I think these are some of the fundamental abilities and personal qualities required to be successful in selling (the list below is not meant to be exhaustive, by any means):
1. The ability to build relationships
2. The ability to deliver first class service
3. The ability to ask intelligent questions
4. The ability to think strategically
5. Self discipline
6. Self motivation
The ability to build relationships has been placed at the top of the list to reflect the fact that most businesses achieve great success through building and maximising relationships by taking them a step further than the simple transactional context which may have initiated the relationship.
Every relationship you enter into with clients and every contact you make with candidates has the potential to lead you to other relationships and other candidates, and this helps to put the platform in place for the long term growth of your business.
According to Bill Cates, in his book, ‘Get More Referrals Now’, you must constantly think in terms of how you can leverage each relationship and each contact to move beyond the basics of the situation and the specific service agreement that brought you together in the first place.
This will lead you to more and more business opportunities that few other consultants will have access to and more and more candidates than most other consultants will never know. Cates believes that ‘you must develop a referrals mind-set’ and he goes on to set out the key steps you need to take to build your business by referrals and recommendations:
Step 1: Develop an Attitude of Service
What can you do to make yourself more referable through the service you provide? Where else can you add value for your clients and candidates? What can you do differently from other consultants? What can you do to gain your client’s trust and loyalty?
Step 2: Think ‘Process’ over ‘Product’ and ‘Referrals’ over ‘Activity’
Selling a service in itself does not make you referable and delivering a result is not what makes a client want to do business with you again. It is the process of doing business with you and the memorable experience this creates that makes you referable. That is, you need to have a clearly defined process by which you deliver results and which clearly adds value to your clients – this is what they will remember and talk about. Your process differentiates you, and if it is one you have named and defined, clients can get it only from you.
Step 3: Master the Power of Leverage
The traditional approach to prospecting and canvassing has been compared to a pipeline or a funnel. Selling would be about keeping the front end of the pipeline loaded up with new prospects through high levels of cold calls and forcing them through the pipeline, with many not making it out the other end.
This is activity based prospecting and is a numbers game. It is a model that produces results, but it requires a great deal of time, effort and sustained cold calling – with little guarantee of success. It is the model adopted by consultants who spend their time working on pure contingency assignments and they become trapped in the dog fight among the competition.
Having activity is of course absolutely vital, but what you need to do is shift your thinking away from an activity based process to a relationship based process. You need to be thinking more about how this relationship can lead you on to more relationships and more opportunities and referrals – maximising the opportunities right in front of your nose – rather than thinking ‘how can I close this sale’, ‘how can I keep my pipeline full with more prospect customers’.
Step 4: Strategic Networking
Identify and meet the right people in your industry that have the ability to do business with you and refer other business and other people in the industry to you. The ability to build relationships does not just stop with the clients and candidates you are working with – it extends to the people you are able to be introduced to through networking events and situations. The ability to sell in this case requires the ability to turn your relationships into a successful network. Not every contact will be one who wants to do business with you; but they will have contacts who may want to business with you; or they may be able to offer you their advice, support and guidance in your business. Every contact is worth something to you and you to them.
Step 5: Target Niche Markets
Finally, you need to target a niche market and cultivate a reputation for yourself as an expert in that market. Learn everything you can about the market, find out who the main players are and understand the market trends. Having a high level of expertise in a niche market will enable you to add value in a way that goes well beyond the value that other consultants can add. By doing this, referrals will start to come through and recommendations will be given without even asking for them.
Putting all of this together should be fairly straightforward for a recruitment consultant looking to grow his business and offers some excellent and sound advice. However, what I would add is that the type of approach expounded by Cates and many others must be viewed as a longer term strategy to growing your business. In the shorter term you need to be doing some of the hard graft on the phone to get introductions to new customers and there will be times when this approach appears similar to the ‘funnel’ approach that Cates urges us to shift away from. Ultimately I agree with Cates; but this should be regarded as the long term plan, and in the mean time I believe we also need to have a short term one…and the range of fundamental skills and personal qualities applicable to the long term approach are equally applicable to the short term approach.