The business development paradox: What you share is worth more than what you sell

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Architectural  teamWe’ve just concluded our weekly sales meeting. The discussions: Progress on accounts, projects in the works, you know, the typical sort of stuff you would expect in a sales meeting. Yet, underlying everything is recognition of one of the most surprising key performance indicators, especially for anyone who has faced a sales quota or challenge to bring in the business.

The question: “How much time have you spent contributing, selflessly, to your community?” answered at 25 per cent or more of working time, and certainly not less than 10 per cent, almost always correlates with success. The more you give and share, with intensive relationships with some, and warm relationships with many, the more you will reap the rewards.

This principle applies whether you are mechanical contractor, general contractor, architect, engineer, or industry supplier/manufacturer. The more you give, the more you receive – as long as you don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a one-on-one relationship; where the minute you share, and someone offers to buy, you drop the giving and turn your focus to selling.

Sure, these concepts seem counter-intuitive. I’m saying you should give, give and give some more, and when someone asks if there is anything they can do in return (or maybe even offers to do something in return) that would help your business, you should play coy, and give some more . . .

Nuts, eh.

Well, not exactly. There is some science behind this concept, based on the principle of reciprocity. Psychologists have put the concept to test in controlled lab experiments. For example, you offer and bring someone working with you a soft drink even though they didn’t ask or expect it (but they welcome the offer – might be good to check whether the person to whom you are offering the drink is a diabetic). Then the research subject asks if the drink recipient will buy some raffle tickets. The research suggests the generous first step will result in a much higher raffle purchase rate than if you just asked outright.

However, on a larger scale, when the request for this reciprocation involves significant financial or social obligation – and it comes too soon in the process, you can expect to be rebuffed and you may burn your bridges. (It is one thing to ask for a raffle ticket purchase to support a charity or cause; it is another for direct business for yourself.) You need to know the right time to ask, and that usually correlates with your knowledge of your potential client’s real needs and interests and the true recognition of your selfless reputation.

Note that your giving and generosity can be most effective when what you offer is time and knowledge, rather than money. You can also contribute the skills and talents you most enjoy sharing – your passion will reflect well on you, and you will be able to sustain the contributing spirit over time.

In addition to the reciprocity principle, there is a solid marketing reason for being generous. Successful personal relationships and business brands are built on trust – and I don’t now of many ways you can enhance trust more effectively than by some selfless generosity.

You’ll enhance your relationships; especially with other business leaders with the same values (and yes, you’ll discover how much generosity there is at the top of the business and community pecking order.)

Be generous. You’ll be surprised by the rewards. Just don’t worry about what you can get from the process.

Rules of generosity

Don’t worry about return on investment. This is an ongoing thing. If you expect people to respond to you with a return favour, you’ll likely be disappointed. If you don’t, and continue to contribute, you’ll truly appreciate the brand-building success and implementation of the reciprocity principle.

Do what you love. You can enjoy some selfish pleasure in being selfless, by contributing your skills, talents and genuine passions.

Without forcing the issue, volunteer and contribute where your current and potential clients are. You may find these clients are in places you would least expect, but relevant industry and community associations (representing clients, more than peers) and cultural groups often offer the best options.

Contributions require time, both in actual hours, and in the time it takes for the high-quality and lasting relationships to be built. Think years rather than months for payoff (though it will often happen sooner, if you don’t force it.) Spend up to quarter or even more of your time in community and association service.

Be reasonable, respectful and resilient. Without forcing things, acknowledging leadership and success, and continuing with your contributions even when things aren’t going right will ultimately get you to where you want to go.

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