March 3rd, 2008 11:01 EST
People Do Business with People They Like
Bonding with Your CustomersI provide high-level strategic advisory services for my clients. I also help them raise capital, find debt, and help them organize sales forces, as well as sometimes helping them to close their really big transactions. Even though I'm a service provider and I work heavily on the equity side, meaning that I like to participate in the up-side of companies, I think of myself in a way that other service providers frequently find embarrassing.
I take great pride in thinking of myself as a salesman. At the end of the day, the best lawyers, attorneys, accountants, investment bankers, engineers, architects and others who sell services for a living have to get the person on the other side of the table to say "yes" and get them to want to acquire the services of the service provider.
From a very early age in my career, I found that I was very good at getting clients to say yes. Whether it's clients for my strategic services or investors who put dollars into deals, the process is the same. Getting clients to want to do business with you is an art form that most people need to take a lesson on.
This week I had one of the great experiences of my career. I was meeting with a new company that had been referred to me by one of my finance friends. This company is in the lighting business and they've been stuck at a modest level of sales for a couple of years now. The reason that they're stuck is not because they don't have the ability to sell more of their excellent products; but rather, they're in a catch-22 where they need more capital to make more sales. But, in order to get more capital, the investors want to see more sales. They haven't been able to crack the code on solving this dilemma.
I agreed to meet with this company because solving these kinds of dilemmas is one of my special skills. I showed up at the office of the company, which is in my city of Los Angeles, and met with the CFO to discuss business matters for about half an hour. At the end of that period of time, we went down the hall to see if the CEO was back from his morning appointment. The gentleman was not yet back, but we were standing in the lobby of the office building in front of the cubby hole that held the mail for each person who worked at the company. I happened to look in the mailbox of the CEO and noticed a special kind of lighter. This lighter, I recognized immediately, was the kind of lighter that a cigar smoker uses to light a large stogie. I asked the CFO if the CEO smoked cigars and he confirmed that he did.
Ten minutes later the CEO arrived and we began our appointment as scheduled. As we walked into the CEO's office, I waited for him to enter first. Once he entered the office I stood in front of the chair that he had offered me. I didn't sit down, however. I just stood and looked around his office. It's always my habit to look around someone's office and see what kinds of gadgets and goodies they have that might be objects of discussion so that we can find something in common to begin the discussion. The CEO asked me to sit down and I told him that I was not quite ready to sit down and he asked why. I said, "Because I'm looking for the humidor in the office."
He looked at me with a smile and asked if I smoked cigars and I told him that I did. He walked into the corner and took something off his bookshelf that was irregularly shaped. He opened the lid and, to my surprise, it was a humidor that contained a significant stash of Cuban cigars. He took out one of those cigars and handed it to me. I started to put the cigar in my pocket and he said, "That's not for you to put in your pocket. It's for us to smoke right now."
He took one out for himself, opened the window in his office, and we fired up the cigars right on the spot. It was the first time in my whole career that such a thing had happened. We bonded immediately and we spent a lot of time together. And he got a lot of free advice, by the way, for the price of an excellent cigar!
The lesson is not to start smoking cigars, but instead the lesson is to find common ground with people who you want to work with-- because there's always somebody who renders a similar service to you. You may be better at it than some other people, but at the end of the day, there's always somebody who can say that they compete with you.
People select the people who they work with based on, in part, how much they like that person. And when you find something in common with them, such as cigars, boating, skiing, tennis, golf or anything else you like, then you immediately create a bond that's of great value. Think about this: If you find people who are from your hometown in another part of the country, aren't you likely to immediately have a lot in common with that person and to begin opening up with them in a way that would create great friendship and foster mutual commonality? Of course, that's the nature of bonding.
So, as you are working hard every day to build your company, or as you're building your career, remember first and foremost, even though you're an entrepreneur who renders services, produces products or manufactures something, at the end of the day you're a sales person. At the end of the day your organization is a sales organization. It's a very rare situation where a company does not have to be concerned about their sales and marketing. And as long as that's the case, make sure that your great concern is always about finding common ground with people who you want to do business with, because finding common ground is what's going to make it possible for you to move the ball forward while others are sitting on the bench.
About Joel G. BlockOften dubbed a "Growth Architect" by his clients, Joel Block advises companies on explosive growth strategies by driving revenue and sales. Well known in the capital markets, Joel is a successful entrepreneur, speaker and advisor. To bring Joel into your company, please visit www.joelblock.com or www.growth-logic.com.