(A chapter from Christine’s newest book release!)
“Businesses don’t do business.
People do business.”
Smart business professionals know this. In fact, business owners, executives, and sales professionals who have been successful at capturing their competitors’ customers have one thing in common. They know how to build relationships that result in extraordinary returns—close personal customer connections that yield increased sales and long-term profitability.
This is where so many sales professionals fall short. Once they have their prospect’s attention, they focus on promoting their products or services, not on building the customer relationship. Anyone who uses this approach is missing the boat… and will most likely miss out on the sale.
Once you have properly communicated the value of your product or service and have captured the attention of your prospective customers, you can win them over if you stop selling and start building a strong business relationship. Winning sales people apply the same rigor, discipline, and focus to building relationships that they apply to sales activities and business development.
This chapter addresses the fundamentals, methods, and mind-sets required to help you build strong relationships you and increase your ability to capture your competitors’ customers.
Research confirms that those who build relationships succeed
There are many highly successful organizations that recognize the importance of building relationships. In a recent study of Fortune 1000 companies, researchers at Booz Allen Hamilton and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that the most financially successful companies are more relationship focused than sales focused. The study also revealed that these companies, and their sales teams, deploy a consistent process to build relationships. That’s their “differentiator.”
Successful relationship builders apply a relationship focused philosophy before, during, and after the sale. The study also established that the top 1% of sales earners were not only highly adept at building relationships, but were also more productive, closed deals faster, and received larger bonuses.
A savvy equipment dealer’s management adheres to this philosophy
Recently, I facilitated a workshop in Wichita for a highly successful construction and material handling equipment distributor. The workshop was conducted at their annual branch manager’s meeting. The workshop topic was “Building on a Foundation of Dynamic Leadership, Strong Customer Relationships, and a Commitment to Service Excellence.”
Prior to the event, each branch manager was asked to bring one best practice to share with the entire management team. When we got to the segment on “Sharing and Establishing Best Practices,” one manager said this,
“We don’t focus on selling.
We focus on relationship building.”
Smart manager. Profitable branch.
A successful business based on relationship building
David Nour, an international speaker, senior management advisor, and author of several business books—including the best-selling Relationship Economics—founded an entire company focusing strictly on business relationships and enterprise marketing. He is managing partner of Relationship Economics®, (relationshipeconomics.net). With his Strategic Relationship Planning™ and Enterprise Social Networking best practices, David and his team are solving global client challenges. His business is booming for several reasons. There is a huge demand for consulting assistance on this topic, and David is an incredibly smart businessman and expert speaker.
Learning to use relationships to your advantage
Building business relationships requires time, effort, and patience. Most importantly, it requires a strategy unique to each situation and prospect. This does not mean that you must develop a shrewd approach to ingratiate yourself with prospects. But you will need to think about how you are going to win over customers with honest and sincere effort. If your approach is not heartfelt, it won’t work. Customers can see through a phony attitude. Successful companies are service-oriented organizations filled with people who want to help others get the best and most for their money.
Strategizing makes things happen
The real-world success stories discussed in Chapter 1 involved the use of strategic planning to win customers from competing companies. The same is true for building relationships. While every potential customer may respond to a different relationship building style, here is a step-by-step approach, with helpful examples and thought provoking questions to assist you in creating a relationship building strategy.
Fifteen steps to creating a relationship building strategy
1. What small and affordable gift can I bring to an initial meeting, lunch or dinner, or send afterwards with a personal note, thanking the prospect for their time?
Forget pens. That would be far too common. How about bringing a hot cup of Starbucks coffee? Depending on your industry, potential customers love hats, tee shirts, golf-shirts, or sweatshirts. (Women love flowers, but that would be overkill, so don’t do that.) If you are a retailer, and a customer comes in who is price shopping, hand them a coupon with a discount, and a little gift.
2. Identify with the prospect by asking yourself “What are the biggest challenges this individual company is facing?” Build the relationship by challenging yourself to identify and implement actions that might help address the prospect’s challenges or help solve their problems.
