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Courting Your Clients: Building a Trusted Sales Relationship

Rob Danna

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Person holding a rose

“Sales and dating have so much in common.”

You’d think that because it’s said so often that it must be true. And in many ways it might be.

Think about a show like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette where complete strangers wax poetically about finding true love while seemingly talking over one another to guarantee screen time. Can you imagine what would happen if you were to run up to a man or woman you saw from afar and told them, “You’re the most amazing person I’ve never met—let’s be together forever.” The first mistake here is running at a stranger. Don’t do that. Secondly, how can you know you’re in love—or the person is “rose-worthy”—without taking the time to get to know this person, let alone meet them? No, that takes time; time learning interests, goals, fears, values and so much more to even have a chance at that second date.

Perhaps a better way to think about nurturing a professional and long-term, professional relationship is to view it as a courtship, with a long-term commitment—marriage, if you will—the desired outcome. 

The Perfect Partner

Think about all the criteria you have for a partner. It’s not surprising that they are very similar to the list you have for suppliers:

  • Dependability: It’s about being reliable, practical, rule-following, and organized. The question of, “will you be there for me?” is never in doubt. People who are less dependable are more difficult to deal with in a relationship. They cancel plans, fail to fulfill their obligations, act carelessly and fall through on their promises.
  • Flexibility: It’s the understanding that there is always give and take, ebb and flow, yin and yang, which every relationship must balance. And any healthy relationship will require a certain amount of flexibility from each partner—because change is inevitable. And in order for a relationship to grow and prosper, it is critical that you and your partner be able to adapt to the changes, finding your way through the good and the bad together. “Getting your way” does not work in marriage or sales.
  • Support: “Will you make me look good?” and “Do you have my back?” If the answer is “no,” to either it’s time to reevaluate your partnership. Supporting each other is essential—your partner needs to know that he or she has a pillar of support especially when life gets really hard.
  • Fun: Maintaining a healthy, happy relationship requires you to make daily choices that leave your ego behind and to act in the best interest of your relationship rather than just yourself. If you’re not “beaming” when your partner is talking—there is a problem. You should feel pride and comfort when your partner takes center stage.

Trust is A Must

If you ask anyone to name the most important elements of any long-term, satisfying relationship, trust is usually near the top of any list. This is certainly true for personal relationships, but it is also true for business relationships. You build trust with every action, every word—every decision you’ve made in your past.

Like any relationship, business partnerships have to be cultivated over time. Partners need clear expectations. They need to know they are valued. Building trust over time becomes essential when complications and difficulties arise, and they always do.

So How Can You Start to Build It?

Trust is a crucial requirement in sustaining any productive relationship. As many of us know from our experiences, trust can take a long time to build, yet only a moment to weaken or be totally lost through a mindless act. Without trust, the outcomes can be lip-service, face-saving, resentment, undermining, avoiding and game-playing. Consequently, real mutual understanding and effective collaborative work get compromised.

When working to build trust today, it’s best to keep these three key words in mind:

  • Responsiveness – Not to be confused with 24/7 availability—don’t be that person—that’s no way to foster a healthy relationship. While the speed of response is important, what you really want is answers, information and opinions from a trusted source.
  • Expertise – A partner with extensive knowledge and ability in a particular area who, through experience, practice or education, is recognized as a subject matter expert. They know how to use their knowledge, skills and personal characteristics to achieve exceptional results. Their expertise comes from asking questions, not leading lectures. They genuinely care about you and don’t just see you as a means to an end. Experts use their keen sense of curiosity to establish and further their relationships.
  • Confidence – Clients really appreciate it when they realize that you're looking out for them. We hear it all the time: “Your competitor just released this new feature—why don’t you?” As if you’ve never thought of it. Partners explain their approach, they discuss the research that went into that approach as well as the pros and cons of a decision to instill confidence in the partnership.

The best relationships are built on trust. Just like in romance, relationships that are built on lies, or are forced, are doomed to fail. A great salesperson understands boundaries around what their product or service can provide to a prospective client, accentuates the positives and, in doing so, forges a trusting relationship with their prospect. Over time, the best salespeople use that relationship to be direct and honest in asking for what they want from the prospect, typically a contractual relationship that is beneficial to both parties.

Want to learn more about building lasting connections? Check out these tactics that can help amplify your sales relationships.

Rob Danna's picture

Rob Danna

With a 25-year background in technology and sales management, Rob brings real-world performance improvement solutions to hundreds of large companies. As Vice President of Sales and Marketing at ITA Group, he prides himself by staying on the front lines of performance improvement technology and innovation.

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