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Fatherly advice and 3 ‘Rs’ of sales

I love sales. It’s in my blood. My great-grandfather, William Brown, an Irish-born British citizen, left his home in England circa 1906 and opened a Crown Life Insurance agency in Havana. He instantly fell in love with Cuba and the Cuban people -- in particular, my great-grandmother, Amparo Rasco, whom everyone lovingly called Chicha. They had eight children, six girls and two boys, Fergie and Bobby, whom he recruited to sell insurance with him, and to whom he passed on his secret to building a successful career in sales: “Any fool can make a sale,” he said to them, “but it takes a true professional to earn repeat, referred and residual business.” These words would serve his sons well.

Together, Fergie and Bobby became a sales force to be reckoned with. Whether by car, boat or horseback, the Browns covered Cuba’s countryside selling insurance policies that would protect their clients’ families. Their work was meaningful to them, and the personal relationships they forged with many of their clients lasted a lifetime. They would go on to enjoy a successful 60-year career despite such debilitating setbacks as The Great Depression of the 1930s and being forced into exile in 1960, all the while attributing their extraordinary success and longevity to their father’s words of wisdom.

Research has proven that generating new business from repeat clients is both easier and more cost-effective than developing a new customer.

Additionally, I have found that my biggest sale with a customer usually isn’t the first one, but rather the second or third sale after I have earned that customer’s confidence. Consider these simple ideas for generating more repeat business from your existing client base:

n Be sure to deliver a quality product or service. Repeat business may be easier to generate than new business, but you still have to earn it.

n Communicate with your clients on a regular basis through personal visits, quick phone calls, e-mails or hand-written notes. Research the latest trends in their industry and ask how their business is doing. The key is to get in front of them and ask questions that will help you determine if their needs have changed since your last transaction.

n Send your clients reminders. Veterinarians send postcard reminders when it’s time for your pet’s check up. Mechanics place a sticker on your windshield reminding you when it’s time for an oil change. Every business with a recurring product or service offering can benefit from friendly reminders sent to existing clients.

Referrals are powerful because people prefer to do business with people they know. But asking for a referral can be difficult, or uncomfortable when you don’t know how or when to ask for them.

The easiest way to get referrals to start pouring in is to standardize the process:

n First, be sure you understand the value you create for others with your product or service. If you’re convinced of that, why wouldn’t you want to share that with as many people as possible?

n Start the referral process at the beginning of the sales transaction. I ask my customers on the front end if they would be willing to give me referrals if I do a great job for them. I’ve yet to receive a negative reply and it makes approaching my client with the request easier because we’ve already addressed it.

n Link the referral request to each transaction. You don’t have to wait for a specific event or moment to approach an existing client. Every recurring transaction offers an appropriate pretext to ask for referrals.

Residual sales are the result of understanding your customer’s needs beyond the original sale and facilitating the right products or services to meet those needs.

Every time you walk in to a gas station’s convenience store to pay for gas and walk out with a soda, you’ve added to their residual sales. In fact, every item in that store has been selected for its high residual potential among gas station patrons. Interestingly, the first gasoline station in the world was a pharmacy in Germany making gasoline itself a residual product. From maps and snacks in a gas station convenience store, to magazines and gum at the grocery checkout line, opportunities for residual sales abound. All we have to do is identify those opportunities for our own business.

During these challenging economic times, we’re all looking for ways to cut costs and increase revenue. Perhaps we should follow Fergie and Bobby’s example and put into practice Mr. Brown’s advice for success in sales. After all, father knows best.

Manny García-Tuñón, executive vice president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami, can be reached at