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Find customers and build relationships with 6 old and 4 new strategies

It's easier than ever before to develop business the right way

Back in the day, the techniques below were what you had to work with. You had to be super gifted and super diligent to succeed at relationship marketing. Relationships took years to develop. If you didn’t have someone with the right skills and experience on the payroll, you relied on public announcements and databases for prospecting. It was easy to fall into low win probability habits like blind bidding.

However, the old ways are no longer competitive. Mark Amtower is an example of someone who lives in both worlds. He had a rolodex, back when that was a thing. And his rolodex was almost certainly bigger than yours. Today Mark is a top expert in the newest ways to market to the Federal Government. His training on how to make the leap from old-school selling to social selling comes from someone who has practiced both. Mark’s a good friend of mine and contributed to this article.

How we used to practice relationship marketing

Networking and relationships are still at the heart of gaining customer intimacy.
  1. Get a contract. Relationship marketing can seem so difficult to get started that many companies assume they have to get a contract first in order to build relationships. They look at relationship marketing as something that helps them grow the account and get more contracts with the customer. The problem with this is that it starts with blind bidding to get a contract. Even if you rationalize that it’s not blind bidding because the organization is a strategic target, the fact is you haven’t qualified your leads by talking to anyone. There are more problems with this approach. Your company ends up being defined by the contracts it is lucky enough to win through blind bidding. Guess which ones those are likely to be? Commodities where the customer doesn’t care who the provider is and contracts that you win by being the lowest price. This is a trap that can kill your future margins.
  2. Databases. Databases are great for identifying what contracts exist that you might pursue. However, they don’t tell you what it will take to win those contracts. They also don’t tell you about new contracts coming up in the future, unless they have been publicly announced.
  3. Rolodex. Another mistake companies often make is to hire a salesperson for their rolodex. This rarely brings sales to a professional services firm. It seems like a good idea because the salesperson knows so many people and has actual relationships, just like you're supposed to. But their contacts are just evidence that they know how to make contact and form relationships. Don’t hire them for who they already know. Hire them for their ability to get to know the organizations that you want to do business with. And then give them plenty of time to build those relationships.
  4. Requesting a meeting. Also known as begging. So you land a meeting. Then what? Are you going to tell the customer about yourself? Or are you doing to do something that demonstrates you can be an asset? The only way to achieve that is to do your homework before the meeting. 
  5. Trade shows. Whether you go as an attendee or as an exhibitor, you might run into potential customers. You might be able to follow up with them. You might score a meeting. Something might come of it. And if every one of those possibilities comes true, you might be able to develop a relationship. But have you noticed, there aren’t as many trade shows as there once were? They are expensive and problematic. And they are no longer the only way to discover and network with new people. See below…
  6. White papers and collateral. Putting paper in your customer’s hands used to be the only way to deliver information and educate them about things like technology. You had to know whose hands, be able to reach that person, produce the paper, deliver it, and hope they read it. Hundreds of hours could go into preparing and delivering a white paper. These days every step of that is quicker. But simply producing white papers has been overtaken by content marketing. See below…

Today it’s possible to be both more data driven and more personal. Not only are there new sources of information, but there are also new techniques. It is easier than ever to practice relationship marketing. 

New ways to practice relationship marketing

Hiring a salesperson to go fishing for dollars is no longer  a path to success.
  1. Big data – contracts. The IT techniques developed for understanding “big data” can also be used to develop insight in the pursuit of contracts. How many contracts does a customer award in what areas to which companies? What percentage of time does the incumbent win in that organization? How frequently do they modify their contracts? When do they release their RFPs? How often do they release on time? More raw data is available than ever before, but few companies invest in the analytics to turn data into an information advantage. 
  2. Big data – people. Who are the decision makers at the customer? What are their backgrounds? What are they working on? What are their interests? Who do they connect to? How do you connect to them? What interests do you have in common? Resources like LinkedIn enable you not only to reach out to people, both as individuals and as an organization, but also to interact with them. You can find people and develop relationships with them. You can go from being unknown to being known. However, social selling is very different from old school selling. If you don’t adapt to social selling, all the data now available about people won’t help you. In the past, you were lucky “to know someone” at the customer. But what about when there are dozens of people involved in a procurement and the decision of who to award it to? It is now possible to map the customer’s organization, and gather information on and even connect to most if not all of the people who might get involved. It is easier than ever to get ahead of RFPs, because you don’t have to guess which individual might be working on it. You can get to know most or all of the people involved in your line of work. 
  3. Online networking. It is now possible to build a relationship over years without ever actually meeting someone face-to-face. Online networking is similar in many ways to traditional networking. But it also has some more advanced aspects. You can interact with potential customers in discussion forums, respond to the things they post, and learn far more about their backgrounds and interests. How to reach out to potential customers, what to say, and how to interact with them are some of the subjects covered in Mark’s training.
  4. Content marketing. You can now publish more information, in more different media, and in more places than ever before. Each new platform brings new ways to put content in front of your customers. Most companies never go much further then enabling their customers to browse their wares. For firms that sell services or have complex sales, this is a missed opportunity to educate your customers. What matters about what you sell? What should an RFP include to ensure the customer gets what they need? What options should they be aware of? What problems can they solve? What outcomes can they hope to achieve? Showing insight is one of the best ways to show the customer that you're worth interacting with. How valuable is it to you to have customers seek you out for your insight? Or at least accept a connection request because they’ve seen that you post information that is of value to them? Content marketing is an important part of conducting relationship marketing online. 

When you combine these, you get a completely different approach to marketing. It’s no longer about hiring a salesperson to go fishing for dollars. Now you can analyze data to discover who buys the most of what you sell, and who the stakeholders are for those procurements. You can break in simply by publishing some insight on the relevant topics and keyword searching for relevant staff at the customer to connect to. Once in, you can branch out and connect with the rest of the organization. Along the way, you’re not selling in the traditional sense. You’re sharing relevant information with people who need it. 

But you are also gaining insight. The kind of insight that can be turned into an information advantage. And starting your proposals with an information advantage leads to an increase in your win rate.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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