My father was a top-notch salesman. He sold cars; first used cars, then new cars, then car fleets, then trucks, then truck fleets. He had a great reputation in his field and he worked till he was nearly 80 training other salesmen in his techniques.
And what were these amazing techniques? One stands out more than any other. My father banged on and on and on about the need to find common ground before anything else. From when I was quite young I remember him talking about the importance of common ground in creating a reason for people to talk to you. He really got it that it's 'you they buy'.
He didn't think of himself as selling cars; he thought of himself as making friends with people who might or might not buy a car from him at some point. People bought cars from him, then brought their children to buy cars from him and then their grandchildren. People trusted my father and I believe what made him a great salesman was that he wasn't invested in the sale; he was invested in the relationship.
On the other hand, I've met salespeople who talk nineteen to the dozen to get their spiel out in one breath and don't have a clue what common ground is; their goal is to sell, sell, sell.
Here's where my father's advice is invaluable: whether you are a clerk in a shop, an account manager, a real estate agent, wait staff, an insurance broker or indeed, even a car salesman, creating relationships is what will serve you in great stead. Focusing on the bond between you and the other person, even if during the smallest exchange, creates a climate where people are far more likely to buy, if not today, then some time in the future.
Think about it for a sec; if someone has treated you well in a shop, even if you go out empty handed, you are more likely to feel positive and well taken care of than if you feel pressured into buying something by someone trying to move the goods. You're more likely to recommend them to friends and colleagues and their 'brand' stays with you in a warm and fuzzy way.
What creates common ground? Some people are simply too uncomfortable with the thought that they have to probe or question the other person - they think it's intrusive and inappropriate. Or they feel they aren't good at 'small talk'. And in many cases, they're right.
Common ground doesn't have to be about discovering you both bake bread from scratch or have teenage children stretching your patience. It can be as simple as commenting on the weather, asking about someone's weekend; making a pleasant comment on their clothes or tone of voice (if on the phone). As soon as you bring something other than business into the conversation there are myriad opportunities to find little links which bring you closer together.
When we at Impact Factory talk about building business relationships, it's the first word that's key - building. Business relationships don't happen instantly; they have to be constructed step by step.
To get under the skin of any company you work with you have to start with the individuals with whom you are in 'relationship'. The better you know them and they know you, the easier it will be to create trust and for them to feel confident in your abilities to understand their organisation.
Not only that, common ground is a two-way street: not only do they feel more confident in you, you have created a bridge that makes you feel more comfortable dealing with them; you get more out of the relationship by making it more personal.
Start with common ground and you are on your way to creating the kind of business relationships that are there for the long term rather than the quick sale.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory