When I started my business in June of 2010, my mentor Maria gave me two pieces of advice. The first is always do what you say you’re going to do and the second is to recognize that everyone is a potential customer.
I have the first piece of advice nailed - so much that it permeates every aspect of my business and personal life. But, I wrestled with that second piece of advice. While everyone might be a potential customer, I did not have unlimited time to spend on the sales process. This is most prevalent in the myriad of inquiries I receive from prospective clients. It seems nearly every business has an interest in social media but few know their target audience, their goals, and are prepared to commit to relationship marketing for the long-haul. Ultimately, I spend a lot of time learning and educating.
As you can imagine, this process is time consuming and can often lead to a dead end. I experimented with a number of tactics over the years to help guard my time including hiring people to help with development, pre-qualifying prospects through a series of online intake forms, and instituting consultation fees.
What I found is that I’m the best person to sell my business, a pre-qualification process for my type of business is better in theory than in practice, and that consultation fees can alienate and even insult potential clients.
It’s said that experience is the best teacher and in this case, I think that’s accurate. If I’ve mastered any lesson in business, it’s this: you are your brand. You’re always representing your business and yourself. It’s important to put your best foot forward because you just never know where your next customer will come from.
Here’s another lesson: building trust and loyalty are essential. A prospect call may be many things, but to me, it is not a dog and pony show. It is not the time to sell something that’s not needed or wanted.
It is the time to ask the right questions and to listen. It is the time to be honest about what I can do - and what I can’t. And even if I spend an hour to discover that a prospect is not an ideal fit, I am better positioned for something you can’t put a price tag on... and that’s trust.
Whether a prospect hires me is irrelevant. But if they part that call with trust, the possibilities are endless. They could subscribe to my blog, become a loyal reader, and eventually share my blog to their community. Who knows? Someone from their community could be my next ideal client. They could tell someone about me - perhaps their spouse, a friend or a colleague. That referral could lead to a strategic partnership that could grow my business.
Trust is the commodity of the information age. People are tired of being sold to even more tired of buying things they don’t need. The standard I hold for myself and the people I choose to work with relies on the answer to this question: if everyone is a potential customer, what would ‘everyone’ say about you?