Follow Their Lead

No matter where in the business world you work, you’ve probably been to a gazillion workshops or trainings that talk about sales or networking and how best to build relationships and make sales. Now, I always find these things really interesting? curious? odd because the vast majority of the advice that I hear given over and over would have the exact opposite of the desired effect on me.

If I asked someone what they do for a living and they came back with a question trying to get me to admit I have a problem that they’re then going to say they solve for people just like me, I’m annoyed that they didn’t answer my question and plotting my escape route because I see the sales pitch coming. If they give some response about how they make entrepreneurs’ lives easier or happier by doing xyz amazing thing, I’m focusing all of my energy on not tuning them out and plotting my escape route. If they call me and leave a message because I never answer the phone, if I don’t recognize the number – there is a less than 1% chance I will call them back, no matter what they’re pitching. Yet, I have heard over and over and over and over again the advice that, when you’re introducing yourself, you should make yourself memorable by starting with a question or saying how you solve a problem. I’ve heard even more often that, in today’s tech-heavy world, a good old-fashioned phone call is the best way to build a relationship with people.

Here’s the thing though: even if that advice is true in general, it may be terrible advice for you to follow. Let’s say it’s been studied and calling someone on the phone has been shown to get higher response rates than email. Great. Who was doing the calling and who was receiving the calls in the study? If you don’t know that, you don’t know if this info is useful to you at all. Maybe 99% of people do prefer a phone call, but if your target customer is in that 1%, you’re hurting yourself, not helping yourself, by calling everyone on the phone trying to give a personal touch and make a connection. Some people blacklist anyone who insists on calling all of the time because we don’t find this “personal touch,” endearing; we find it incredibly annoying. If your personal touch strategy is getting you blacklisted with your potential investors or customers, you’re in trouble.

People always talk about the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have done onto you. If you’re trying to sell me something it matters what I want, not what you want; and you need to be careful about assuming those are the same thing. You may find someone who answers a question with a question memorable, be intrigued, and want to follow up. I find a person who answers a question with a question annoying and salesy and want to run in the other direction.

So, my take is that you should forget those rules about how and when you should contact people and what you should say. The most important rule is that you should follow the other person’s lead. How do you do that when you haven’t even met the person yet? Trust me, there are clues.

Let’s take me for example. If you go to my website you’ll find a contact form to get in touch with me. You’ll find links to all of my social media profiles. What you won’t find is a phone number. Why? Because I dislike the phone and usually can’t answer it right a way. My email signature also doesn’t include my phone number. Taking it a little further, I admit I was exaggerating, slightly, when I said that if you call there is a less than 1% chance I will respond. The more accurate answer is that there is a 0% chance I will call you back, but there is a chance I will respond via email. Once you’ve called and I’ve emailed, however, if you call me back again there is zero chance that I will get back to you. Why? Because you should be following my lead at this point: you called and I did not call you back; I emailed you. That is a clear indication that I prefer email and if you want my business you need to interact with me in the way I want to be interacted with.

I know that sounds harsh but, in all seriousness, there is no shortage of options when it comes to places any of us could spend our money or people we could do business with so I’m not going to go out of my way, to do business with and give money to someone who doesn’t make it as painless as possible for me. For me, email is painless. For someone else it may be the phone. For someone else, it may be text messaging. It doesn’t matter. The point is you need to follow their lead, not expect them to follow yours.

Let me give you a few more examples: back when I worked at a non-profit, I got insurance agents who wanted me to recommend their services to my clients. When I got a voicemail from one of them, I always emailed and asked them to email me some materials clearly stating what they offer/specialize in, how best to make an intro between them and a client, and anything else that might be useful like additional languages they speak. About 80% of them called me back again and left another message saying they’d like to set up a time to talk through everything with me, and didn’t give me any of the info I’d asked for. They never got a referral from me. Why? Because I told them exactly what they needed to do to make my life easier and get what they wanted out of me and they flat out refused to do it. Why would I send any of my clients there to get that level of service? I wouldn’t. The 20% that emailed me what I asked for, however, I usually ended up having a conversation with and referring them business. The exact same thing happens with web developers, designers, small business bankers, and other vendors that want to sell to my clients.

If you stop trying to follow the golden rules that your sales trainer or business coach set out for you and start paying attention to what that potential investor or client or partner wants from you, I bet you start having much greater success. Just listen and they will tell you exactly how they want to be interacted with. If you give them what they want, you’re already a step ahead of the competition in getting what you want.

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