When discussing effective approaches to sales and selling in the 21st century, I frequently reference the old-time salesman from a hundred years ago….the one who created the model in the minds of so many when they cringe at the word “sales.”

Always smiling, talking a mile-a-minute, back-slapping and buying your lunch (or dinner, or nightcap)….and working, working, working you until you finally wear down and sign a deal—ANY deal, sometimes just to get them to go away. The champion schmoozer.

The most reliable trick in their toolbox was to become everyone’s best pal. And even though that old stereotype has largely faded from modern business, there are still a lot of sales professionals who rely on extra-curricular activities to keep them in the game.

Golf outings, athletic events, theatre and concerts, or just endless rounds of drinks in the local mahogany bar. The soundtrack may be current, but the vibe is still strictly “Mad Men.”
But the age of “Mad Men” is gone, isn’t it? Aren’t we in an age of “Mad Men” and “Mad Women?” Don’t things need to change?

Oh, there is an ever-growing number of exceptions, and women are more and more frequently finding themselves in the position of decision-maker and buyer. But I still hear a lot of comments from women AND men we consult with about how they sometimes feel left out–and a little intimidated–when things get too “old school.”

Many don’t feel comfortable with the kind of loose and casual nature of many of these kinds of customer relationships. Or they just don’t want to spend endless evenings at dinner, wining and dining. They would rather have a meaningful business conversation during business hours to close the deal.

So if you have found yourself in that position yourself, what can you do?
Well, here are some ideas…

  1. Clarify. First, speak to your supervisor or HR coordinator, and get a very clear understanding of what is and isn’t expected in the course of doing business. Make sure your understanding of industry ethics is above reproach, and keep your relationships in compliance.
  2. Don’t compromise. Never jeopardize yourself or your position by doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. “Everybody does it” is never a valid excuse—there are plenty of other options. Trust your instincts and your gut feelings.
  3. Communicate. When something appears to be out of line, and you’re losing pace while others take advantage of backroom deals, keep your supervisor in the loop, and don’t hesitate to check in as needed. You needn’t necessarily incriminate others, but if “special relationships” are creating an unfair work environment, you need to act.
  4. Be innovative. Think outside the box—the “three-martini lunch-box.” There are countless ways to develop strong and productive customer relationships. A lot of them can be as simple as keeping in touch in a warm, creative, and human fashion. If yours is a culture of client swag, come up with new ideas and gifts that have value and are reflective of your personal brand. But remember, it doesn’t have as much to do with the “stuff” you provide, but it makes them feel.
  5. Maximize. Make the most of the client access and opportunities you DO have. Do you know what we call the “WOW Moments” in your workflow? Those are the points at which a certain milestone has been reached—the first order received, the first contract signed, or a client goal realized—that make your customer say “Wow!” Determine the role you can play in these, and celebrate them. In doing so, you’ll be more likely to stay top-of-mind the next time an opportunity for more business comes up.

    Old-school sales schmoozing is rapidly becoming a thing of the past—by being proactive and smart, you can help create a level playing field and blaze a trail for up-and-coming new professionals entering the business. (And your company may end up attracting the best of them.)

    That’s how you….GROW BIG OR GO HOME !