You can sell anything and make money if you first invest in building relationships.
And you must be careful to be sincere in your relationship building so you don’t appear desperate and become an opportunist. Don’t have the intention to use your relationships for your benefits alone.
I remember that sunny afternoon back then in the days of my compulsory twelve month service to my father land, Nigeria – I was a ‘Corper’ (Corps Member) with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
I had not only attempted a number of businesses to shore up my slenderly small ‘allowee’ (allowance, stipend from the Federal government to keep body and soul together as it was and is still popularly called in the Corpers’ circles), I had also mercilessly laid my hands on the already insufficient cash to fund some short courses. Like those ones we did which in truth, I later realised I did not and still don’t need. All in the quest of landing a job a day after graduation. If you have served your NYSC term, you understand what I mean!
I had also lavished this small cash on several travels from a major and popular local government area, Hadejia, to the Jigawa State capital, Dutse, in preparations for my one year long CDS goal. Well, this is a beautiful story for another day. After telling you the story, you will agree that
Whatever you set your heart to accomplish, with diligence and consistency, without allowing yourself to get talked out of it, you will surely accomplish it.
Let us come back to my bread business story. I’m sure you never thought about it that this story borders around how I sold NGN100 worth of freshly baked soft aromatic hot bread to a policeman who never liked eating bread.
I mounted my newly bought ‘fourth-hand’ bicycle – yes, it was that old and used, and I rode as usual to the bakery. Apart from the goal I always set out to achieve, which was stocking bread, I also always enjoyed the sight of traders transacting business in all kinds of fresh food items and livestock at the popular market along the way to the bakery. I remember on one occasion that I approached one of the traders who traded in bags of beans of more than one variety. His prices were quite competitive and a quick thought of ‘wow, this is a good business!’ couldn’t have escaped one’s mind. I buy beans here and transport to Lagos, that’s a good profit margin. This was the thought that I played with that day.
So while at the bakery, I realised I would not get my complete order as there was no more bread. It seemed the market was good for them that day.
The bakery usually sold bread to customers who resell twice every day. Morning and evening. That particular day, I got there a few minutes after noon. I didn’t get my complete order. That meant that some of my customers would not get bread. My heart calculated the total profit I would lose. Those beans-loving Corpers would eat their beans either with Garri or nothing. I quickly ran my mind through these possible outcomes. Well I had to buy what was remaining. So I won’t lose out completely. I also thought about not disappointing my most regular customers.
One funny thing you need to know is that some of these regular customers or may I say fans of my bread were those who mocked my idea of selling bread as a Corper. Selling my first two orders at the start of business, I could hypothesise the reality of the mockery. I made some discoveries. I noticed their body language. In fact, some wished they had started before me. But well, whatever the case, whether my hypothesis was true or not, I got the first mover advantage.
While enjoying my hard cycling back to the Corpers’ lodge, I decided to check on my prospect, a policeman stationed at one of the branches of one of the major banks in Nigeria. After some minutes of gisting, the discussion flowed into the subject of bread and then I brought out this particular smooth-looking freshly baked hot aromatic NGN100 worth of bread. I dipped it into its transparent nylon package and gave it to him.
He looked at me, collected the bread and handed me my money. For that new stock, that was my first sale and it meant much to me. But it did not end there. His next words became my lifelong lesson which I have been practicing since that day until today. I still hope to hold on to that practice as long as I would be developing Marketing Contents and Sales Copies for products and services.
The policeman said:
It is not because I like bread that I bought your bread, but I bought this bread because of you!
Immediately, a bell of sales wisdom rang in my head saying
To become a successful salesperson, you must build relationships first before you pursue selling to anyone.
Sometimes, if not all the time, it is good to seek to know why it is taking too long to sell to a particular customer. Some customers can be difficult to penetrate. It is always not without a past experience or a reason for that behaviour.
If you are desperate to sell and you give no attention to building a relationship first at whatever level or depth, you might end up losing both the sale and the relationship. If you peradventure sold a product that the customer didn’t like or the product didn’t seem to satisfy the customer, rather than the customer calling you in to discuss his experience using the product, the customer may just look the other way and move on. That would spell the end of that possibly promising prospect.
This is the order.
Build relationships, sell, maintain the relationship, sell again. If the opportunity shows itself, extend the relationship to know at least one more person your customer cares about. Sell again. Maintain the relationship. If you have any give away, give. But ensure you attach some gifts to a sale to swallow or share the cost of the gift if possible. Not all the time you use the FREE SAMPLE to attract a customer. This process is blessed with endless promising encounters.
So that was how I eventually sold my NGN100 worth of freshly baked aromatic bread to the policeman who gave me the feedback that taught me a lifelong sales lesson.
This was 9 years ago, 2011.
In 2014, I experienced the result of using this strategy when I was a DSA (Direct Sales Agent) at Stanbic IBTC Bank. I had a branch manager with whom I did my best to be friends and got in his good books.
One day we had a walk-in customer who happened to be an HNI (High Networth Individual). He was the MD of a particular multinational textile company based in Lagos State, Nigeria. Since I was not the one who introduced the customer to the bank, I didn’t have any claim on commission over his account balance. I spoke with my manager and he approved that the account be recorded and captured in my name. But that is not the end of the story.
Somehow, within two months I became very friendly with the MD (customer) that he even invited me to his house at some points in our relationship. He later realised that I get compensated in commissions based on the amount he deposited in his account. He wowed me with three action steps. All deliberate and favourable. First, he ensured he never touched the balance by withdrawal and secondly, he ensured his salary kept coming into that account. The third was that he issued me a cheque of five million Naira (NGN5,000,000).
You would have thought I have become a ‘thousandnaire’ through commission from that account as a result of the NGN5m deposit. Well, I wished that cheque wasn’t old. I wished it was honoured.
When I got to the branch, the head of operations did not honour the cheque as, she said, it was an old cheque. He had kept the cheque unused for a long time and the bank within that period had changed some important features on the cheque. The old cheque has been rendered useless but he didn’t know since he had not had any reason to use the cheque. It was so coincidental that he was to travel that same day so he could not sign another check to meet the deadline (I could only get a commission on any account within three (3) months of opening)
I felt like crying but I didn’t cry. That’s life. Sometimes you win big and sometimes, you’ve got to let go.
If you were in my shoes, what would you have done or how would you have felt?
I resigned from the job on the last day of 2014. My stint in the bank helped me realise and develop my natural skill in relationship management. Whether B2B, B2C or B2G (Business to Government), I’m your man.
This is 2020, I still have a smooth relationship with him and many other relationships I built during and after my time working in the bank.
If you will ever succeed in Sales, first build your capacity to manage relationships.