The game I'm referring to has two components:

  • Opportunity generation
  • Opportunity conversion

Anything else, you're hanging out on the sidelines with the other non-players, acting like you're in the game. This won't make me popular, but here's your new year wakeup: Unless you're creating sales opportunities, or converting sales opportunities, most of what you're spending your time on is largely a waste.

Don't buy into the drivel about "forming relationships," "strengthening relationships," and "enhancing relationships." You're forgiven if you find the constant drumbeat numbing; please feel free to tune it out.

If those peddling this line are to be believed, all you need to do is make a lot of friends and your business generation problems will go away and you're on the road to prosperity. Really? How many friendships and relationships do you already have who don't buy from you? On the front end, relationship development is absolute bunk. It's a vestige of a bygone era in which business was conducted among friends within a local social set.

It also misleads you into thinking that it's easy to earn business. Hang out, do some lunches, make nice and "poof," you have a book of business. Prospecting and selling are hard. That's why so few people can do it well. It takes skill, discipline, persistence and resilience. 

No salesperson has time to cultivate relationships with random "suspects." (Only after someone has revealed a specific opportunity and discussed money with you do they become a "prospect.") More pointedly, no buyer has time to cultivate relationships with potential sellers. Why would they want one? 

As a marketing tactic, cultivating 1:1 relationships is hugely inefficient. One-on-one interaction is for selling, not marketing.

Forget relationships. What you need are opportunities to sell to contacts 

  • whose situation contains factors that trigger demand for what you sell,
  • who associate you with the underlying demand-triggering problem or opportunity that drives those buying reasons, and
  • who perceive that you can make a difference in their situation.

Initially, "making a difference" will take the form of the relevance and usefulness of your ideas and thinking, which helps people understand their problem better. A percentage of people who are exposed to your "thought leadership" will choose to consult with you to discuss how the demand-triggering problem affects their business, and how your thinking might be applied usefully. A percentage of those will pay you to apply your thinking on their behalf.

For opportunity-generation, the relationship you cultivate is not with individual companies or buyers, which is far too risky and expensive, but with a specific segment of a market for which you've identified externally-observable evidence of conditions that suggest that they face your demand-triggering problem now, or likely will before too long.

For opportunity-conversion, you cultivate a "decision relationship," i.e., you actually help the group of stakeholders make an informed, sustainable decision without regard to your interests. If you've chosen your prospects wisely, your risk of getting too many "no, thanks" decisions is very low. The bigger risk is "no decision," which wastes the time of buyers and sellers alike, and delivers no value.

Once someone decides to trust you with a problem that counts and some of their funds, you have the basis for a real relationship. That's worth investing in.

The game is opportunity-generation and opportunity-conversion. Anything else is busywork.

Mike O'Horo

To teach you how to generate sales opportunities and convert them reliably, RainmakerVT offers courses on Getting Found and Getting Chosen. Begin the new year the right way: