I have some unfinished business I need to take care of. It has to do with a column I wrote a while back, “The Three Rs of Sales,” based on the fatherly advice my great-grandfather, William Brown, offered his two sons, Fergie and Bobby, on building a successful career in sales.
“Any fool can make a sale,” he explained to them, “but it takes a true professional to earn repeat, referred and residual business.”
While no truer words have ever been spoken, and though I’m nowhere near the salesman the three Browns were, I find it’s necessary to follow up with a little bit of my own advice based on personal experience.
Without question, the Three Rs work like a charm. The salesman who truly understands and appreciates the importance of the Three Rs, and allows his actions to be guided by that awareness, will increase his sales more efficiently and effectively than the salesperson focused exclusively on developing new business from the ground up. The same is true for entire organizations.
But there’s also a potential, almost inherent, danger associated with the Three Rs -- with repeat business, in particular -- that stems from a sense of familiarity which, as the saying goes, can breed contempt. All too often, when companies and individuals hit a certain stride with repeat clients, they tend to put these relationships on autopilot, especially when their focus is averted by a global recession and the need to sign up new clients grows more intense with a heightened sense of urgency. Regardless of the economy, though, the risk of taking our foot off the pedal, even just a little, with repeat clients, and becoming a little too accustomed to a good thing, is part of our human nature. The key to avoiding this contempt I refer to, however, is simple and I’m dubbing it the Fourth R of sales: Reinvention.
Reinvention has long been a buzz word in business, and for good reason. Change is inevitable. Except for an organization’s core ideology, nothing stays the same. It can’t. We either reinvent ourselves or perish. It isn’t always an easy process. Often times reinvention is a forced reaction to an outside stimulus, but despite the pains associated with moving away from our comfort zones and changing our precious ways of doing things, the alternative is far worse. This is as true in business as it is in nature.
“Evolution” is the name we give reinvention in the natural world, and again, the concept is simple. Species that evolve to effectively respond to the changes in their environment survive. Those that don’t become extinct. Period.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. There’s a flipside to this difficult reality of life -- a kind of reward which Mother Nature, herself, bestows on those that persevere. Beyond survival, there’s magnificence. To be sure, the most remarkable qualities we find in nature are the result of this never ending process of reinvention. The same can be true for you and your organization. Your business may be focused on survival, but the result, you’ll find, will be far greater.
Being that change is often thrust upon us when we least expect it, here are some indicators to help us anticipate when the need for reinventing ourselves with our clients may be at hand. The more efficient you are at identifying those external factors that prompt the need for change, the more efficient (and less painful) the process will be.
Changes in the economy: Changes in the economy, for better or worse, affect your repeat clients as they do you and your organization. At a minimum, you should schedule biannual face-to-face meetings for the specific purpose of understanding how their business is being impacted by the economy, and reinvent yourself accordingly.
Changes in your client’s industry: Staying on top of the latest news and trends within your client’s industry is key to understanding their changing needs. Cut out and mail relevant articles along with a hand-written note, send an email with a link to a relevant blog or place a well-timed call when you come across something that will interest them, and reinvent yourself accordingly.
Changes in personnel: Turnaround is an inevitable reality of business. Your well-established contacts can retire, get fired, get promoted, or pass on.
Facilitating the transition in your relationship from one contact person to another is critical. You may have been doing business with a specific repeat client for decades, but if the purchasing manager you know is suddenly replaced with someone who doesn’t know you from Adam, you’re starting from scratch. Stay on top of changes in personnel within your client’s organization.
Manny García-Tuñón, executive vice president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.