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Small business owners often have to do everything. For many of us, “rainmaking”—or finding customers with money—can seem like the most dismal part of an already-overbooked day. But it doesn’t have to feel that way, says Greg Rye, owner of the Wayzata, Minnesota-based R & R Business Development Company.
In his 30 years of sales success, Rye has never made a cold call. “Finding clients should be a natural extension of your connections to family, friends and community,” he says.
The secret of rainmaking, according to Rye, “is sharing your, time, talent and treasure with the people you meet.” He shares his tips here:
- Get out of the office. “I’ve talked to people who are told to make 200 cold calls a day, hoping for one or two actual sales. It’s better to meet 100 people than to call 1,000,” says Rye. Time spent at the desk, computer or even the phone is less likely to lead to sales. “You have to be in the presence of people. Ultimately, people buy from people they trust.”
- Build relationships first. Rainmaking comes from authentic relationships. “Get to know people and find out what they need. If you don’t have something that can help them, make it your business to connect them to someone who does.” Rye works 12-hour days, but is in the office only two or three of those hours. He has breakfast, lunch or coffee with up to 20 people every day. His goal is to build relationships and help other people get what they need. He may see some folks in his extensive network just a few times a year, but when they’re together, he focuses on them.
- Never underestimate the person next to you. “Wherever I’m at, whatever I’m doing, I try to get to know the person next to me.” This starts with basic questions: What’s your name? Tell me about your family? What do you do? Rye says the key is to “Make it easy for people to be around you. Always find out what people’s needs are. Then, if you have a way to help them, whether it’s through something you sell or someone you know, help them.”
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- Serve. It’s not enough to join the local Lions Club or chamber or charity board. You build relationships and a reputation by doing good things with other people. Join and serve your community with your talent and time, and sooner or later some of the people you meet and help will need exactly what you sell—or will know someone who does. They’ll make a referral because they trust you.
- Be around people who can buy what you sell. With limited time, you do need to be strategic about what you get involved in. Serve in organizations that you care about. Among those, find a few that are populated by people who share your service mindset. Ultimately, some of these will turn into business relationships. However, Rye cautions that you think of selling as a byproduct of service, not the goal.
- Get to know the right person. For many business-to-business sales, you do have to get inside the company. But the right person to know may not be the president or purchasing agent. It may be the receptionist, who can help by pointing you in the right direction.
- Always exceed expectations. Once you have a customer, always deliver more than they expect. Rye points out that this starts with keeping promises manageable—but it depends on top-notch service. “With competition today, your price has to be in the market and your quality must be the best, but that’s not enough anymore. Your service must be extraordinary.” It is through personal attention that small-business owners can retain clients.
Rye’s sales are a by-product of his mission to know, connect and serve people. On a recent “winning day,” he didn’t sell any of his own services. But he did manage to connect a law firm, dry cleaning service and financial planner in ways that made them all happy.
“My real mission is to drain my brain,” says Rye. “By that, I mean if I have relationships and I don’t give them away, they have no value. When I leave this world, I want to have given away everything I have by connecting everyone I know. That’s the secret of sales—it’s not about selling at all. It’s about generosity of spirit.”
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Vince Hyman is a St. Paul, Minn.-based writer and editor.
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