A Brief Guide to Relationship Building in Sales

While most people who don’t work in sales think it’s the best product (whether in quality or price) that wins out in a selling situation, that’s often not the case. In fact, in more than a few cases, the deciding factor has less to do with just the solution itself. It’s the relationship the sales rep has built and value they were able to add to the sales interaction that often tips a prospect over into a customer.

Ideally, we’d get along great with every customer, meshing beautifully in a harmonious blend of personalities. But we often don’t have the luxury of selling to someone who matches our personality type. This is particularly the case in volume-based verticals, where the sales cycle is short and constant closes are critical. So how do we establish a good relationship?

Notice the things on and around the client.

One of the quickest ways to enter into the relationship building phase is to comment on something about the person or the situation they’re/you are in. For example, commenting on someone’s shirt, or remarking on a common event (yes, the latter is cliché, but the point is to draw them into a discussion that ostensibly has nothing to do with what you’re selling. It’s important to connect on a human level). Keep in mind that while you want to be positive, you also want to be genuine. This may involve something like lightly teasing someone wearing a Philadelphia Eagles shirt if you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan (which will allow the Philly fan to come back with their Super Bowl title last season). You’re staying true to yourself and hence authentic, while also keeping it low-key.

Try to avoid thinking of selling when you’re using the environment as a segue into a discussion. Physiologically, what can happen is that if your mindset is on the sale, your voice might enter a false register outside of your normal speaking patterns or exhibit out of character body-language, and a savvy prospect may notice it. The same is true in writing – the artificial tone of your prose can come through if you’re thinking of the sales process.

You might think this sounds like small talk. It isn’t. Because the conversation about say, the family vacation photo on the desk, or the prospect’s thoughts on last night’s game, provides you real-time research and buyer persona building. Additionally, it may revolve around a shared interest. If it’s not a common interest, talk about it anyway in the spirit of being genuinely curious about the topic. People love to talk about their passions, and you never know when the knowledge may come in handy in the future. For example, you may have noticed these last several months, our blog contains more pop culture, literary, and historical references. That’s not an accident.

Play the long game.

We’ve written previously about how some of the most successful media personalities are able to break stories due to relationships they’ve built over time, and how a major factor in that is by communicating with sources year-round about topics that have nothing to do with the news stories. One of the best ways to approach building sales relationships is using that same philosophy.

Think about it this way – which email are you more likely to click on – the one that always comes with a sales pitch, or one that sometimes shares a relevant article or passes along a funny video (keep in mind the humor should be work-safe and not controversial!)? Or with Facebook postings – the Eeyore who is always complaining about their life and the Sunshine Beam who is always positive both eventually get lower and lower rates of engagement, as opposed to someone who is varied in their posts. (If the always sunny in Facebook having engagement attrition surprises you, consider the following: 1) It becomes monotonous and 2) It seems to all be an act – no one’s life is that perfect – we all experience ups and downs).

Be of postive, genuine service.

Remember, the people you help are much more likely to trust you. And in sales, being helpful and a Trusted Advisor doesn’t only mean being honest. It means avoiding negativity. For example, let’s say you’re a sales rep for Dual Gigabytes Computers, which specializes in business computers. Your main competitor is Triad Systems, which has a long-established reputation and market share, but an issue with hard drive failure rates at the 3-5 year mark. Another competitor entering the space, New Tech, has cutting-edge technology, but no real proven track record yet.

A prospect you’ve worked hard at developing a relationship with says that they’re probably going with Triad Systems or New Tech over your company. There’s two ways you can frame this. One is to trash Triad for its shorter hard drive lifespan and laugh at New Tech’s newness. The other is to point out that if they choose to go with Triad, make sure to conduct multiple hard drive backups and plan for replacement every few years, and if they select New Tech, is to point out that since the company is a startup, there’s a higher risk of failure, and to factor that into their risk equation.

In the first case (the mocking one), you come off as someone who is salty over losing the sale. In the second case, you’re providing meaningful advice and demonstrating appreciation. The short-term end result is still the same – you don’t get the sale – but long-term, the prospect will remember your attitude and that may make them come back to you in the future if they aren’t happy with their choice.

At the very least, they’ll likely tell their network that Dual Gigabytes’ sales reps are great to work with, knowledgeable about their field, and always open to discussion about what’s best for the client. That kind of integrity establishes a reputation and relationship that no amount of money or PR spin can buy.

Building relationships in sales can be challenging and take a lot of time and effort. But by paying attention to a prospect’s specific situation, caring about them as more than just a potential source of revenue, and being open and transparent about what’s best for them, you can build the kind of inroads that lead to long-term sales – whether it’s with them or with someone they’ve recommended you to.