How many times today has someone tried to sell you something? Sales messages arrive by e-mail, postal mail, fax, radio, magazines, newspapers, TV, and your web browser; salespeople write you, call you, and approach you in the store or showroom. Are you even listening any more? How often do you actually buy something because someone you didn’t know tried to sell it to you?
Your customers are just like you. They are not only tired of being sold to, most of the time they don’t even see or hear it. Overwhelmed with communications, they tune out the vast majority of the sales messages they are presented with just in order to get through their day. Recently, after attending a race plastered with Coca-Cola logos, a survey revealed that only a third of the attendees could remember who the sponsor was.
Sales and marketing experts are calling this the Spam effect. With so many communications arriving all the time, your customers are filtering out all but the most essential information they receive not just via the Internet, but by mail and phone as well. If they don’t know who you are, you don’t get through. More than ever before, customers want to do business only with people they already know, like, and trust.
Relationship Selling What’s a salesperson to do? The answer lies not in trying harder to sell the old way, but in changing the way you sell. Relationship selling, simply put, is translating all the effort you currently give to selling into building relationships with people instead. Once enough people in your marketplace know, like, and trust you, sales are the natural result.
Building relationships is something we humans do naturally. We talk on the phone, have coffee or lunch, and work or play together. When you need to make a purchase, you call someone you know. If you don’t know anyone who offers that product or service, you ask the people you do know. That’s how most business actually happens.
The goal of relationship selling is to know a large enough pool of people so that all the sales you need come to you, instead of you having to go out and find them.
Here are the five requirements to make relationship-selling work:
a) You have to like the people you want to sell to. You need to truly enjoy their company — this isn’t something you can fake.
b) You must care about their problems, so when you tell them how your product will solve those problems, you are helping them, not selling to them.
c) You have to believe in your product or service 100%. You want your customers to trust you, so that means you have to be honest with them.
d) You must be patient. Relationships take time to grow, and can’t be rushed. You will make sales by building relationships, but you won’t get it tomorrow.
You need to have a plan. Building the right relationships won’t happen by accident.
If the idea of relationship selling appeals to you, but you don’t meet the first three requirements, there’s only one way to solve the problem. You need to find a different target market, or a different product to sell. Relationship selling is based on authenticity, genuine concern, and honesty. It’s not a sales technique that can be simulated without possessing those basic qualities.
Who to Relate to The starting point for relationship selling is building a pool of contacts with which you can exchange referrals, introductions, connections, and information. Here are some categories of individuals who should be in your contact pool:
a) Customers – You already look to them for referrals, but if you get to know your existing customers better, you may also uncover additional needs they have that your company could fill.
b) People in your target market – They are not just potential sources of business, but also can be excellent referral sources once they learn to trust you.
c) Others who serve your market – People who provide any sort of product or service to your potential customers. They can uncover needs for you with their clients or send you referrals.
d) Colleagues and competitors – The more people in your own line of business you know, the more information you can lay your hands on, making you a more valuable resource to your prospects.
e) Other salespeople – No matter what they sell or who they sell to, other salespeople understand the value of referrals. They’re used to exchanging leads and information, and know the payoff of keeping in touch over time.
f) High-profile organizations – Building relationships here can send you highly-qualified referrals. When someone at a university or professional association recommends you, your credibility has already been established.
g) Champions – These are the people in your personal booster club, who tell everyone how great you are. They may never have been customers; they just recommend you whenever they can.
h) Centers of influence – They are the folks who seem to know everybody, and because they have that reputation, people call them when they need a recommendation. You want your name to be in their database.
Begin by organizing all of your existing contacts in any of the above categories in your contact management system. Don’t stop with your customer list — use your personal address book, holiday card list, alumni directory, membership rosters, and all the business cards you’ve thrown in a drawer. Your goal is to compile a list of people who already know your name. Be sure to include personal acquaintances and relatives as well as business contacts.
Then choose from your pool of contacts a group of people to start building stronger relationships with. The number can be as few as 30 or as many as 300 depending on your personal bandwidth. Don’t worry if you can’t yet see how your contacts will turn into sales. People who fit into any of the categories described above are excellent candidates to either become customers or refer them.
Start to Relate Make a phone call or drop a note to each person on your list. Your aim is not to sell them anything or even to ask for referrals, but for the two of you to get to know each other better. Your relationship should be based on reciprocity. An excellent approach is to tell your contacts you want to expand your business network and you would like for them to be in it. Ask them what they need right now in their business or career, and listen carefully for how you can help them find it. A basic principle of relationship selling is giving before you get.
When a contact needs referrals, look elsewhere in your contact pool for people who might become a customer or be able to refer one. If a contact is looking for a new job, give him or her three names of people you know who might have job leads. Help your contacts solve problems in their businesses, by providing information, suggesting resources, or making connections between them and others who might have ideas.
Make it a habit to keep track of industry leaders, trade events, and new developments in your field, and routinely share that information with others. If you can become a trusted resource for leads and information in your industry or geographic area, doors you used to have trouble getting your foot in will start opening for you.
That’s the giving part. The getting part works best when you ask your contacts not, “Who do you know that would like to do business with me?” but instead, “Who else do you think would be a good person for me to get to know?” Keep the focus on building your network instead of your business. Of course, in the context of getting to know each other better, you will be telling your contacts more about the products and services you sell. But now that conversation will be happening naturally instead of being a sales pitch.
How it Works This process of building relationships may sound a bit imprecise. But in fact, it can be done quite systematically. Kelly, sales representative for an accounting system, was given a Northern California territory. First, she started identifying which companies in her territory could potentially become customers, based on the number of employees they had. Her intent was to eventually have a complete list of every prospective customer in her territory.
As Kelly added each company to her list, she found out the name of their CFO. Then she looked for ways to eventually meet that CFO through her contact pool. Could someone she knew introduce her? Did the CFO belong to an association where they might meet? Who in her network could give her more information about that CFO to help make a connection? Kelly sought out how to make personal contact with each CFO, not to sell to them but to get to know them.
After Kelly had managed to connect with a CFO through her relationship network, she kept in touch at least once per quarter through a wide variety of means. She invited CFO’s to coffee and lunch, chatted with them on the phone, sent them articles and white papers through the mail, invited them to attend industry events, mailed congratulations when the CFO was in the news, and more.
Kelly always had a new tidbit of industry news to share when she got in touch. In every approach, she tried to let the CFO’s know that she was available to serve as a resource for them in any way possible. Not every CFO was responsive to Kelly’s relationship-building efforts, but enough of them were that she got to know some of them quite well. Over time, they all got to know her name.
As a result of Kelly’s relationship building, her customer base increased exponentially. She was in contact with so many people in her target market who considered her a trusted resource that it would have been almost impossible for a company to consider an accounting system implementation without her name coming up first. And the best thing about her method of selling was that people welcomed her phone calls instead of avoiding them.
Keep it Going How you decide to build stronger relationships will depend on the type of person you are and who you are making contact with. Some people you might call for lunch twice a year, others you could chat with on the phone occasionally, and still others you may send an article or announcement to every month or two. However you approach it, any salesperson can reap the rewards of relationship selling by remembering to serve as a resource, strive for reciprocity, and give people reasons to get to know you better.