When Asking for Advice Is Better Than Asking for the Order
When I owned my business in Minneapolis, I loved operations and customer service, but I knew I needed to spend time on sales efforts, bringing in some nice-sized accounts to help the bottom line.
Every year, I took on the duty of targeting and ultimately winning five new accounts that were “top 10 worthy.”
This was not easy for me because I was not a natural salesman. I also wasn’t a big fan of being sold to, which meant I had a rough time making the hard sell to others. And I could burn through my staple of “printer-guy geek knowledge” in under a minute, leaving plenty of time for dead air and uncomfortable glances, if I allowed those to happen.
I was targeting big agencies and consulting, financial and marketing firms. To attract the type of projects I felt were possible, I needed to talk to C-level leaders. They were highly unlikely to respond to cold calling.
My approach? Instead of contacting them about something I wanted to sell, I would reach out to them for their professional advice. I’d contact them as a successful small business owner who was evaluating future investments in growing our company. I’d ask them to lunch for the specific purpose of learning how they grew their company and/or what areas of growth or trends did they feel I should consider when expanding.
The conversation would often expand to include what was happening in each of our organizations, including recent company announcements or industry changes. This gave me a great opportunity to not only build rapport, but also get to know more about their organization.
This was in the pre-LinkedIn era (but well past the "Mad Men" days), so the lunch meetings were a great way to expand my network of influencers. After the lunch, I always followed up with a hand-written thank you note. More often than not, I received referrals or a request to present to their teams so we could learn more about each other, and often ended up working together.
It’s human nature to want to help others and provide insight when someone has a genuine request. Who doesn’t want to help or give advice when called? I now enjoy when I can be on the other side of the request and help others grow their business.
This strategy may seem old school, but I encourage you to try these types of meetings. I find in today’s world of 24/7 online connectivity, taking the path less followed can make a lasting impression and deliver serious results.
I’d love to hear your experiences at engaging C-Level leaders at your key prospects and client organizations. Drop me a note at email@example.com.
Kevin Cushing leads the Allegra, American Speedy Printing, Insty-Prints, KKP, Speedy Printing and Zippy Prints brands as president of Alliance Franchise Brands' Marketing and Print Division.
Alliance Franchise Brands LLC, the parent company of Allegra Network LLC and Sign and Graphics Operations LLC, is a world leader in marketing, visual and graphics communications, linking more than 600 locations in North America and the United Kingdom. The Marketing and Print Division is headquartered in Plymouth, Michigan. Franchise owners in this division offer one-stop marketing and print communications services. Its Sign and Graphics Division, headquartered in Middle River, Maryland, includes Image360, Signs By Tomorrow and Signs Now brands of sign, graphics and visual communications providers.
Cushing has owned and operated award-winning franchise locations, was inducted into Epicomm's Soderstrom Society, and was named Print CEO of the Year in 2011 when he served as CEO of AlphaGraphics Inc.