Hard sell or Cold calling techniques can work very well when you are in your “comfort zone” or sales territory. You might be able to pass the “gate keeper” or even to convince the initially hostile client of the beauty of your product or service, using local recommendations or referrals available in quantity.
Outside your “comfort zone”
This is no more the case when you have to develop your consulting client network from scratch, outside your “comfort zone”, in a new sales territory and even more in a remote country. If so, Soft sell techniques are more appropriate. Think of the TV landmark series “Shogun” in which the English navigator John Blackthorne is shipwrecked off the coast of Japan and has to overcome the initial strong suspicions of the locals in a world completely unknown to him.
There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same (Chinese Proverb)
Mission: Trust and Relationship Building
So you can always try the usual short-term “sales tricks” but you might not get through to the initially hostile and distrustful clients. This is why you have to come up with a specific long-term strategy based on trust and relationship building.
This is exactly what I experienced
This is exactly what I experienced when I landed in Tokyo and joined an European video projector manufacturer starting up an operation in Japan. On my own, I was in charge of developing the Industrial Market segments, trying to sell to large Japanese Simulator Integrators. Without any introduction or local contacts, I did not know who or where to call.
A few contacts but no sales
I managed to find a few specialized Industry (Simulation) Magazines and started to call any phone number I could found in the relevant ads. With a lot of cold calling, after having been transferred from one person to another, I finally managed to make a few significant contacts but no sales or even no sales inquiry.
This is where the long-term strategy comes in. Instead of making a time-consuming Newsletter, I went for a Mailing List. Every month, I used to collect and to send by post to selected potential customers a set of interesting documents related to worldwide Simulation Applications or Installations. This is key: send information which is hard to get (locally) and which is educational.
A win-win situation
So, my clients were grateful to me for the received (precious) information. Of course, since I had their attention, in the same mail, I also included a new product leaflet or a press release on my company activities, making it a win-win situation.
Let us take a concrete case: the T company
That is, How I managed in about 2 years time to land a prestigious key account (a Simulation Integrator, subsidiary of one of the Big Japanese Electronics groups) initially distrustful.
First phase of approach
Following cold calling on an ad in an Industry Magazine, I got in touch with their Sales team (sales people are usually more open). After a first visit, they gave me the contact details of related colleagues from engineering. Thanks to the introduction, I managed to get an appointment and to visit them but nothing else: the engineers were polite but distrustful and doubtful about our local capabilities, as they had been working well with the same local suppliers for over a decade.
Next, I kept in touch and started a monthly Mailing. After each mailing, I used to call the engineers and to discuss the content of it with them. Diverting to related subjects, I managed to visit them for a first presentation. This became soon an habit and we started a cycle of regular meetings. This was a first breakthrough: keep the communication channels open.
Do your client a favour!
After 6 months, I got a phone call from one of the engineers regarding one of the documents included in my mailing. He asked me if I could try to find out more details about a Simulator Project in the States, as it was directly related to something he was working on. Great Opportunity! I immediately contacted my US colleagues in order to find out as much as possible and I really did my client a favour! By doing this, I boosted our relationship, got some respect, trust and gratitude. I even became a kind of “Simulation Guru”. This was a second breakthrough: my potential customer was now personally indebted to me.
Get the company backing!
A few months later, I heard from T sales people that the company was exhibiting at a Simulation Event in Japan and I immediately proposed to support them with the needed projectors for the show. This became another way for us to bind with their fellow engineers in charge of the booth set up. This was also a unique opportunity to show our products & know-how to many of the company staff. This is crucial: this gave the engineers and decision makers the needed company backing to buy from us and therefore to switch suppliers. This was a third breakthrough.
Be the one your client can count on!
After the successful show, our monthly meetings and information exchanges went on until the day I was asked for my opinion and advice about a difficult and complex project. By that time, our client already knew well our products and what we could do. I went back to the office with my homework and, with the help of our headquarters, I managed to put together a great proposal, which got us the business and, later, some repeat orders. This was the fourth and last breakthrough: I was put to the test. After nearly 2 years of hard work, I had finally done it, grabbing the business from our mighty competitors!
Make your client’s life easy!
A last point: in our offer, instead of just quoting projectors (that is, “box sales”), I also included screens and the necessary blending equipment (that is, “system sales”). By doing so, I was proposing our client to delegate part of the simulation system (that is, the “display sub-system”) to us, allowing him to concentrate on other parts of the system, of higher importance to him. All this is part of the service!
How does this relate to you?
Well, I have used later some of these techniques in Europe, in other Industries and with other products. It took me less time and it worked well! So, I am sure that, whatever the services you are providing, a long-term approach towards initially hostile clients aimed at gaining their trust and respect, will serve you well in order to build the foundations of a sustainable business or even alliance. Think of all what, by building trust, John Blackthorne has achieved at the end of the “Shogun” series. So get started!
Money grow on the tree of persistence (Japanese Proverb)
Philippe Huysveld is the founder and owner of GBMC (Global Business & Management Consulting) based in Paris area, France. His three domains of expertise are: Europe-Japan Business Consulting, B2B Strategy Consulting and Transition Management. For more details, please check the website: www.gbmc.biz.