How to Succeed with Relationship Selling
We gray-haired sales folk like to say, “People buy from people they like.” This is the basis of relationship selling. Rather than determining whether the features or pricing is right for the client, a focus is made on the connection between the seller and the buyer. If the buyer determines that they like the seller, they are more likely to trust the seller. If the buyer trusts the seller to provide him with the best solution, he will buy. Since the keyword here is “Trust”, we might be more accurate to say, “People buy from people they trust.” Like=Trust.
So, is it fair that a buyer ignores that your product has better features and more benefits, and chooses another solution because they like that sales rep better? You, being the losing party in this scenario would probably disagree, but the answer is, yes, it’s perfectly fair, and I’ll go a step further and say it might even be expected.
Relationship selling plays a more important role in higher-cost solutions where there is risk to the buyer. Think about choosing a contractor for a major home renovation like a new roof. You want to trust the people who are ripping off the old roof and installing the new one. Or, think about a vendor offering training content, like HSI, whose videos will be shown to all of your employees. You need to depend on the vendor for easy and timely implementation and to deliver effective training that changes behaviors. You are more likely to buy from someone you like and trust.
Whether the relationship ends up in a three-year contract or a two-week project, here are a few tips to help you with relationship selling.
I understand that it’s tough to admit, but most of us in sales have won and lost deals not because of the inferiority or superiority of our product, but simply because of our ethnicity, or because of our gender, or because we did or did not go to the same school as the buyer, or because we were or were not born into the same family as the buyer. Having the same ethnic background, the same gender, the same education, or being a family member gives a person an edge…commonality. Naturally, when someone has something in common with you, you tend to like them more and trust them more. Like=Trust.
It is crucial, therefore, to find commonalities between yourself and the client and build a relationship. Those commonalities can only be found by being friendly, using small talk, asking about non-business-related issues, or asking about issues that their company is experiencing that are not related to your product. Listen and take notice of how the client reacts to your questions and comments before proceeding. (See the HSI course, ”Building Great Sales Relationships or the Track “Interpersonal Savvy”).
In some cultures, it is considered off-putting to spend any time during a business conversation discussing personal issues or non-business-at-hand issues. It is expected that business-at-hand will be the only topic of discussion beyond “Hello”. This is not the case in the American business culture, however. In most cases, it is expected to chit chat, discuss holiday celebrations, vacations, family, or the weather before getting down to business. During this non-business discussion, both parties are searching for commonalities with the other party. Most people want to be liked by others and they want to determine how trustworthy the other is.
Sell to Their Personality
What’s worse is knowing that you lost deals because your personality clashed with that of the buyer. You were not likable, or at least not as likable as the winning sales rep. The buyers liked the other reps more than you, so they trusted those reps more than they trusted you. They trusted that their proposal was better than yours. Like=Trust.
Can you change your personality? You might say, “It is what it is,” which is true. But, successful salespeople need to be able to adjust their personalities to match the personalities of the clients in front of them at the time. Using methods like DISC or Myers Briggs to determine your personality and that of your client will also give you guidance on the best way to interact with each other. Having a better interaction will cause someone to like you more. Like=Trust. (See the HSI series, “Selling with DISC”).
Focus on Them
Another thing to consider is where your focus is during your conversations. Are you more concerned with making the sale or solving the client’s problems? If you are doing most of the talking, using the same canned presentation with every client, not concerned with the needs of the client, it will be apparent that you are only concerned with making the sale, and you will not be liked or trusted. (See the HSI course, “Establishing Credibility”).
My co-worker recently installed a new roof and gutters. She asked multiple companies to provide bids. One company only gave pricing for the gutters even after she asked three times for a bid on the roof as well. Another company mailed a bid but never responded to an email with questions. She chose the company whose owner took the time to call her and walk her through the bid. He explained the differences in prices of different shingles and the size of the gutters. He also responded to questions via email and text. The whole transaction took less than a month but he took the time to focus on her concerns.
Another way to develop a relationship and be seen as a trusted expert is to share buying guides, tips on how to compare providers, and content to help the buyer better understand your product or service. If all of your communications are focused solely on what you need from the prospect, the “relationship” is one-sided. If you provide valuable information that helps reduce the buyer’s stress, there is a give and take and you are building the relationship. Here are a few examples of how HSI tries to help our own buyers:
- A Guide to Creating an Employee Training and Development Program
- How to Buy eLearning Content for Your LMS (And Not Regret It Later)
- LMS Implementation: A Concrete and Tactical Guide
In summary, relationship selling needs the relationship component, not just the selling! Take the time to be likable. Listen and laugh with them. Share an entertaining story, give advice, and help them. You’ll still have time for business.
- View additional courses from our Selling Skills topic.
- Learn more about uncovering customer needs in our blog post.
- Read our blog to learn more about the sales skills you need for success.
- Watch two of the courses mentioned in this post here.