Relationships drive outcomes because they foster the buyer’s trust in the solution. That is when the customer has a meaningful relationship with the sales professional they are reassured by the fact that a person stands behind the product or service. This assurance is increasingly important in today’s setting of complex customer needs. Moreover, as more solutions require customization to address the customer’s full scope of requirements the relationship becomes critical because sales professionals and stakeholders must work hand-in-hand to satisfy every need.
The biggest challenge, however, is not understanding the “why” behind relationships in sales, but rather understanding the “how.” Developing a relationship requires more work today than ever before. Most sales reps must engage customers virtually. Stakeholders are distracted with evolving business models. The team of decision-makers is distributed.
Here, we offer three ways to overcome these challenges by refocusing on relationships which are the foundation for any sale.
Bring Authenticity to Every Interaction
Authenticity is what makes the relationship real. Unfortunately, it is also the characteristic most lacking in sales conversations. When a customer senses a lack of authenticity in the sales team’s behavior they feel as though every conversation is a veiled sales pitch, or simple sales technique.
To become truly authentic the sales professional must ascend to the role of a trusted advisor. That is, they must offer insight and expertise that advance the goals of the business even if their insight and expertise do not trace directly to the solution they are selling. Customers recognize authenticity when they see that the sales professional’s behavior is not self-serving. Becoming a trusted advisor does more than establish authenticity, it also earns the sales professional access to the inner circle of decision-makers in an organization. A trusted advisor is sought out for their acumen and guidance. They are valued not simply for the products and services they offer, but also for their incisive approach to problem-solving.
Developing an authentic approach to the sale requires patience. The sales profession must be prepared to have several conversations in which the solution they offer is not part of the discussion. These early dialogues must focus on the customer’s needs. The result is a strong relationship.
It is important to remember that authenticity is not a goal. It is a mindset. That is, authenticity cannot be practiced, or strategic. Instead, it is something that emerges naturally from a sales professional who genuinely wants to help the customer even if that help does not require purchasing the solution offered.
Focus on the Customer’s Competitive Advantage Rather than Your Own
After interviewing more than 300 professionals The Harvard Business Review, learned that “from the customer’s point of view, the greatest need for improvement is in salespeople’s knowledge of the customer’s business and industry.” This discovery perfectly encapsulates the relationship building that comes from truly understanding the customer’s competitive advantage.
Too often sales professionals rush to cite all the ways in which their solution rises above the competition. This approach undercuts the relationship because it is too one-sided and it ignores the customer and the idea behind relationship selling. The key is to speak to the customer’s competitive advantage. In doing so the sales professional develops a better understanding of and appreciation for the customer’s business. Moreover, by understanding the customer’s competitive advantage the sales profession is better positioned to expand those capabilities.
Part of being in a meaningful relationship means feeling understood. Speaking to the customer’s competitive advantages fosters this personal connection. It shows the customer that the sales professional is willing to pay attention and consider the long-term benefits to building relationships.
Build Consensus Among Stakeholders
Forging a single relationship within the customer’s business is not enough. Purchasing decisions today come from a group of stakeholders. Therefore, effective sales professionals consider ways to build several relationships at once by helping a disparate group of decision-makers build to a consensus around a solution.
Building a consensus, and therefore a building sales means getting out of “response mode” in which sales professionals merely react to piecemeal information offered by the customer. Sales professionals need to become proactive and start new conversations intended to explore how the customer’s business has changed and where pain points are found. In conducting these conversations, many sales professionals will discover that although their original value proposition is now irrelevant, there exists a new and stronger value message elsewhere.
The key is to remember that building a relationship with a customer means helping the customers build relationships with each other. While difficult, this approach makes for a more durable relationship in the long term because the relationship with the sales professional is seen as valuable because it is one that ties together the group of stakeholders.
Sales professionals devote a lot of time to leveraging sophisticated tools in the sales cycle. While practical, and valuable, these tools are merely one part of the sales process. To succeed, sales professionals also need a relationship with the potential customer. Though it sounds counterintuitive, sales relationships must transcend selling. If the client relationship is based entirely on a transaction then the relationship is not genuine.