, but Paul makes a good argument here. Relating to the culture and people you are around is vital to gaining influence among them. This is all done through those relationships. Paul draws upon his personal experiences in the past to relate with the people he was around at different times. He put in the effort to learn who they were and reached them where they were at. This is a good lesson for everyone in sales. You need to listen, learn and relate to the people you want to sell to. I just wouldn’t walk around impersonating them.

Zach Katkin
Zach Katkin
Zach Katkin is the co-founder & CEO of Atilus. He is a Certified Google Professional, author, and lover of technology. He helps Atilus stay out ahead of online marketing trends and loves driving results for Atilus' clients.

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