Putting relationship selling into practice
While having the right underlying skills is helpful, your team will only get the best results if they’re put to use throughout the sales process. The following steps will help your reps act on those skills and build stronger customer relationships.
1. Know yourself
When dating, it helps to have an honest understanding of what you bring to the table and what you’re looking for in a potential partner. Likewise, when selling, your reps should already know their (and their product’s) strengths and weaknesses, as well as their sales objectives and goals.
2. Identify the right prospects
The next step is to create a list of prospects that are a good match and are compatible with your reps and their objectives. As powerful as relationship selling is, it takes effort, so it’s important to focus that effort on those prospects that are most likely to convert.
Rather than chasing prospects that don’t match the target profile, look out for those who are similar to your best customers, then qualify them to confirm that they’re worth pursuing.
3. Use active listening
A key part of the relationship is understanding your prospects and their requirements. Although your reps should have done some research before reaching out, they mustn’t assume they know everything about the prospects and the challenges they’re facing. The easiest way to find out is by actively listening to what they have to say.
LinkedIn’s 2020 survey of sales professionals found that active listening is the skill buyers prize most in salespeople. Rather than being distracted by their phone or preparing what they’re going to say next, encourage your sales team to take the time to listen fully to what the prospect says. If they don’t completely understand what they hear, let them know it’s okay to ask questions and clarify what they’ve just said.
Oscar Trimboli, author and host of the Deep Listening podcast Deep, explains there are five levels of listening—the first of which is listening to yourself. If you’re still replaying your last sales call in your head, you’re not going to be able to effectively listen to what the prospect is saying. Only once you’ve cleared that noise will your reps be able to listen to what the prospect has to say (and, perhaps more importantly, what they’re not saying).
4. Adopt a win-win approach
Sales shouldn’t be a zero-sum game wherein the salesperson is the winner and the buyer is the loser. Part of developing a long-lasting relationship is identifying and delivering a win-win result, for both you and your prospect. This is where the principles of honesty and authenticity come in. If it doesn’t look like the prospect will benefit from your product, it’s not going to be a rewarding relationship.
Spend some time analyzing your customers’ competitors. This may not seem like the best use of resources if you’re trying to secure the ‘win’ for just yourself, but changing your attitude to help your client also win will pay off.
This long-term approach requires patience: if the product isn’t right for them now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. By keeping in touch with potential prospects, such as with a drip email campaign, you’ll be top-of-mind when the time is right.
5. Add exceptional value
Teach your reps to look for opportunities to exceed expectations and create value, without expecting anything in return. While this might sound like hard work, the good news is that, if you’ve followed the previous steps, this will be a lot easier. Knowing your prospects and their needs makes it easier to provide genuine and relevant value.
By following this consistently, your reps will soon earn the role of trusted advisor and can provide even more value. David Butter, of Andrew Sobel Advisors, explains why filling the role of trusted advisor is so beneficial:
“Clients in this fast-moving world are desperately seeking people they can have insightful conversations with—rather than receive presentations and me-too recommendations from—people who can be a sounding board, people who can sit at the table and listen, ask insightful questions, and offer independent strategic advice.”
In return, salespeople who can provide that extra service are more likely to win a lifetime customer and become a go-to provider without having to constantly compete on price.
6. Provide ongoing support post-sale
Once your rep has made the sale, that shouldn’t mean that the value (and the relationship) should come to an end.
Nordstrom is renowned for its exceptional customer service; on one occasion, they famously allowed a customer to ‘return’ a set of tires that he hadn’t even bought from them. While this may not make any sense on paper, the fact the story has been so widely spread shows the value of outstanding customer service as a differentiator and has led to many more customer relationships.
More companies are now going beyond customer support and have established customer success teams. These teams are dedicated to helping current customers get the most out of the product. For example, to ensure a cohesive experience for their customers, Falcon.io uses the details from their CRM and pipeline management software to outline each customer’s specific success criteria, based on their journey from lead to customer.
This aligns the company’s sales and customer success teams, and enables closer customer relationships, as reps have a better understanding of their customers’ needs and can map out their ongoing relationship.
By prioritizing their relationships with prospects and customers, salespeople can have a better understanding of their needs, offer more value and build trust. This involves adopting a long-term view and putting the customer’s interests ahead of the sale.
With a foundation based on the solid principles that relationship selling refers to and a sales process that supports strong relationships, your team will have a significant advantage over your competitors.