This past week our company received a relatively large order from a customer that had never done business with us before.
As I thought about the work still ahead of us in fulfilling the new order, I pondered for a moment as to how it was that this new business came to us.
The story of how this new business materialized actually had started some ten years ago when I received a phone call from a sales manager of an electronic distribution company in the Midwest.
The person on the phone introduced himself as Dan and that he was the sales manager for a small distributor. He went on to tell me that he had been searching the Internet when he came across our company and that he wanted to sell our products.
The company he worked for was small and did not have much experience selling fuses but he believed that there were some potential opportunities if we were willing to set his company up as an OptiFuse distributor.
I decided to take a gamble and agreed to franchise his company to sell our products.
I sent them catalogs, price sheets and promotional material. A few times each year, I would travel to see Dan and his staff to give them some product and application training. I sent them sales leads, when I had the opportunity, knowing that he would diligently follow up with these potential new customers.
Dan and his staff worked hard at promoting our products at their customers, but even with the strong sales efforts, we only could manage to convert a few smaller accounts to OptiFuse.
Over time, Dan and I became good friends and spent time talking about business and life issues. Knowing about his growing unhappiness with his company’s management, it didn’t come as much surprise to me when one day, Dan confided in me that he was thinking about leaving his company.
I told him that I didn’t know of any available sales positions but that I’d keep my ear to the ground and let him know if I heard of anything promising. I also mentioned to him that I was open to him becoming an independent rep for OptiFuse should the opportunity arise with his career path.
Eventually Dan did leave his company to become a sales person for a small industrial connector company. Even though Dan and I no longer had any mutual business interests, we continued to keep in contact over the years.
It was during one of our "catch-up" phone calls when I learned that he and I would be attending the same trade show in Las Vegas. He told me that his company would be hosting a party for their customers and he invited me to attend.
The cocktail party was held in a large hotel suite with several people in attendance. Although Dan was busy with his customers, he spent some of his valuable time introducing me to many of the people in the room, both colleagues and customers.
One of the people Dan introduced me to, was another salesman who covered the West Coast region for his company, named Bill.
Bill told me that he was planning to come to San Diego with his family in a few weeks and asked could I recommend any places to eat or see. I gave him several recommendations as well as offering him free passes to the San Diego Zoo and Sea World (I had won these in a recent charity raffle...but since I had an annual pass to both parks, I could offer them to Bill so he could enjoy these attractions with his family).
I spent the next several minutes conversing with Bill, learning more about his history, family, interests, and personal philosophies.
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to see Bill again when he stopped by my office to pick up the tickets I promised him. Bill was interested in learning a little more about our company, so during the visit, I had the opportunity to show Bill our facilities and give him a brief overview of OptiFuse and how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors.
Bill seemed to be impressed by our operations and told me that he might have some business opportunities for us when he returned home. I wished him a great vacation and asked him to call me when he got home.
It was a few weeks later when Bill called me at my office. He explained that his largest customer was currently buying fuses and fuse holders from an OptiFuse competitor but that he had talked with them about some of our new products. He told me that if I would send him some samples and data sheets, that he would share them with his customer.
A few days later he called to tell me that his customer loved the features of the new parts and more importantly they loved the cost savings that we could offer them over their incumbent supplier. He told me that they would soon be placing a large order with us for these parts.
I asked Bill if I could compensate him for his efforts and he told me that I had already compensated him with the free passes. We both knew that the passes were merely a fraction of the commission I was willing to pay for this large order but he was happy knowing that he had repaid the favor to a new friend.
A short time later, while discussing this new order with our sales team, one of our members commented that it only took us a few weeks from the time we sent the samples and a quote to the customer to actually receiving the big order.
I countered the employee’s causal observation by telling him that this new order actually took over ten years to book.
The relationships and the transfer of trust needed to bring in the new business actually started when I received the first phone call from Dan some ten years ago.
I initially gave Dan the benefit of the doubt and set up his company as a franchised distributor for our products, I spent time personally training his people and providing him with sales leads, samples and materials.
Dan and I continued to maintain our relationship long after he left his company with no real monetary benefit apparent for either of us.
Dan trusted me enough to invite me to his company party while taking the time to personally introduce me to his colleagues, customers, and friends.
While at the party, I had the good fortune to meet Bill and offered to help him during his visit to San Diego with no foreseeable benefit to me.
We were given the opportunity to earn this new business because Bill cashed in some of his "trust capital" with his customer and presented OptiFuse as a viable new source to his customer.
This piece of business didn’t come to OptiFuse after only a few weeks...it came to us after many years of continued relationship building...
...with no known future benefit in mind...
...friendship for friendship’s sake
What relationships are you currently working on starting and/or improving?
Thank you very for your support as we continue to foster our relationships with each and every person... not just customers (and potential customers).