“Can you invite yourself for a cup of coffee, or better yet can you buy them a cup of coffee?” It was a warm February afternoon and I had just started in the consulting industry. I was an intern although I was responsible for my own salary. It was probably one of the hardest and best lessons as an intern. My boss, a German gentleman who was a ferocious salesman and never pushed pause, was coaching me on networking and sales. The first lesson – Can I invite myself for a cup of coffee. “I don’t understand” I said, “what has a cup of coffee got to do with sales.” My boss sighed, realising the enormity of the task ahead of him, “Nothing and everything.” He said. “Before you can sell anything, someone must trust you, before they can trust you they have to know you.”
In the technological era that we find ourselves in, this truth might seem ridiculous. On a daily basis, we buy products on shelves, through a website or even from the app store. It is true that we might every now and then buy something that we are unsure of, but most of us, most of the time, buy products and services from someone or something that we trust.
Networking starts with Trust
As humans, we are built to trust and before we can trust something we need to build a relationship. Most relationships are formed through time. This is true for the relationship between one human and another human, but it is also true in the relationship between a human and a brand. If we are exposed to a brand long enough we start to trust that brand.
Unfortunately, not all of us can find ourselves in the position where we can spend a lot of money on building a brand, and even though social media has made it more cost effective for us to do branding we still need to network with the right people who are able to amplify and endorse our messages online. That does not just happen, we need to make that happen, and the way we need to make that happen is through spending time with the right people.
While walking through the Grand bazaar in Istanbul I was mesmerised by the colours and the variety of choices, yet I also found that many of the shops had the same items. While I was browsing one of the carpets that was hanging up the salesman asked me if I would like to join him for a cup of tea. I thought why not and soon found myself inside his shop having a conversation about the different types of Turkish carpets. The next morning before leaving for the airport I went around to the Bazaar again, this time I knew what I wanted and because I had made friends with the salesman I also knew who I wanted it from. The salesman would never have found me through social media, he simply offered me something that he knew every human wanted, the ability to connect and share something of themselves.
Sales is about service orientated relationships
I grew up thinking sales is a one-way relationship where someone is looking for your money and your job is to protect your money. It was only much later that I changed my mind about sales. Sales and networking is about building a relationship with someone or something that you trust. In that relationship you will give and take. The best way to build the relationship is to get to know the human being that you are selling to. What are they interested in, what is their story and what drives them? In this relationship as with any other relationship we are focused on finding areas of commonality, but you are also seeking to serve and seeking to solve problems for future customers.
A cup of coffee in South Africa is the Turkish equivalent of the cup of tea. To some it might be watching a soccer/rugby game together or even playing a round of golf, but in by far the most cases it simply is a cup of coffee. It is the way in which we get to spend time together, build trust, and it is the first step to serving our customers.