Relationship selling just may be vital to your ongoing business.

Think about how the personal relationships in your life come about; you begin as acquaintances and with people whom you share a strong connection, that blossoms into a friendship.

By its very nature, relationship selling is about building those strong connections with your prospects and nurturing them. This goes beyond simply making a sale, as you will see here…

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What is Relationship Selling?

Relationship selling is a sales strategy where the seller places their relationship or connection with the customer above other factors, such as price. Trust is a key element – the seller will focus on delivering value for the customer over and above any sort of “quick sale.”

Relationship sales are often used for high-ticket items where customers might want to spend more time thinking about the product or service. The seller would wait until they’ve built up a trusting relationship before attempting to close the sale.

Importantly, relationship-based sales can also help sellers stand out from others, especially where perhaps their price is more than competitors, or their pricing is very similar. Let’s say you’re a company that relies on repeat business; the best way to get it tends to be to form a strong relationship. It’s a point of difference (and hopefully a competitive advantage!) that you now have.

This works for products or services that aren’t necessarily high-ticket but might have a number of competitors, too. Why do you choose to stick with the same gym year after year? Or the same music or dance teacher? If you’re not under any sort of contractual obligation, you’re making a choice to stay and that often comes down to the relationships you have built.

The opposite of relationship sales is “transactional selling.” This is a quick, un-personalized form of selling that is usually suited to low-cost, commodity products. The product itself is the sales focus, rather than the customer and their needs. FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) are examples that usually fall under transactional sales.

Why do relationship sales matter?

Relationship selling matters because it’s about building a personal connection with people. Why do you frequent the same small grocer or hairdresser? You could go elsewhere and get the same products or services at a similar price, but you build a relationship attachment to the ones you choose to frequent.

In the world of B2B sales, people still connect with people. Brands and reputations are important, but a personal touch is what encourages people to stick with the company. In the end, people want to know that they matter and that their business is valued.

A couple of statistics highlight the importance of relationship sales:

  • 68% of B2B customers are lost because of indifference or perceived apathy, not because of mistakes.
  • Only 46% of customers said vendors deliver on what was promised. (Gallop)
  • Nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. (The Annuitas Group)
  • 65.2% of B2B buyers said that they found value in discussing their situations with salespeople. (CSO Insights)

There is also some evidence to suggest that over-reliance on automation during the sales process is impacting the overall ability of salespeople to build lasting customer relationships:

87% of respondents said that their teams are missing key occasions to reach out to prospects, and touch points are falling through the cracks. This is even with all the email automation tools out there! If you don’t have a relationship with a prospect, it’s easy to miss out on the best opportunities to reach out.

66% of respondents said that an account being single-threaded (only having one contact) has a huge negative impacting on performance. If teams don’t have multiple threads in an account, it’s possible they can lose the account entirely when a champion moves on. It’s in a sales team’s best interest to build relationships across an account to both acquire and retain it.

Over 55% of respondents said their teams only maintain relationships with prospects that are going to immediately close. This means that lots of relationship building opportunities for future pipeline are simply not happening.

The bottom line is, relationship sales matter because people connect with people.

The Relationship Sales Process

We’re pretty clear on the theory of relationship sales and the important role they play, in practice, what does that look like?

As with any sort of relationship, this is not the “easy road” to take, but it can prove to be very rewarding. A basic sales process looks something like:

  1. Identify prospects: Whether this is through them coming to you or from you going out and seeking the introduction. (See some pipeline generating secrets from talented marketers here!)
  2. Add value to the prospect: For example, perhaps you suggest a “quick win” they could implement right now that will make a difference.
  3. Learn more about their own situation: By adding value early on, you’ve given them a good reason to start to trust you and perhaps open up a bit more about themselves. You should aim to learn more about their specific goals and challenges, so you can start to identify where you may be able to help them. At the same time, this also helps you to determine if the prospect might not be a good fit. It wouldn’t make sense to continue down the road toward a sale – that would not lead to a good relationship!
  4. Give advice based on their specific needs: Now that you’ve learned more about the prospect, you’re in a position to be able to give suggestions that address their pressing issues. This is even more powerful if you have examples to show how others facing similar challenges (or goals) implemented your suggestions successfully.
  5. Resolve any objections: Being honest, rather than pushy is the key here in a relationship selling strategy. Address concerns truthfully and have data or examples that can highlight your ideas. The aim is always to keep an amicable customer relationship: no strongarm sales techniques that leave them feeling pushed or perhaps upset later. The aim is to reach a solution that makes the customer happy and successful (which makes you successful too!)
  6. Keep adding value: Any relationship involves a give-and-take of value over time. With relationship selling, you don’t suddenly quit delivering value once you’ve got the customer to sign up. Finding ways to keep ensuring their success will also help to nurture the relationship for the long term.

You’ll find variations of this process based on what works for other people, but the core to always keep in mind is that “add value” piece.

If we briefly delve into psychological theory, adding value can trigger the principle of reciprocity – when someone gives us something, we feel compelled to give back in return. Good sales relationships always tend to involve a bit of give-and-take; it’s how you can gain more customers and reduce churn in the longer-term.

