By Biff Matthews
When you're relationship-selling in earnest, numerous opportunities for meetings inevitably arise. Many involve dinner or other social events. I learned early in my career that if it's dinner, it helps your cause to involve your prospective client's spouse, as well as your own (if you have one).
Including your "better half" can help you make sales and build rapport with potential and current customers. It offers another avenue for strengthening personal relationships and enables you to discuss proposals in an informal way.
Spouses will invariably comment on various aspects of the business, and if they are at all knowledgeable about your clients' or your work, their conversations can be revealing and helpful to your cause.
Significant others tend to be nonthreatening; they're not immersed in the sales process. Thus, they can listen and ask questions salespeople cannot. Spouses of prospective clients also often divulge information or opinions that clients may not, giving you valuable insights.
Another reason for such involvement is simple courtesy: It shows social grace (a rare commodity to be sure) and professionalism. It is also an indication that you value your clients' time and views.
A prospective client and his or her life partner will take notice when you include both of them in your planning, and this can reinforce your bond with the client. I have found this simple inclusion extremely useful in acquiring new customers and maintaining their loyalty. It's really a no-brainer.
I've found, too, that a spouse may not want to be involved in business matters. This is not necessarily a negative. It often means the significant others at a gathering are free to do something else together, whether it's have a separate conversation or participate in a different activity.
Think shopping - the universal tradeshow activity that's equally appropriate with prospects you have recently come to know and with clients of many years.
In addition, after an evening event that does not include spouses, I have found a thank you note sent to a prospect's family lets me introduce myself, express my awareness that the meeting took my potential client away from his or her loved ones, and appreciate them for sacrificing time they could have spent together.
Speaking of tradeshows, I've acquired clients during these events solely on the basis of my spouse's involvement. At one such event, my late wife and another woman began talking about their husbands' stress-related difficulties.
Later, the woman told her husband to work with me. He had not addressed the cause of the stress in his life; it was a business problem spilling over onto the home front.
My company had a solution to the problem, and once the woman knew I could help, she insisted I be brought on board. His company is still a great client today - and both husband and wife are my good friends, too.
Casual conversations initiated by spouses have often given me access, particularly during industry events, to prospects I would not otherwise have had access to - and at a very high level.
One reason is our significant others tend to be unpretentious, so guards are down and common ground can develop quickly. You're still in a professional atmosphere, but everyone is more easygoing. And a relaxed prospect is surely more open to suggestions.
There's also the element of time: A prospect attending an event with a spouse will always feel less pressured; there is no cause to end the evening early to get home to a husband or wife.
If you influence meeting planning for your company, consider this: Events that include spouses have a tendency to be saner and more balanced than those without -and far less likely to cause negative reactions if an event includes an overnight stay or goes into the late evening hours.
One cautionary note: The principle of mirroring, long a tool of the most successful salespeople, applies to your spouse when it comes to dress. It's always preferable to dress conservatively for initial meetings and to mirror your prospects after that.
And no matter how stunning the love of your life may be, ask your significant other to save the micro skirts or exposed abs for another time.
Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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