Think of a book or white paper you might send them, a white paper. Suggest a link to a helpful website. If you know someone who might have ideas or suggestions for addressing some of the prospect’s problems, contact your resource and connect them to the prospect. Retailers, rental store owners, equipment or furniture dealers, event planners and consultants are only some of the types of businesses that win over customers by being more helpful than their competitors.
3. Determine what the prospect likes about their current provider. List and attempt actions to take that will demonstrate your superior service.
4. Send a “Report Card” in a fancy envelope with written testimonials from happy clients.
5. Invite your competitors’ customer to an event that includes your most loyal customers.
6. Gather your sales and customer service team, and brainstorm ways you can consistently demonstrate that you are far better than your competitors.
7. When your company wins a new client, make the “conversion” public. Post it on your website, announce it on Facebook and Blog about your conquest.
8. These questions go together: What have I learned about the prospect’s personal interests or life that I can mention each time I call? How can I make the customer feel connected to me? What is most important to that Individual? Is there a “hot button” I can use to help build the relationship?
Here’s one example. Let’s say you are a builder and you have a potential buyer who is considering two properties. Listen for the hot button. Perhaps the buyer may mention they are interested in living in your community because they have a daughter, son-in-law, and grandson who live just a few blocks away. There’s your selling point and the key to building a relationship. Engage them by talking about how their grandson could ride his bike over and be there in five minutes. Then, each time you talk to the potential buyer ask about the grandson. Show that you have listened; demonstrate that you care and watch the relationship flourish.
9. What upcoming events does my company sponsor or support where that prospect might enjoy being my guest? Extend the invitation to that potential customer well in advance. Be sure to remind your prospective guest of the event as the date nears. If you don’t have an event planned. Think about holding one.
There is information on how to use events to obtain referrals in the chapter on that topic. Attending events with your prospects is a creative way to build relationships. Staging events can be costly, but the investment is often worthwhile and rewarding. The chapter on referrals has more details on this subject.
10. Is there an educational seminar or event that the prospect may have interest in attending?
Invite prospects to be your guest at chamber events, Rotary events, charity events and trade show hospitality events. Any event that features an excellent speaker with a topic that would benefit your potential customer is a great relationship building opportunity. Attending charity events with prospects and their spouses accomplishes both relationship building and philanthropic purposes.
11. Whom do I know—another customer or supplier, perhaps—who also knows my prospect? What industry friend or associate and might be willing to call or write a letter attesting to the effectiveness of my product or service? Ask advocates to provide an introduction, join you and your prospect for coffee, lunch, or cocktails or “put in a good word” for you with you competitors’ customer.
12. What actions can I personally take—that none of my competitors would take—that would position my company and me “above the rest?”
13. Is the prospect’s company on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube? These social marketing sites and using Google alerts are great tools. Stay informed, and call the prospect to let them know you are following their career and their company.
14. How can I make sure I stay on track with my relationship building strategy?
You may read this elsewhere in this book. Knowing what you should do—and doing it—are two very different things. Execution of your strategy is key. Use your contact management system to stay on top of your relationships. Then, have the discipline to follow through.
15. Do I possess the discipline to execute my strategy? If you do, you will be in a far better position to capture your competitors’ customers.
“Your daily discipline
determines your success.”
Follow the “Rules of Relationship Building”
From my own experience and many other sources, I have established some basic rules of relationships. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. I won’t test you on them—but your competitors’ customers will.
Listen more than you talk
Being a good listener is not the only key to successful selling, but it is key to building relationships. Jeffrey Gitomer, a well-known sales expert and author of eleven books, including the best-selling The Sales Bible and Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling, has stated:
“You’ll never listen yourself
out of a customer.”
He’s right. And he practices what he preaches. That’s why he has not only achieved success as an expert sales speaker, trainer, and consultant, but he has also built an empire in the professional speaking and training industry.
