Category Archives: Networking

The Age of the Customer Power Question: Ask it and then deliver

One hundred twenty years ago, lawyer Paul J. Harris moved his practice to Chicago. While he enjoyed the new opportunity his adopted city afforded, Harris missed the friendly relationships he knew growing up in a small Vermont town.

One fall day in 1900, while walking around the Windy City’s North Side with Bob Frank, Harris noticed the connections his friend had made with local shopkeepers and it made him long for this kind of interaction. He wondered if, like himself, other professionals who had emigrated from rural America to the big cities, might be experiencing the same feeling of loss.

2013-0504-Paul-Harris-DinnerOver the next few years, Harris couldn’t stop asking himself this question: Could such human connection activity be channeled into organized settings for professionals and business people? Today we know the answer to Harris’ question is civic groups, but at the dawn of the 20th century, this innovation had yet to be invented.

Then on February 23, 1905, Paul Harris put his connection question to the test when he and three friends founded the world’s first civic club. They named it Rotary because they planned to rotate weekly meetings between each member’s office.

Now an international success story, 33,000 Rotary clubs around the globe are still based on Harris’s founding principle of “Service above Self.” Harris’ original dream was to connect people for the benefit of all parties. He probably didn’t use this term, but his 1905 connecting formula is the modern definition of networking.

Three-quarters of a century later, Ivan Misner had a dream of creating a structured networking model when he founded Business Network International. Misner’s goal was very much like Harris’s but with the specific purpose of business people meeting regularly to help each other grow their businesses.

Though not a civic organization, the motto of BNI’s 7,400 chapters worldwide, “Givers gain,” is completely compatible with Rotary’s founding pledge. If you turned either one into an offer to someone else, you get what I call the Age of the Customer Power Question: “What can I do to help you?”

The significant international success of Rotary and BNI has revealed and reinforced two important truths: 1) networking is an essential professional discipline; and 2) putting others first is powerful.

This month Rotarians will celebrate the 111th anniversary of Paul Harris’ dream-come-true, and BNI celebrates International Networking Week. Whether you participate in a civic club, a BNI chapter, your local chamber of commerce or other group, become a more frequent, accomplished and selfless networker. Because face-to-face networking is the original social media and it’s still important.

Write this on a rock …In the Age of the Customer, you don’t have to join any group to ask and deliver on the Power Question.

Use the power of storytelling to grow your business

Cogito ergo sum. French philosopher Rene Descartes proposed this idea in 1637, which translates to “I think, therefore I am.” Certainly the power of abstract thought is what separates humans from other animals.

Anthropologists now believe Homo sapiens succeeded, unlike other members of the genus Homo, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon for example, because our brains had a greater capacity for speech and language. Today Descartes might have modified his philosophy to “I think and speak, therefore I am.”

In “Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith proposed the written word as one of the three great human inventions. But long before humans were writing we were telling stories. And these stories – told, memorized and retold over millennia – became the headwaters of human development. We humans love to tell stories almost as much as we love to listen to them.

Another thing that’s older than writing is the marketplace. Long before Madison Avenue ad copy, merchants were verbalizing the value and benefits of their wares. Surely early business storytelling was the origin of modern selling skills.

In 1965, Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore made an observation that became Moore’s Law: “Computer processing power doubles every two years.” But in his 1982 watershed book “Megatrends,” futurist John Naisbitt posed this paradoxical prophecy: “The more high tech we create, the more high touch we will want.”

So what does all of this mean? It means that in a time of rapidly compounding technology generations, the most successful businesses will consistently deliver high touch to customers with one of our oldest traits – the telling of a story. Here is Blasingame’s Three Cs of Business Storytelling:

Connect – Use stories to connect with prospects and convert them into customers.

Convey – Use stories to convey your expertise, relevance, humanity and values.

Create – Use stories to create customer memories that compel them to come back.

Storytelling is humanity in words. And since small businesses are the face and voice of humanity in the marketplace, we have a great advantage in the Age of the Customer. No market sector can execute the Three Cs of Business Storytelling to evoke powerful human feelings more than small businesses.

And regardless of how they’re delivered, stories don’t have to be long. I just told you five different ones in the first half of this article.

The Holy Grail of storytelling is when someone else tells your business’s story to others.

Are you practicing Age of the Customer prospecting rules?

As described here previously, control of the three primary elements of the business relationship has shifted as the Age of the Seller is being replaced by the Age of the Customer. The buying decision and access to information about how to make that decision are now controlled by the customer, leaving sellers with control of just the product.

This shift has created many disruptions, especially with entrenched Age of the Seller sales practices, but perhaps none more than business-to-business prospecting. Here are four facets to this prospecting shift:

  1. The expectation of buyers meeting with vendors as a daily course of business is over.
  2. After 10,000 years of needing a salesperson to provide information to make a decision, buyers are acquiring much of that information on their own online.
  3. Prospects are now self-qualifying themselves, and then pre-qualify prospective vendors they choose to meet with, perhaps as few as two, or even just one.
  4. Prospects are essentially ruling competitors in or out before first contact, often before the business knows the prospect even exists.

Prospects like this new empowerment because it saves time, contributes to their decision-making journey, and reduces contact with uncompetitive and irrelevant vendors. Consequently, getting in front of a prospect for a first meeting, which once was almost automatic, now requires addressing the following new Age of the Customer rules of prospecting.

  1. Prospects require a higher level of introduction before granting a sales call.
  2. Prospect research must be conducted.
  3. Networking – in person and online – is essential.
  4. Prospect development and nurturing must be practiced with patience and a dialed down sense of urgency.
  5. With competitiveness now assumed, being relevant is the new differentiator.
  6. Contribute first, contract second.
  7. Relevance and values must be demonstrated.

Even the best salesperson, who will still need every classic selling skill to close the sale, is useless if he or she can’t get in front of the prospect before the buying decision has been made.

Companies that expect to meet sales goals now have to put as much, if not more, emphasis and resources on training, equipping, budgeting, measuring, and perhaps even compensating salespeople for the prospecting disciplines of the Age of the Customer.

Which age is your sales organization prospecting in?