Then and now: Trust and relationships in the AEC selling process

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Chris Gardner's 1981 sales success story raises questions about whether what worked then, would work now.

Ari Galper in one of his marketing/promotional messages, left this gem that may be worthy of considering in context:

Chasing comes from not connecting in a deep way.

It comes from the mindset that: “I must pursue to achieve.”

That’s an old message that expired many years ago.

In this new economy, your success is directly related to your ability to develop deep trust at the beginning of your sales process, not trying to close at the end of the process.

In comparison, consider the story of investment advisor Chris Gardner, whose story The Pursuit of Happyness, has been told in Gardener’s book and a 2006 movie, that I recently viewed on Amazon Prime. (I’m not sure if it is available on Netflix.)

The story: Gardner, failing in his first sales-related business, seeks entry into a stockbroker training program at Dean Witter Reynolds in San Francisco. It is 1981, and the deal is that the trainee brokers must work without pay for six months while they learn the ropes and obtain the necessary certifications for an investment brokerage license. Gardner, financially failing, ends up with a broken marriage, a young son, and becomes homeless — and plays a charade as he rotates between the homeless shelter and his “day job” dressed in a suit and tie.

The story is compelling, but the thing that really caught my mind is how the brokers did their selling.

Back in 1981, there was no (public) Internet. There were no cell phones. You were given a list and “dialled for dollars”. It was a gruelling process. Paradoxically (and the reason Gardner succeeded) the lists (at least in the movie) started at the bottom and worked to the top — through a sequence of events, he connected at the top; and then did a “door knock” on the big cheese’s house (with son in tow), just in time for the wealthy man with plenty of money to go to a San Francisco 49ers game, where he had a private box.

Gardner picked up a mass of business cards/leads in that game/box visit. He achieved face-to-face connection with credible potential clients, appeared to have the endorsement of someone the box-mates considered to be important — and with that credibility he cracked the nut.  He was an instant success, won the career opportunity, and set out to achieve fame and fortune.

How would the selling process differ these days?

You would get nowhere fast dialling for dollars with raw telemarketing lists, that’s for sure. Everyone has voice mail, and you would need incredible luck to achieve success with an inbound, unsolicited (and scripted) call. (Notably, back in 1981, Gardener succeeded not so much by telemarketing but by connecting with one person who could refer potential clients as well as provide significant business himself.)

Undoubtedly, there are advantages to being invited or in some cases sponsoring a private box at a major league sporting event. (Being invited obviously is the best deal, you don’t have to pay a fortune, and still get the credibility of being there.) The biggest challenge here of course is the cost — and the hit-and-miss nature of the relationship building process.

But the biggest difference, in my opinion, is that generally people will check you out and know more about you then you would ever expect because of their ability to conduct online research.

We can read reviews, biographies, and data. The one-one-one trust relationships and referrals can often be broadened (and possibly weakened) through geographical distance, but offset by specific interests and focus. You can delve deeper into your topic areas before you even make face-to-face contact.

Have things changed much between 1981 and 2017 in the selling process? Certainly, back then, there was a common belief that brute force calling led to sales success — but it seems that selectivity, intensity and relationship-building with people who truly could influence and make decisions was as important then as it is now.

Innate perseverance and knowledge, a solid online presence, and the ability to get yourselves invited to the private boxes at major sporting events probably will help you now as much as then. Trust, as always, remains at the forefront. Things have changed. Things remain the same.

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