It’s an adage you’ve probably heard before, but it’s no less true than when it was first said: “People buy from people they like.”
The tactics salespeople put into play to make customer relationships flourish can make all the difference. But which tactics are the most effective? And how can sales leaders put them into play effectively?
1. Be Genuine to Maximize Sales Relationships
Everyone relates better to people who are being themselves, and it’s way easier to manage one personality than multiple ones—one for work, one for home and so on. That just goes to prove the importance of being yourself. Have real business conversations about costs and returns.
Point out the flaws, risks and upsides in your solution without using adjectives and hyperbole. And my biggest red flag is someone that says “to be honest with you,” because I hope you’re always honest with me.
Don’t try to adopt a “salesperson” persona just because you think you need to. Your genuine self is the best at selling. I promise.
2. Be Patient—Sales Cycles Are Getting Longer
Muscle takes time to build. It takes the right combination of time, nutrition and exercise. Wine takes time to ferment. Technology takes years to perfect. If you act impatient, you will spoil the result. People sense impatience a mile away and don’t want your anxiety thrust upon them.
Play it cool. I tell clients I don’t care if we work together in three months or three years from now—I’m just honored they gave me time to share what we can do for them.
Pretty much everything you own or use went through a long process to become the full-fledged version of what it is today. Great relationships are the same way. The importance of patience can’t be understated.
And today, patience is needed more than ever. According to Demand Gen Report’s annual 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study, the purchase process is becoming even more complex in terms of the time, analysis and number of people involved in the decision-making process.
For example, 61% of respondents said the number of team members involved in the purchase decision had increased over the prior year. More than two-thirds indicated the average length of their buying cycle had increased from a year prior. Another 25% said the time span had increased significantly. Almost three quarters of the respondents said they had a formal buying committee in place to review all purchase decisions (71%), and 70% said that they were now conducting a detailed ROI analysis before making a final decision.
Anticipate—expect, rather—that people might take a while to warm up to your proposition. Come armed with lots of information that addresses their particular situation it may expedite the process. Content remains a critical influence on B2B buying decisions, with 76% of respondents saying the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision, according to the Demand Gen Report’s study.
3. Get to Know Customers & Prospects—Personally & Sincerely
According to the LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020, a majority of sales professionals surveyed are focusing on strengthening existing relationships. Seventy percent of respondents said they are making customer retention a higher priority.
Take another look at point number one above—a genuine interest in your prospects and authentic curiosity about their interests can open doors like you wouldn’t believe. But don’t fake it.
With the amount of information available to us, there is no excuse not to have a few topics of discussion at the ready to get to know each other. I use a 3-in-3 rule: have three topics ready to discuss in the first three minutes.
The topics can be business related (“I saw you presented at the conference last week…”), personal (“I saw your team dominated in game 3 of the series last night…”) or conversational (“What’d you think of the announcement last night…”).
Daniel Pink, author of To Sell Is Human, captured it perfectly: be an ambivert. Ambiverts are in the middle of the spectrum of introvert and extrovert. Not too much, not too little. The right blend develops the right relationship.
Bottom line is be genuine, be curious, smile and, please, pronounce their name correctly!
Related: Check out these other awesome sales books to aid in training for your team.
4. Add Customer Value
Building trust begins even before a salesperson makes the first outreach to a buyer. Everyone loves that morsel (or more) of information that may help them get ahead, especially prospects, and being able to provide that intel is a tried-and-true way of differentiating yourself. You have, and are willing to share, knowledge prospects want and need.
Sales consultants know trends. But you know best practices. You know people that can help. Even more, you know what a prospect's competitor is doing. This information adds value to the relationship and helps to build trust. If you can help them “see around corners,” you can add value.
Do your homework and come into every meeting or phone call with something genuinely helpful for your prospect, even if it’s totally outside the realm of what you do and relates more to who they are as a person. By being prepared about who the buyers are, what they need and what roles they play in the buying process, sales reps can better develop trust from the very first interaction.
5. Use Social Media
Today, buyers use the internet to make themselves knowledgeable about your product at their speed. They investigate and compare options while on the subway. They read reviews and ask their social networks what to buy. You need to be where they are looking and you need to look good.
Especially now. According to LinkedIn’s report, “time spent on LinkedIn Learning courses about ‘social selling’ and ‘inside sales’ more than tripled between February and March 2020 in North America.
The sales reps who will have most success are those willing to adjust more quickly and learn to build relationships through different digital channels.
Think about your personal relationships. Would you look up someone you’re about to date? Or, have you ever Googled your name? Of course you have, because part of your reputation is online today. In order to be viewed as a thought leader, you need to share your thoughts and present yourself online as a leader.
If you aren’t social selling—or using social media to present yourself and your company in a public way—you’re missing an enormous opportunity.
6. Listen to Prospects
Greek philosopher Epictetus put it concisely when he said that we have two ears and one mouth “so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
As salespeople, we must pay very close attention to not just what we need (a sale), but to the needs of our prospects.
Active listening is the perfect technique for salespeople of all walks. In essence, it involves listening to a person, understanding what they’re saying, and responding with a brief summary of what they’ve just said. Buyers rank “active listening” (42%) as the number one skill or trait they want from salespeople, which is a disconnect with what sales managers seek in hiring. According to LinkedIn, active listening ranks number seven by managers in hiring for new salespeople (26%).
And an analysis of LinkedIn Learning courses taken by salespeople in 2019 reveals that less than 1% of learning time was dedicated to improving their listening skills.
By dedicating time to improving your listening skills you will demonstrate to your prospects and customers that you understand their needs while also getting get a huge boost in rapport.
7. Position Yourself as a Problem-Solver
Here’s a secret: customers don’t care about your company. They care about getting their problem resolved.
If you want to really engage customers, leave yourself out of the issue, and don’t leave it up to the customer’s imagination to determine your product’s relevance.
As Geoffrey James details in Inc., there are two important sentences that always engage customers:
- “Our clients hire us to provide [benefit(s) to the client].”
- “They hire us, rather than somebody else, because [we have something unique that the competition doesn't have but the customer values].”
By expressing facts about yourself from the customer’s viewpoint, not your own, you’ll portray yourself and your organization as one that seeks to solve problems, not win sales.
8. Ask for Feedback
Ed Koch, the mayor of New York in the 1970s and 1980s, didn’t just assume he knew the problems of everyday New Yorkers. He preferred to take feedback from them directly, constantly asking, “How am I doin’?”
If you want feedback on how you’re doing, just ask. Honest candor from the people closest to your sales performance can provide invaluable help in honing your talent.
Related: Getting feedback is increasingly important in today’s workplace. Here are 14 other tips to help improve sales performance throughout your organization.
How to Help Your Team Amplify Performance
Simply asking your people to reevaluate the way they address sales relationship-building might not go over well. Making your people do extra work for seemingly little benefit can be a tough sell.
Make sales relationship-building a prime focus for your organization through strategic sales incentives that move the needle for you, your people and your clients. Discover how one ITA Group operated program produced an 11% average increase in revenue per sales representative.