With the introduction of new sales enablement technologies and the shift to, technology-driven, inside sales reps, do relationships with customers still matter?
I'd argue that relationships are more important than ever since high-quality business relationships provide sales professionals with significant advantages over competitors who choose to sell anonymously or based on price.
The benefits of a strong business relationship include developing customers who:
- Are receptive to your message: they want to hear from you
- Respect your experience and advice: they value what you can share with them based on your expertise
- Provide you with access: they're willing to introduce you to other key stakeholders in their organizations
- Buy from you: they trust that you'll provide a quality solution, and stand behind what you sell
- Remain loyal: provide ongoing or repeat business, and potentially even serve as a referral source or customer reference
Unfortunately, many reps struggle when it comes to building relationships and often focus on “likability” as a proxy for “business relationship.” While “likability” is important, all too often sales reps assume that simply connecting with their customers (e.g., stopping by and dropping off donuts) is enough to earn their business. But customers prefer to do business with sales reps who have established rapport (which goes well beyond likability), built trust, and demonstrated expertise.
Developing rapport includes techniques such as mirroring and matching, sharing common experiences, and active listening. Active listening (suspending your thought to focus fully on what you hear) is essential because it makes your customer feel important and appreciated. Active listening also helps you avoid misunderstandings, and allows you to understand what’s most important to your customer.
#2 Building Trust
Building trust is based on the words you share and the actions you take. Factors that increase trust include reliability and responsiveness, honesty, and objectivity. Reliability is all about doing what you say you're going to do. As an example, if you tell someone you'll get back to them this afternoon, don’t hold off to the following morning. Even if you don’t have the information you were hoping to share, it is better to leave a message providing an update letting your customer when they can expect to hear from you next. Examples of honesty include admitting when you don’t know the answer (never make it up) and acknowledging errors or mistakes. Finally, objectivity involves retaining your role as a trusted advisor even if that means you turn down business when your solution doesn't solve the customer need.
Customers prefer to do business with sales professionals who are knowledgeable about the industry, the competitive landscape, and business trends. They also rely on sales professionals who have the requisite product knowledge to help them develop solutions that fully address customer needs. In certain cases, this will involve sales reps providing access to additional resources (sales professionals typically don’t have all the answers) such as sales engineers and solution architects who can assist in developing customized solutions.
These are three key factors for building sales relationships that convert. By focusing on each of these areas, sales professionals will differentiate themselves from their competitors and enhance how they're viewed by their customers. Ultimately, customers still show a strong preference for doing business with sales professionals who take the time to understand their needs, provide valuable expertise, and have earned their trust.
About Norman Behar