Greg PapandrewWhen it comes to selling, it’s all about the friendships.

After an almost four-year hiatus from selling PCBs, I was surprised upon my return to find that most of my previous customers have had very few visits from industry salespeople – and some, none at all. This is a mistake. Yes, electronic communication is important in today’s marketplace, but nothing beats the personal touch when it comes to winning and retaining customers.

And it’s the same for PCB buyers. Holding onto good vendors requires regular, in-person interaction.

I’m now an old dog in sales. I remember the advent of the fax machine being a big deal. All the technology that’s arisen in the past 20-plus years has hugely enhanced communication in our industry. But today’s all-digital environment tempts many salespeople and buyers to rely solely on the impersonal world of the “Internet of Things” to make successful connections. That approach is certainly easier in many respects. But I believe it has severe limitations.

Do the banner ads and pay-per-clicks that have become so commonplace in our industry really compel a customer to buy a quality custom-made printed circuit board?

Does responding to a request for quote via some sort of impersonal online business portal compel manufacturers to bust their butts to give the greatest service and quality for the price quoted?

The digital world does provide additional valuable ways for prospects and vendors to interact in real time, but it also threatens the personal touch crucial when immediate assistance from both sides is required to get the project at hand completed.  

Yes, those not active on social media will appear to be behind the times. A degree of sophistication in the use of social media is important, even for old dogs like me. Yet, back in the “primitive” days (aka pre-Internet), a company’s greatest asset was its people. That’s still the case today.  

Buying and selling PCBs – be they down-and-dirty single-sided or expensive rigid-flex – is based on relationships gradually built on trust and friendship. Become a friend to your customers. They want to buy from friends, knowing their friends want them to succeed.

Buyers also welcome a visit from me because I am a friend. Friends will take calls from friends most any time of the day, even on weekends. Meanwhile, the competition will still be tapping away on their devices, wondering why they get can’t responses to their form emails or LinkedIn requests.

Social media offers some real advantages for those who use it effectively. But apps, texts or tweets will never replace actual human engagement and contact – the kind required, in most cases, to close the deal. Sometimes the old ways are best. Take it from an old dog.

So, what does one do in this digital world? I have almost 3,000 connections on LinkedIn, and it has been an invaluable tool for me to hone my prospecting skills and maintain contact with past, present and future friends. Use social media to search for new customers or vendors. But don’t rely on it to make a transaction. It is there for research, identifying the right contacts, using contacts to facilitate an introduction and positioning yourself as an expert through efforts such as blogging.

After the initial electronic efforts, however, it’s time to close the laptop or power down the smart device and make a personal, meaningful connection. Pick up the phone and call. Get in a car or catch a plane and get in front of the customer – the decision-maker. Shake their hand and have that face-to-face conversation.
Take customers and potential customers to lunch. Genuinely get to know them. You will learn more about their needs and how to better serve them. And this will result, as it always has, in more business. Everybody wins.

For buyers, the same sales wisdom applies. Don’t rely solely on a digital connection; visit vendors and encourage them to visit you. Time spent getting to know salespeople and understanding what they truly have to offer is invaluable. Company owners should encourage buyers to develop personal relationships with vendors because when there is a problem, that personal relationship may just help solve an issue more quickly. It will also lead to better service and value for the money spent.

Unfortunately, the ability to connect on a personal level is a fading skill. The digital world lets those who rely on it too much hide behind a screen. They’ve become too comfortable being one step removed from the people they should be building relationships with. Social skills can decline when not used regularly. A winning personality and self-confidence are still a vital part of success in business. But while these traits seem to come naturally to some, they can be learned. Read some books, attend a Dale Carnegie course, and get a mentor in your field; all these efforts – along with regular personal interaction – will make you more successful, whether on the supply side or the buying side.  

A digital presence is important, vital even. Leverage social media, exploring the plethora of technology tools available to streamline the sales or buying process.
But don’t lose sight of the personal touch. That’s what will close the deal successfully for both sides. And don’t be duped into thinking the latest and greatest digital tools offer a predictable, guaranteed edge. Your competitors are using the same tools.

People seal the deal. Not technology. People – and the bonds they form through regular, in-person interaction – will give you the edge. Those relationships will carry you through the rough periods any company experiences. Instead of assessing only your latest digital efforts, always ask yourself how healthy is my old-school, human-to-human network? The number of true business friendships you have may well determine the fate of your sales efforts.

Greg Papandrew is a PCB sales and marketing advisor; greg@PCBlogistix.com.

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