Peter Finkelstein Contributor

Peter Finkelstein is head of sales strategy at Barrett Consulting and has more than 40 years of global sales consulting, training and sales strategy experience across a wide spectrum of industries.

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Relationship selling: how building trust can lead to lifelong customers

Published 25 September 2013 12:14, Updated 26 September 2013 08:04

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Relationship selling: how building trust can lead to lifelong customers

Customers don’t mind setting up appointments with relationship-oriented salespeople because the interactions are low pressure and focus on helping them achieve their goals. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

Did you know that (according to a study conducted by SiriusDecisions in the US) it costs more than five times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an existing one? That in itself should help organisations understand the value of building a relationship with their customers and turning them into both repeat buyers and spokespeople for the company. Word of mouth referrals are still one of the best ways to make new sales. Word of mouth often leads to viral promotion of effective service delivery.

If Customer A tells Customer B he got a great deal from XYZ Company, then Customer B is more likely to go to XYZ Company and also buy (or at least be receptive if a representative from the XYZ Company calls to set up an appointment).

Relationship selling is all about building trust that underpins mutual understanding (e.g. the basis for a relationship) with prospects. Once the relationship has been developed and salespeople have demonstrated a real concern for their prospect’s wellbeing, earning their trust in the process, companies are well on the road to turning a prospect into a lifetime customer.

Knowing a buyer’s needs is a fundamental building block in selling. Taking that understanding a step further demands that professional sales executives, intent on building strong, trust-based relationships, also explore and understand the buyer’s fears and expectations and then help them find solutions that are exactly on-target and address their expectations with the least possible risk. With a relationship in place, working out details then becomes a breeze – the sales interactions switch from the salesperson attempting to convince the prospect to buy, to both buyer and seller working together to find a way to get the most value from working in collaboration. In short, the sale switches from high pressure to low intensity negotiations.

Honest discussions win business

At the very worst, details become obstacles, where low pressure and open and honest discussions win business. Customers don’t mind setting up appointments with relationship-oriented salespeople because the interactions are usually low pressure and friendly; they focus on what the company needs to deliver in order to help the buyer achieve his goals, not simply on what the company is trying to sell.

In relationship selling, high pressure isn’t part of the equation, simply because it’s hard to have a relationship with a client who feels pressured. In relationship selling, salespeople position themselves as enduring resources – trusted advisors who buyers can turn to for support. With relationship selling, for companies that offer products or services in highly competitive markets – particularly if there isn’t a lot of difference between them – the relationship and trust become key differentiators that are hard to match and even harder to compete against!

Another key element in relationship selling is maintaining regular, effective and open communications with a broad base of people in the customer’s business. If salespeople overlook establishing this wide base, chances are that some of the key decision-makers will have no opinion of the salesperson or the company and therefore no real reason to trust either. When the contact base is broad, more people in the company know and can develop a degree of trust with the salesperson. What this means is that salespeople, intent on building relationships, need to have superior communications skills and networking capabilities. And they use these to cover as broad a canvas as possible, merely to ensure that they have the support in the customer’s organisation that they need to deliver more effective solutions.

For professionals serious about wanting to use the powerful relationship-based selling method, there are a few areas they need to master.

Learn to listen to the emotional side of your prospect or client: Emotions are tied to almost everything we do. A customer may make an offhand mention that they are really stressed out about a particular project. Taking note of this and finding ways to assist the buyer – even though the solution may have nothing to do with the products or services being sold – goes a long way to tapping into the emotional side of customers.

Focus on your prospect or client’s needs and expectations: Needs, as every salesperson knows, are the primary decision-making motivators. But expectations are just as important. These are the desired outcomes that satisfying needs will deliver. Effective relationship-oriented salespeople understand that and work hard to understand what customers expect to happen when their needs are addressed.

Help your prospect see the bottom line: If you know your product can help customers save money, or increase profitability, then make sure they understand that, too. Salespeople often overlook explaining just what the bottom line returns are and then wonder why, after the event, their customer failed to become excited about the offer.

Find out your prospect’s priorities: Salespeople can save themselves a lot of wasted time and effort by simply knowing how important a product or service is to the prospect. If customers seem to be delaying making a decision, it is important to find out if there are other aspects of their business that are taking priority and pushing the sale aside. Trying to push a deal when the timing is wrong is as bad for relationships as using high-pressure techniques.

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