Others are listening when it counts. Here is a real-world story of how listening paid off for a financial planner. Like any smart business owner, she conducted a survey to find out what her clients value the most about having her as their advisor. The results:
• They valued her advice and skills in investing their money.
• They valued her allowing time to listen to their concerns.
• They valued her interest in them even before they decided to roll over their investments to her firm from one of her competitors.
This relationship building behavior has continued to provide endless referrals and resulted in her long-term success as a financial advisor.
Stop talking: Ask questions
Listening is a function of asking questions. Asking a question such as, “How can I help you?” is by far the single best way to show customers you are interested in them. Examples of smart questions have been addressed in the previous chapter and throughout this book. Just remember to ask away!
Be generous with your time even before you receive the first order
Give potential customers all you’ve got from the get-go. Treat them as if they already are your customer! Ask, “How can I help?” and then, help them in any way possible, even when there is nothing in it for you. Give prospects all the knowledge, ideas, and information you possibly can. Do this to the point that your competitor—the company or sales professional they are currently doing business with, looks weak in comparison.
If you know of a way your prospect can increase productivity, efficiency, or profitability, tell them. Forward articles or send links to news stories that might be of interest to them. Email any ideas that could be helpful to your prospect. Send a book on a topic of interest.
Don’t be afraid to take a personal approach to your sales strategy. Send notes and cards periodically to stay in touch. This technique will stand out against the abundance of Internet messages. Maintaining a personal touch will make you special.
Use tools and strategies to stay in touch, build, and capture
State of the art systems and software such as Sage ACT! and GoldMine are critical to your success in relationship building. Keep detailed notes on every prospect (as well as your existing customers). Enter those notes into a formal database. Record every detail you learn.
For example, if you hear that your prospect’s daughter is getting married, make a note to ask how the wedding was. If your prospect mentions he is planning a vacation in Australia, send him a book on that country. The next time you call, ask how he and his wife enjoyed their trip and smile when you hear, “Thank you so much for that great book with those gorgeous photos. We loved it and have it on our coffee table.”
Find a reason to call other than to make a sale
All too often, business professionals have the “same-old-same-old” approach to capturing customers. Usually, the call goes something like this: “Hi, I was just calling to see if you would like to buy any of our machines at this time.” “Did you get my brochure?” “Are you interested in discussing our new 401K Plan yet?” Boring! And all too often the prospect begins to avoid your calls!
Find a better reason to call them. Search the internet, follow your prospects, and call them when you learn something about their company. “I see you have a new line you’re introducing,” or “Congratulations on your award.” If you see that they are using a new advertising campaign, call to say that you love the new ads. Use Google Alerts to keep you informed about their company, and look them up on social marketing sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It’s never been easier to stay in touch than it is today.
Be consistent, persistent, and professional
Make a positive impression and build relationships with consistent communication. Even though you may only get voicemail when you call, you are still building a relationship. Always sound professional and upbeat.
The power of persistence
Here’s an illustration of the power of persistence. For four years, a conference speaker had been soliciting the national sales manager of a major insurance company. The sales manager booked the same group of speakers year after year. He was constantly solicited by speakers, consultants, and speaker bureaus from around the country, so it was almost impossible to get his ear.
One day, the speaker called at just the right time. The sales manager’s annual agent meeting was coming up and he was actively seeking a speaker. This time, he wanted someone new—someone who had not presented at any of his company’s previous events. His first remark was, “Your timing is perfect. I need someone who will emphasize the importance of being persistent with potential clients and train my agents on how to persist with class and professionalism.” Then, he asked, “Can you deliver a program like that for me?” She replied, “Well, Mr. Smith, have I not called you for three years?” “Yes,” he replied. “Have I sounded professional each time I left a voice mail?” He said, “You have, indeed. That’s why I picked up the phone when I saw your name on the caller-ID. After all these years of calling me regularly, and all the nice messages you left, I know that you are the right speaker for this engagement.”
A contract was issued the very same day. The speaker was the author of this book.
Project the right stuff
This means that you need to project the attributes a competitor’s customer would desire in a business partner. Read on.
