Networking is simply getting the right message, to the right person at the right time. Fundamentally, networking is about knowing who’s who and having relationships characterized by superior access and credibility. Regarding who’s who, the entry level requirement can be summarized by the following three questions:
- Which people will be involved in the buying decision?
- What’s the importance of the role each will play – is Lee Baker the key decision maker or simply a minor influencer?
- What are the players’ opinions of your company – are they internal champions, adversaries or do they have a neutral position?
If the answer to these questions is in doubt, then the doubt must be removed.
Everyone knows it, some because of experience and some by a leap of faith. A big piece of successfully getting to the right person, at the right time, with the right message is about sales fundamentals. Four sales fundamentals worthy of highlighting are:
- If you don’t know – don’t pretend
- Do what you say you are going to do
- Own up to problems and mistakes
- Appreciate the arts of discretion and timing
The thing about the fundamentals is not the knowing – it’s the doing. The key, for example, to: “do what you say you are going to do” is consistently and reliably delivering on that promise day in – day out.
In addition to knowing the answers to some key “who’s-who” questions and the knowing the fundamentals, there are some other best practices for successfully networking in a complex sales environment. Three desire particular attention.
- It useful to separate business issues from relationship problems. Relationship problems stem from past mistakes, misperceptions, poor communication, or lack of understanding – a better business deal won‘t help. For example, frustrations can run high if you fail to deliver on a promise. A concession on price is unlikely to resolve such a fundamental communication problem; it may even make it worse. Instead, one might search for ways for all parties to “vent” their frustrations as a first step towards addressing the situation.
- In most complex sales there is some lack of disagreement around at least one issue that is important to both parties. On the other hand, there is all most always some common ground around another item – the customer wants something that you can provide or appreciates something you have done. So leverage the common ground to build the relationship and to provide a foundation for addressing unresolved issues.
- Be upfront about “showstoppers.” Showstoppers are constraints where, due to some legal, regulatory, or fundamental company policy reason; there is no room for discussion. The key is to get these issues on the table. Top performers share showstoppers early, and equally as important, they help the other party do the same. By sharing these constraints, you can reset expectations and avoid surprises that will probably look like a trick to the customer.
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