On New Year’s Eve, across the United States, almost a million people in person, and tens of millions more on television, watch the crystal ball drop in New York’s Times Square. The actual drop takes but a few seconds, but the preparation begins many days before. In sales it is much the same, management, executives and admiring colleagues may tune in to the successful close of a big sale by dishing out pats on the back, a celebratory ring of a bell strategically placed in the sales area, or a mention in email. But what is not typically rewarded or recognized is the preparation, often months or even years before, that led up to the sale.
Relationship building – that painfully long investment in building trust and understanding – rarely is rewarded with the corporate equivalent of champagne. Instead, it is the careful work the successful sales representative know leads to success.
Customers reveal their problems to a salesperson almost immediately. Little trust is needed to deal with problems, whether a warranty claim needs to be filled or a part ordered – these are communicated without hesitation. However, opportunities the customer has in front of them, and long-term strategies they are implementing, are hidden from sales representatives who call to “touch base” or just “check in”. But opportunities and strategies are often where the money is, and where the competition is easier.
A relationship is built on trust, and knowledge sharing. Trust comes from keeping your word, delivering as expected, and meeting or exceeding quality requirements. Knowledge sharing is dependent on the sales representative asking good open-ended questions and then listening. When knowledge is shared, the salesperson should use that knowledge to help the customer. Perhaps he or she has a white paper to share based on what they learned. Maybe they can propose an incentive program the customer can take advantage of, or introduce an expert within the selling organization that can help the customer. Knowledge sharing must be reciprocal, the customer should gain something by sharing.
The golden opportunity for the salesperson is when the customer calls inbound and says, “we were considering our options, and I was wondering if you could help?” The relationship prompts the inbound call. The relationship caused the customer to think of the salesperson and the selling organization between calls. The “touching base” or “checking in” salesperson is quickly forgotten.
A good telephone salesperson keeps careful notes in their customer relationship management system (CRM) and asks themselves before each call, “what do I need to ask to build our relationship?” Every call has both a marketing component and relationship building component. The answers are documented, the relationship grows, trust is magnified.
“If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change regarding your packaging equipment?”
“When you met with your team for new year planning, what strategies did you create?”
“Tell me about any new projects you’ve been awarded since we last spoke.”
Oh, and “is there anything else I can help you with right now?”, because “problems” do also count.
Happy New Year!