Too many sales professionals confuse client relationships with Customer Relationship Management. The first is a human endeavor — person to person — while the second, known as CRM, is basically a software system that automates the collection of data related to customers and sales opportunities. Think of the two as cause and effect; you have to build a relationship with your clients in order to have data about it to organize and analyze.
Before you can add insights and value to the process of working together — and before you can even win the deal — you have to win over your client. Here are two essential elements that are foundational for making that connection and building client relationships.
1) Be authentic
When I began my career in selling, for Xerox, many years ago, I approached working with my clients as authentically as possible. What I mean by authenticity is being reliable, dependable, and genuine. If you are not “real” with your customers, and you don’t sincerely care about them, they get that message right away. You just can’t fake being authentic.
You relay your authenticity by talking with clients naturally, looking for common bonds and interests, and being friendly. Conversations should be, well, conversational — not full of consultant-speak, training speak, acronyms, or jargon. Clients are people, too, and when people like one another, they often look forward to working together. While this certainly isn’t a popularity contest, clients like working with people who provide value and people they enjoy.
A strong relationship is built on trust. What that means to me is that, even for the little things you promise, you have to deliver to the client what and when you say you’re going to deliver. Meeting these deadlines can become challenging if you first need to get answers from other people, so set realistic time frames and continue to follow-up until you get the desired information. Communication is key with all parties, so you can advise clients about delays and convey urgency to those on your team working on answers.
Establishing yourself as a trustworthy person with the client is an important step toward being able to differentiate yourself and add value through insights and forward-thinking ideas. When you are trusted — and, even better, if you can achieve trusted advisor status — you can begin acting as a true partner. Maybe the client is overwhelmed with some aspect of his/her job. You might be able to take something off of his/her plate and either handle it or provide your best thinking and resources to make the client’s life easier.
Often, the client may be thinking too narrowly about what he/she wants to develop and how he/she wants to do it. Then, you can step up to expand that thinking, giving the client the benefit of your expertise, to broaden his/her perception of what will make a certain initiative most effective and working within the client’s budget and time constraints.
Every interaction with a client is an opportunity to build on the relationship, whether you’re executing on work he/she already agreed to implement, prospecting and making outbound calls, or following up on requests for information.
Take every occasion to demonstrate your authenticity and trust by listening well, offering relevant solutions, and continuing to bring value and insights throughout the relationship.