I attended a seminar this week put on by Anna Bates of the National Christian Foundation and Mark Farrel of Ron Blue and Co. The talk was given by Jim Wise, Managing Director of Ronald Blue & Co.’s Orlando branch. Jim’s talk was to a room of development officers for faith-based nonprofits. Jim was delivering a message from a donor’s perspective and gave some great insights on how donors make decisions about giving and what motivates them to their core.
Jim’s experience helping his clients plan for their financial future and also steward their current finances shed light on why donors give to organizations and how nonprofits need to shift from a financial emphasis to a discipleship or relationship emphasis in their fundraising efforts. As I listened, I realized how many great insights there are for businesses and how the way we sell and market needs to align with the model Jim proposed. Much of the talk focused on things that line up perfectly with inbound marketing methodologies. Now, some of this may fly in the face of an aggressive sales organization’s methods, so my suggestion is to stop right here, but if you know relationships matter for long-term success, read on. Here are a few notes that I think will make any business improve greatly in their sales and marketing efforts.
“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.” –Wikipedia
Lessons from Fundraising Organizations
Focus on the person and not just their capacity to purchase your product. By being people-focused, you are immediately different than all the “me too” businesses. Focusing on people helps your business begin building goodwill and relationship with your customers.
Redefine what success means for your relationship with your customers. If the only focus is revenue, then your customers are a means to an end and they will know it. If success looks like your customers enjoying the experience of working with you, or they come to you first because you help them solve problems no one else will take the time to solve, then you are redefining success beyond monetary value.
Jim mentioned the “hat in hand” approach has got to stop. This is when every “touch” or contact with a donor has a “financial ask.” This is common with sales also. We’ve been taught “sell, sell, sell.” But what if our sales organizations put on an educator hat? I believe a sales person’s job is to educate, and not just why your company is better, but help your customers with better solutions to old or new problems. I believe most sales conversations or “touches” should not be selling but solving and educating.
How do you connect your business to the personal experience of a customer’s needs? Understanding what is most important to your customer helps you tailor solutions and conversations that meet their felt needs. Not all customers have the same perspective on what is most important. If you can discover why they chose you, or why they chose a competitor over your business, you may have unlocked a way to sell that reaches the heart of the consumer. Also, the more you know about your customer allows you to have conversations full of context. Do they love fishing, professional football, rock climbing, Alaskan cruises? Knowing things about anyone and asking them about things they love is a sure-fire way to start building positive relationships. I love music and songwriting. If you ask me about it I will likely talk for twenty minutes without pausing.
Communicate your passion and conviction. I love talking with people who love what they do. Jim had excellent advice for development officers working for organizations where they’ve “lost that love and feeling.” If we do not believe in what we are doing and have no passion left, we are not going to convince anyone. In business, I want to partner and buy from people who love what they do. Perhaps it is tied to a cause, or simply excellence that appeals to me. I think of Apple and/or Toms, the shoe company that gives a pair of shoes away for every pair that is purchased. Are you emphasizing quota over passion in your business?
This doesn’t happen overnight and likely doesn’t happen without a plan. Write down a checklist of how you can build relationships and and become more person-focused in your business. We spoke about sales people mostly in this blog, but marketing and operations are not off the hook. Retailers, restaurants, residential service industry, and others can all take a look at everything from how they answer the phone to how they invoice their customers. What are little things that show you care and know your customers? Being solution-minded, kind, and mindful goes a long way. Here are few examples.
- Congratulate people on benchmarks. If you are connected on LinkedIn and you see that a customer is having a work anniversary or got a promotion, send them a personal note congratulating them.
- Compliment your customers. It might just be a positive remark or a simple encouragement. It must always be honest, because we can see right through it if you made it up. You might know they have only been with a company for a short amount of time but you can say truthfully, “I can see they made the right hire. You are just what they needed.” Proverbs 27:6 says “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
- Put hand written post-it notes on your invoices that mention something you picked up previously in conversations with your customer.
- Shoot straight. If you are not the best solution for them, be honest and point them to the better solution. You’ll get great respect for this and your business will not have the negative fallout of them finding out on their own you were not the best solution.
- Give gifts with no strings attached. Do something remarkable for a few of your customers every year that really wows them. It might not be anything that costs much money, but it can have a big impact because you took the time to be intentional. I am making an example up, maybe you heard a customer has always wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride. You get people from our company and her company to chip in and get her a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride. Imagine the impact and gratitude that creates, and you get both companies involved.
It is never one thing that builds relationships and not all of these suggestions will work for every business, but some of them will work for you. Keep selling, keep marketing, but make the decision to care more for and connect with your customers. It will pay off more than you can measure now.