Archive for May, 2010

It’s Who You Know…

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Paul Harvey announced Meridian Mississippi was the hottest place in America that August day. But as a sales and marketing rep attempting to develop new business, it felt like the coldest place in the world!

It was my first year working for Dale Carnegie Training.  My job was to sell local businesses on a $1000 per person, night class.  The price, along with the 14 week class schedule, had created a numbing series of setbacks that day.  People who last week said they would “think about it”, were now screening my calls.  Getting the put off was worse than getting a “NO”.  This was beginning to get depressing.

If only I knew more people. Was it any wonder why strangers wouldn’t enroll in my class?  After all, I was asking for a significant investment of their time and money.  They had no assurance I would be able to deliver that which I was so enthusiastically attempting to sell.

It was time for lunch, but I wasn’t in the mood to eat.  So, I hustled back to the office in hopes that at least one person in town had returned my call. The single message was from Jimmy Kemp, who at the time was the mayor of Meridian.  I had never met the mayor but he had to be a decision maker. I hustled over to his office in hopes of catching him.

Out of breath from taking the stairs two at a time, I found myself in the mayor’s office. If nothing else, I discovered one more way for getting past the gate keeper by showing up after the receptionist had gone to lunch!  The name plate on his desk told me I was in the right office. The bust of Harry Truman with the quote, “The Buck Stops Here!” told me something about the man.

Realizing my presence, he whirled around from where he was standing behind his desk. Wonderful!  I had made a great first impression by interrupting his phone call.  With a scowl on his face, he mouthed the question, “who are you?”  I mouthed back, “Dale Carnegie”. He winked his acknowledgement and held up his finger indicating I should wait.

He hung up the phone and looked at me with a slight smile. Nervously, I launched into my rehearsed lines. Fifteen seconds into it, he raised his hand indicating he had heard enough!  He asked three questions. 1. “When do your classes start?” 2. “Do you conduct in-house classes?” 3. “Can you meet me at 3 PM tomorrow to discuss the details?”  I answered each question in succession, agreed to the appointment, and then thought it best that I leave.

Then he asked a series of questions that changed my entire outlook on selling! “Have you been over to see Dudley Gilmore at Allied Systems?  Well you should. He inquired about your courses when I saw him at Rotary on Tuesday.  What about Kathy Wright?  She is the human resources director over all the McDonalds around here.  And I’d suggest you meet with Hardy Graham at the Meridian Coca-Cola Bottling plant. He’s a busy guy, but if you will follow me over to the industrial park for a ribbon cutting in 15 minutes, I’ll introduce you.”

In the matter of 3 minutes, I went from no appointments, no prospects and little hope, to having the mayor introduce me to some of the most prominent business people in the community!  But here’s the most important question of all; what were the ingredients that made this extraordinary opportunity happen and how could I recreate this scenario in order to create business? 

Here’s what happened.  Jimmy Kemp had already decided he was interested in our services before I ever showed up.  In fact, at that time, his belief in my services was probably stronger than mine.  He recognized the challenges I was facing as an outsider in a new town.  He also believed in my objective of helping build leaders in his community, therefore, he opened some doors for me.  Many of he people he referred me to bought my services and I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my professional life.  Here they are.

  1. It’s who you know.  Building important relationships is critical to business success.  People believe what others say about you, not what you say to promote yourself.  Take a sincere interest in others and those aspects of life which are important to them. Find common interests.  Ask “open ended questions”; questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no in order to get the conversation started. I.e.”Where are you from?” “How did you get started in your business?” “What are your thoughts on the recent changes in your industry?”  
  2. It’s what you know.  Business development is more about asking the right questions and less about convincing people you have all the answers. Every business competing in the same industry is facing many of the same problems.  If you know what these are, asking “questions of implication” gets their attention, builds your creditability and creates interest in you and your suggestions. For example, “If the new legislation passes regarding proposed safety requirements, how will this impact your cost of doing business? How important is it for you to beat your competition to the punch in making these improvements?  What advantages are there to begin these improvements now instead of waiting for what industry experts are saying is inevitable?”
  3. It’s what you believe.  One of the most frequently asked questions posed to me as a business coach is, “what do I say when they say…?” There are many people in business development who think it’s about technique. It’s less about technique and more about what you believe. The higher you reach up on the ladder of decision makers, more often than not, you will come face to face with many who have the ability to see through technique.  They recognize and are looking for those who believe in themselves, their products and services and their purpose.  What do you believe about your company, your team and your product’s ability to get results for the clients you give your word to?  What do you believe about yourself, your skills and your ability to generate results, consistently?  These are the tough questions we must answer each day.  Yes, you can build belief.
  4. It’s who you are.  When people introduce themselves to others, they typically say their name and profession. No big deal, right?  However, people form opinions based on what you say and how you say it as related to experiences in their past. In processing information, people tend to pigeonhole your response by relating what you say, to something they are familiar with.  For example, since you probably don’t know the positive or negative experiences they have had with others in your profession, it is better to talk about the results you can create for them vs. hoping they have had great experiences with others in your line of work.  Otherwise, you may be creating barriers in your relationship caused by the problems they have had in the past with losers or charlatans! At the very least, they may have become confused based on the inaccurate information they received from your competitors. 

In Biblical times, people identified themselves by their given or first name followed by the person’s father’s Hebrew name. The reputation of the older is bestowed on the younger.  When a child is formally named, it is common practice to explain who the child was named for, why the child was named for that person, and what qualities of that person the parents would like to see perpetuated in the child. This is also a way of honoring the one who has lived his or her life in a way that honors and esteems the family and their name.

My friend, Michael Pink, of Selling Among Wolves fame, knows who he is.  He gets his identity from his Father and Michael is diligent in his efforts to honor and esteem Jesus the Son and God the Father.  I will testify this is true because I have spent much time with Michael. For the better part of a year, we worked shoulder to shoulder.  As a result, I can say with reasonable certainty, the parameters Michael will use in making important decisions.  I’m not saying I can predict every decision Michael will make.  I am saying that I can trust Michael to make his decisions along of the lines of that which will honor his Father. This builds TRUST (To Rest Upon a Sure Thing) in our relationship to the point that I am not only willing, but I am motivated to tell others about him and our Father.

As we all move forward with our lives in an effort to live life to its fullest, I hope these words will be of encouragement and guidance to you.