I recently went out with a friend in another industry who regularly hires consultants as part of her work. She told me that she no longer sees a mutual friend of ours who is also a consultant. Why? Because each time they spent time together, he would “pitch” her.
This was surprising to me for a number of reasons. The person she is referring to, we’ll call him John, is genuinely fond of her, so I’m not sure why he would spent their “friend time” pitching her. But more than that, she is well-aware that he is intelligent and capable. So, why pitch?
When I first went freelance, I invited a friend of mine who is a talented salesperson out to lunch and picked her brain. What did I need to know about sales?
For the sake of this story, we’ll call my salesperson friend Carole. Carole told me that sales was as simple as caring about the people that you are selling to. As human beings, not as a target to be pitched to. In addition, she said, get to know their work, and show that you are genuinely invested in helping them succeed.
I thanked her, but secretly thought that this must be overly simplified. Yes, I’ve heard that old trope that “people do business with people that they know, like and trust”, but come on, it can’t be that easy.
And then I thought about Carole herself. She is not just a friend, she is a potential vendor for me. One who gets a disproportionate share of my business. Is that because her company is better than the competition? Well, they’re good, but so are their competitors. No, it’s not because of the company. It’s because of Carole.
Any time we speak, Carole never fails to make me feel important, but in a genuine way. First of all, she’s early for every lunch. Then we discuss real things that are happening in our lives, and she listens and responds with true interest. When I’ve been hesitant about a big career move or a major project, she is there to boost up my confidence.
When a family member of mind passed away, Carole sent flowers and checked up on me to see how I was doing.
With all the things that we discuss, guess what we don’t talk about? Her company, what they can do for me, and why I should choose them over the competition.
We’ve literally never discussed that.
When Carole switched companies, she took my business with her.
Why is that? Because I trust her. I know she’d only go to work for a great quality company. I know she lifts up her team so her staff feels empowered and therefore works harder. I know if there’s a problem, she has my back.
Earlier I called this strategy simple. But I think I mislabelled it. Genuine, authentic connection is not simple. It takes you being real and supportive. It takes treating people with respect. It takes actually listening and relating and identifying. It takes an understanding that one must give before they receive.
The Caroles of this world will never run out of friends, or sales. I’m not naïve, but I never feel like my friendship with Carole is all about the commission to her.
So, if you want more business as a freelancer, stop being like John and start being more like Carole. Start thinking of what you can give before you consider what you can get.
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