Don’t wait until there is an obvious sale before engaging

Opportunistic sales are great. There is nothing better than a bluebird. An order dropping out of the sky. This however is no way to build a sales pipeline. If you sell complex products with long sales cycles then you need to constantly lay the ground work. You need to get out and meet prospects, talk to partners, talk to existing customers, drink a lot of coffee.

Yes, this takes time but it must be done. You never know when an opportunity will surface. You never know when a customer that you have a rapport with will be in charge of a large project. People move around, they change jobs, they get promoted. It is especially important to maintain relationships with past customers. How else can you find out about new projects? How else can you upsell additional products?

Relationship building is key to understanding the market, the drivers, the customer needs. It is also key to establishing yourself in the market as a trusted advisor, consultant and confidant. A relationship with someone may not lead to a direct sale, but it may lead to a recommendation, another relationship, a big opportunity, a new job.

Conversely, if someone feels slighted, short changed, a few coffees short of their due then they can become a powerful enemy. Even if you think there is no opportunity. Even if you know without a shadow of a doubt that you will get no business from them. Firstly, you’re probably wrong. Deals get resurrected. Competitors fail to deliver. Customers change their minds. Companies get acquired. Secondly, you’re discounting the power of their relationships. What if they are friendly with a potential customers CFO. The one that has sign off on a deal. What if they have the ear of the CIO, CTO or solution architect?

It is just as easy for a deal to get scuttled by a bad relationship as it is for one to be secured by a good relationship.

It may seem like there are better things to do but it doesn’t take much time. It can be as little as a quick phone call, an offer of coffee. Half an hour every 3 to 6 months. Not much at all. If you’re a sales person on commission this is why you get paid a base salary. To build relationships, to understand the market dynamics and ultimately to cultivate business in the longer term.

Views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer Oracle.

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