Top Relationship Sales Techniques

Relationship selling is nothing new – to a degree, we’ve probably always done it. There are a number of potential techniques or skills that can help to drive the relationship:

Prepare Ahead

Some people do a great job of going in cold when they meet someone, but for most, a bit of preparation helps. Doing a bit of research about the prospect and their industry can help you out when it comes to striking up a conversation.

Try to anticipate the sorts of issues they may be having, or simply to have some current knowledge about what is happening in their world.

Research and preparation can also help you to time your approach as appropriately as possible. Timing is important in the sales strategy; if you strike a really bad time, that can be the end of the potential relationship.

Find Common Ground

Your research may have helped you to discover this already, but finding common ground is a simple technique that helps you to get to know someone on a more personal level. People tend to connect better with someone they feel has shared experiences with themselves.

Some examples might include location, where you went to school, having kids, pets, hobbies, similar job backgrounds… These are the things that are a lot more interesting than musing about the weather. (In fact, pointless small talk usually doesn’t help to further the relationship).

Practice Active Listening

This means talking less and listening more! Many salespeople are talkers, but you need to pause and think about how you build a relationship with the prospect. Give them the chance to speak!

Active listening involves: being attentive; asking questions and waiting for the person to answer; paraphrasing to show understanding; non-verbal cues such as nodding; listening for understanding rather than trying to formulate an answer in your head while they’re still talking.

Practice Patience

Here’s a quick anecdote from a friend:

I was interested in purchasing a new car, but I couldn’t find any price information on this one particular model I found. I sent a message to the dealership via the listing online – really, I just wanted to know the price so I could work out if it was within my budget or not. They didn’t give me the price, instead, a salesperson kept texting me, asking when I could come in to look at cars. This went on for two months – I told them I was no longer interested.”

There are a lot of things wrong with the approach of the dealership here, but one thing is they show a complete lack of patience. It’s almost like they sniffed blood and went in for the kill. Firstly, they didn’t provide the information the prospect was actually asking for and secondly, instead of making the effort to build a two-way relationship, they went on a one-sided hounding campaign.

A hallmark of relationship selling is that it takes time. This means practicing patience, and for goodness’ sake, provide the prospect with information when they ask for it!

Relationship Selling Examples

Trust is the foundation of relationship selling. If you haven’t worked to build it up, then you won’t have a strong relationship. Customers who trust and believe in the brand they are with find it more difficult to leave – how many times have you heard people say something like; “well, their product is cheaper but we like you guys better”?

In the context of relationship sales, trust means:

  • Understanding the prospect and adding true value to their lives
  • Only suggesting products or services that genuinely will help them
  • Using what you know about them “for good.” (So keeping details private and not trying to exploit what you know in any way)
  • No tricks or traps – if the customer asks for a price, you don’t go down a rabbit hole of texts ignoring that request and asking them to come in ;).

Let’s take that car sales example. What if it had gone more like this:

Hi (customer), sure thing! The price on that vehicle is $54,000, but at the moment there are various deals happening, depending on what you need and how you purchase the vehicle. It’s possible you may be entitled to a discount. Can we give you a call to talk about what you need in a vehicle? Then we can explore the options we have available…”

Give what the prospect asked for and offer to add more value. At the same time, find a way to truly explore what their needs are. In this case, what if a different model would be better?

7 Tips for Building Trust with Prospects

Trust is the foundation of relationship selling, or in fact, any good relationship! It’s essential that you as a salesperson look for ways to build trust with your prospects to develop the relationship. Here are some tips for doing so:

  1. Be active and visible in the places your target customers go to: For example, don’t let your social media accounts languish without updates. Visibility helps to promote trust because it shows the customer someone is actively working.
  2. Follow common courtesies: For example, if you tell someone you’re going to call or meet them at a certain time, be on time (or a couple of minutes early). This helps to show that you take your job seriously and respect other people.
  3. Find common ground: This is a good way to build trust because, in the eyes of the prospect, there is something that you really “get” about them.
  4. Always keep your word: There’s a saying about underpromising and over-delivering, but at the very least, you should keep your word! If you’ve told someone you’re sending them something, get it to them ASAP. If you’re able to exceed expectations, that’s even better.
  5. Be authentic: While this may have become something of a marketing buzzword over the last few years, authenticity helps you to build real connections and the trust of your prospects. People can generally smell “faking it” a mile away…
  6. Deliver value wherever you can: This means listening to the prospect and understanding what their particular goals or challenges are. You may be able to help out in ways that don’t necessarily net you a sale right away but can be significant for building the relationship.
  7. Keep the best interests of the prospect at-heart: If the customer wins, it’s a win for both of you. This means looking out for the best solutions for them, even if those aren’t the most lucrative you have on offer.

Final Relationship Sales Thoughts

Relationship selling is nothing new. In fact, if you’ve read Dale Carnegie’s popular 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the principles outlined apply still to relationship sales today.

Why? We still have the same underlying human nature, no matter what happens in the technological world.

Strong relationships help you to sell products or services AND to retain current customers. It’s a concept that makes sense to most businesses today. Remember the basics of building good customer relationships and expect them from your sales team.

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