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Client Relationships: Don’t Treat Me Like a Vendor and I Won’t Treat You Like a Prospect

Sharon Gillenwater
by Sharon Gillenwater on Mar 27, 2017 10:15:26 AM

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There is a lot of thought-provoking content on Twitter about client relationships. This simple but profound tweet by Databox CEO Peter Caputa for example, really got me thinking

The first thing that occurred to me is that I empathize with both sides—buyers and sellers—because I currently hold both of these roles at Boardroom Insiders. As the company founder, I help sell our offering to prospects. But I also approve the purchase of all kinds of services and technologies to run our business.

There is a lot of cynicism on both sides, for sure.

When I wear my sales hat, I see many tire kickers who don’t have any budget who are looking for free stuff. Once they get it they disappear—until they need more free stuff.

Then there are the people who want to buy but they want to do it without ever talking to us—even though a conversation about what they are trying to accomplish would help us deliver something even more valuable.

On the other hand, when I wear my prospect hat, I feel under siege. Now that sales pitches are easily automated and enabled by software in the cloud, the volume of them—whether by email, phone or social media—has exploded. And despite all the talk about personalization and Account Based Marketing(ABM), the ease with which these campaigns can be deployed means that we are all on the receiving end of tons of non-relevant stuff.

But that’s just me. We also wanted to hear what Caputa was thinking when he pushed out this tweet, so we went right to the source. Caputa, who recently spent nine years at Hubspot, has been in sales management for a good 20 years. At Databox, he’s now doing most of the sales himself.

As it turned out, Caputa is experiencing the same challenges that many of us are when it comes to engaging prospects.

“They’re basically treating the experience transactionally."

"And, another thing that bugs me is that they think they know what they need without having a dialogue about it. Doing that is important. I think they miss out on the opportunity to learn from a salesperson.”

How ironic. It turns out that the very thing experts lecture salespeople against—treating sales as merely transactional—is something salespeople encounter from customers, too. And it frustrates them.

“Buyers should assume that vendors have helped buyers in that situation more than the buyer has been in the situation,” said Caputa.

“Don’t assume you know everything about what you need. Come in with an open mind and consider new possibilities. Collaborate on a plan.”

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Caputa says that buyers have an opportunity to leverage vendors like paid consultants. That makes sense to me. For all that organizations spend on consultants, a knowledgeable, experienced salesperson can bring a lot of value and expertise to the table—even bringing in other subject matter experts to help you rethink the solution to your problems.

But unfortunately, most salespeople do not take this sophisticated approach, which is why buyers become cagey and jaded and hide from us.

The onus is on the salesperson to stop this non-productive cycle by demonstrating relevance to the prospect from the first outreach. Typically one does this by learning a little about the prospect and speaking to their priorities in your first communication.

For example, “I read today that your company is going to be focusing on X for the next 12 months. We successfully worked with [name their competitor] on a similar initiative. Would it interest you to learn more?” These types of communications are far more likely to get a “bite” than a generic email touting your product benefits.

Caputa concurs. “When selling to a larger company it makes sense to do your research to learn what their priorities are,” he said.

“When selling to smaller businesses you won’t find as much information about them, but you should still look at their website and other things they’ve published to see what issues or priorities they might have.”

As a salesperson—when selling to companies both large and small—it’s important to know how to respectfully bring up larger issues. Says Caputa, “I’m looking for people who are open to collaboration. I think there are respectful ways to let prospects know it’s important to have a conversation about larger problems.”

For example, he suggests asking something like, “While I can certainly help you work through your quote request, if I could help you in other ways would you want to know about it?”

What Caputa is saying here really aligns with my experience. Transactions come and go. But whether buying or selling, my most successful professional relationships have been collaborative, long-term, and focused on solving real business problems.

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Sharon Gillenwater
Written by Sharon Gillenwater
Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

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