It came to fruition this spring: the largest opportunity and sale in my company’s history. A true game changer.
As you might imagine, that sale did not happen overnight. In fact, it was years in the making. With the project launch now underway, I’m reflecting on what it took to get us to this pivotal moment and the lessons I’ve learned through the process.
Especially in high-value, B2B selling environments, an opportunity is identified and a sale closed based on a combination of three core elements. I call them the “three Rs.”
- Reputation – our credibility, our visibility, and how we are perceived in the marketplace.
- Results – the effort we put in, and the outcomes we create for our clients and customers.
- Relationships – the value we bring to others, and the strength of our strategic networks.
The Three R’s created a foundation that helped to best position my organization to win, and the opportunity to create lasting impact at our client. But they don’t exist on their own—they are interdependent.
I liken the Three R’s to this image – if you remove any of the stones, the structure will collapse. But when each element is given priority and focus, it creates a framework for it to stand. The same goes for your own reputation, results, and relationships.
This article focuses on the relationship element. Without strong relationships, the role as a professional seller would be difficult, if not impossible.
Successful sales professionals and sales organizations respect the value of relationships. They treat relationships with purpose, and work to build strong networks both internally and externally. These networks represent their social capital – and the greater the investment, the greater the reward for both sides of the relationship. In short, social capital creates both intangible and tangible value in today’s sales environment.
Equation for Success
Let’s go back to the example of my company’s recent win, because how I created mutual success was through social capital and this framework:
It comes down to putting twice the effort into providing value (creating and sustaining) in building relationships; when that is in place, it allows for leveraging a relationship for a specific need. Liken it to a healthy bank account. Efforts to create and sustain relationships are your investments. With consistency, those investments grow and earn interest over time.
This entire opportunity began with social networking – a simple introduction on LinkedIn. The person who became my key decision maker within this account was with another organization at the time. I didn’t know her personally, and reached out to connect based on our common interests around learning and leadership.
I began to establish myself as a resource for her via online and social outlets, and over time that led to in-person conversations. From there I invited her to a leadership forum I had founded, which provided her further resources and benefits. Even at this point, there was no sell, no asks, no identified opportunity. This effort was to create and sustain the relationship.
In this relationship framework, from time to time you withdraw from the account. That’s the leverage – asking for what you need or coming together for a greater cause.
In my example, that opportunity presented itself down the road when my contact transitioned to another company and into a leadership role. She knew they would eventually need to launch a training organization, and I shared insights and ideas along the way. Finally, the time arrived when they were ready to choose a solution provider for a key initiative.
My company was asked to participate in the RFP process. Throughout the process, the relationship equation proved critical at multiple levels across the organization. We were able to ask better questions, conduct more in-depth research, create a comprehensive response, and establish a competitive edge.
In the end, our company won the business. All because of consistently applying the equation around creating and sustaining the relationship, providing value, and being willing to ask for the access we needed to create the best possible business fit and solution.
The biggest lessons for me in this process?
To trust the equation, to place value on the relationships first, and to leverage the relationships for the right reasons. The end result is a strong degree of trust with our new client, and mutual business fit that will help them find success in their new initiative.