Have you ever thought about how sales can be like dating? Here are some comparison's that are coming to mind...
Blind Date: The Referral. Just like your friends who love you and continually fix you up, so will customers who like you fix you up with others they think would be good business partners for you. And that first meeting can be just as awkward - or it can be love at first sight.
Flirting: you're attracted to a particular customer and begin "courting" them. Flirting includes arranging to be at events where you might run into them, sending little gifts or tidbits of information you know are relevant to them, etc.
It's Just Lunch: Like the "just lunch" dating site where fix-ups only meet for lunch so that they can easily detach if it's not going well, some first client meetings are also just for coffee so that they can extricate themselves quickly if possible.
The Third Date: Time to decide if you're going to get serious. Maybe a test project or two; you can't put it off much longer if you're going to keep the supplier's interest. The expression, "they're in bed with that customer/supplier" starts here.
The Jerk: As we know from life, all dates don't turn out well. You'll know if you've found a jerk because they never follow through and clearly demonstrate that their time is more valuable than yours. They ask for time-consuming proposals and then never review them. They set meetings and don't even cancel - they're just not there when you show up. They ask for free products or services but won't commit to a project and dodge your email/phone calls/texts. Jerks don't get better; believe the warning signs. Lose this one and move on.
End of Party manners: While dating, it can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years for the party manners to end. In real life it's when men burp and fart in front of you, he's seen you without makeup, you've got a sense of the real person now. In business, this translates to low introductory pricing returning to "regular" rates, they may start to feel like one of your customers vs. your ONLY customer, etc.
Living Together: You've got projects but they don't have you under contract yet. This is where you both see if you can get along for the long term but aren't yet ready to make a firm commitment.
Marriage: Honeymoon phase. A long-term contract is signed, rules relax and you can possibly entertain the execs, meet spouses, socialize and solidify the union. Everyone is happy and basking in the glow of the new relationship.
Marriage: We're Comfortable. The honeymoon is over, you're comfortable with each other and can pretty much predict actions and reactions now. The supplier gets a little lax, lulled by the security of the long-term contract. The customer no longer closely monitors this any may assign the relationship to a subordinate. This is risky behavior and the perfect time for a new supplier to make a move.
Infidelity: We're comfortable, hanging around in sweatpants, not paying a whole lot of attention to the relationship - it's functional but not especially exciting. But wait: there's a new supplier flirting with you. They are shiny and new and wear suits and dresses. They are spending a lot of energy trying to get to know you, what interests you, what you'd like. Your flattered and decide it might be fun to "just have lunch" and test the waters....
And around and around it goes. Beware the Comfortable Marriage phase. As a potential new supplier, that was my favorite phase and the signal to start flirting - many new accounts have been gained by taking advantage of the complacency of the current supplier. If you ARE the current supplier, don't take that customer for granted - keep that relationship exciting!