To sell more, build fewer relationships

June 9, 2016 -  By

Relationship-sweet-spotThis may surprise you: You don’t need to build more relationships to have more success.

Many people will tell you “this is a relationship business,” and they’re right. But some people go too far, building relationships with every person in their community and every prospect they meet. You need to pull back and find your sweet spot.

You can either develop strong relationships, or you can develop a large quantity of relationships–but it’s hard to do both well. For example (see chart):

  1. If you focus on intimate relationships with too few people, you can “over pick the fruit” and run out of revenue opportunities.
  2. If you focus on many relationships that you shallowly develop, you may come across as disengaged.
  3. If you try to do both by building intimate relationships with many people, you’ll end up dropping balls and over stressing yourself, your organization and your clients.
  4. And, of course, if you build shallow relationships with too few people, you will miss many opportunities.

To sell more and grow your reputation and goodwill, you need to become choosey and find your relationship sweet spot. Here’s how you do it.

Avoid “red light” leads. You’ll lose margin and create havoc if you sell to and service prospects who aren’t a good fit. I call these “red lights.” Follow Shakespeare’s advice: “To thine own self be true.” This means know your company’s values and mission and build relationships with clients who match and support these. When “red light” prospects contact you, be polite and friendly and point them in the right direction—to a company who can better serve their needs.

Reassess upon visiting leads. Meeting a prospect in person is the second most important time (after the phone screen) to decide if this client is worth building a relationship with. You’re not committed to preparing a proposal for everyone you meet. When you realize a prospect is not a good fit, be polite and honest in explaining the job isn’t right for you. (I’ve gotten good referrals from “red lights” once they understood what we do.)

Cull ill-fitting clients. You have a few options if now is the time to get rid of clients that aren’t profitable, don’t respect you and don’t want what you’re focused on selling:

  • Raise their prices to your current rates;
  • Increase the scope of their contract (and thus, the cost) to match what’s required to do a good job; and
  • Show them the history of the hours their property has taken you, so you can explain the total cost needed to do the work required.

You also may have clients who are no longer in your geographic territory. Like a gangly tree, you need to prune these offshoots to make your tree healthier.

Start with integrity. Early in my career, I asked my father what made him so successful. I was expecting stories of extraordinary feats of relationship building. His simple answer shocked me with its simplicity: “Follow through on what you promise, and when you make a mistake, fix it.” There was nothing sexy about that answer, but it led me to my rule of thumb: “Lead with integrity, and follow through with consistency.” This mentality will drive your reputation and growth.

Build relationships on loyalty. It’s no secret credit card and airline companies try to figure out how to make their clients more loyal. But they have the question backward. The real question is: “How can they show more loyalty to their clients?” To nurture relationships with your ideal “green light” clients, dedicate part of your time and effort toward building and showing your loyalty to them. It can be as simple as you or a company leader walking your clients’ properties as if they were your own, taking care of items proactively and communicating to your clients what you’ve found, done and/or what you propose.

Where do you sit on the relationship sweet spot axis? Do you need to reduce the number of relationships you have or simply strengthen them? Focusing on your “green light” prospects and clients will speed the growth of your success.

Jeffrey Scott

About the Author:

Jeffrey Scott, MBA, author, specializes in growth and profit maximization in the Green Industry. His expertise is rooted in his personal success, growing his own company into a $10 million enterprise. Now, he facilitates the Leader’s Edge peer group for landscape business owners—members achieve a 27 percent profit increase in their first year. To learn more visit

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