Business or personal, good relationships are built on trust. Without it, there is no basis for a quality relationship. You need to earn the prospect’s trust by being reliable and dependable.
Trust evolves from honesty in all communications. Honesty is critical to building strong relationships. Make sure you are upfront and honest from the very first day. If you are asked a question and you don’t know how to answer, say so. If your price is higher than your competitors’, make sure you show your customer how the value of your product justifies the cost. Promise only what you know you can deliver. Always make sure that you under-promise and over-deliver. Never stretch the truth just to win people over or make a sale.
About seven years ago, I was at an initial meeting with an executive director of an equipment distributor association who had heard about me from a member of his education staff. Like many executive directors, he would only book industry experts to present at his conferences. When asked about my experience in his industry, I could have tried to spin my response so that it sounded like I had a great deal of experience. Instead, I told him honestly that I had worked as a consultant with two major manufacturers but had only worked with a few dealers.
I explained to him that I believed that one of my strengths was my ability to conduct extensive research on any given industry or group, learn about the challenges and problems they are facing, and then apply my experience from a wide variety of industries to help solve those problems.
I knew I had convinced him when his stern faced turned into a smile and he said that he really appreciated my honesty. He gave me a chance and helped me as well. It snowballed. His association is now my biggest and best client. I have now worked with numerous manufacturers and an abundance of individual dealer organizations. And now, I am an expert in the industry.
Operate with the highest moral standards; always do what’s right. If you don’t, you will pay the price. Think about those executives who did not live up to moral standards and ended up on the front page of the business section—with indictments. While this is an extreme example, being ethical is critical to your reputation.
Without a good reputation in your industry, you will have difficulty convincing prospects that you are going to do what you promise. Most industries are like small towns—everyone knows what others are doing. A bad reputation will follow you for a long time and impede your ability to build positive business relationships.
Projecting the highest degree of professionalism is key to building strong relationships and making a positive impression. Interestingly, when asked, most people don’t know how to define professionalism or describe it. If you want to impress prospects, remember that professionalism is an attitude. It is projected in your appearance, how you sound, how you carry yourself, and in your attitude and behavior.
If you want to influence your competitors’ customers to shop at your store, eat at your restaurant, invest their money with your firm, buy your machinery, or leave their current supplier and do business with you, speak with confidence about why you are a better choice than your competitors. Refrain from dodging tough questions or responding evasively when a prospect asks questions regarding important matters. If you are uncertain about something, simply say you will find out the facts and get back to them. If a prospect makes a request that you need to think about, just tell it like it is. All reasonable people will appreciate your need to review issues with your colleagues and will wait to hear from you.
While you want to appear confident, you also need project humility—even if you are enormously successful. In fact, the most highly successful people are often the most humble. Consistently project that you do not see yourself as being superior to others. Also make sure that there is no badmouthing, no criticizing comments, and no minimizing. The prospect is the final judge and is not impressed by hearing negative remarks.
Several years ago, Max Gunther authored a book entitled, “The Luck Factor.” For twenty years, he researched and studied successful people on all levels and from many walks of life. His objective was to determine whether there truly is such a thing as “luck.”
His research proved that the “luck” factor was not the critical component in achieving success. Those who were successful had the “like” factor.
Gunther found that people who were genuinely friendly, helpful, outgoing, and had a great sense of humor were more likely to achieve success in both their business and personal lives.
In Gunther’s own words, “These people make themselves known to many other people, usually without thinking about it. They’re gregarious. They go out of their way to be friendly. They talk to strangers and are joyous ‘meeters and greeters’. They start conversations. The woman who pours their morning coffee is more than just a face.”
In general, the luckiest men and women are those whose personalities draw people to them and who have taken the time and trouble to build strong relationships with others.
Demonstrate care and concern for your prospect. Show that you value their time and appreciate their attention. When you get them on the phone, make it a habit to ask, “Do you have a couple of minutes to talk right now?” Or try, “Hello. This is John Smith. I know you’re busy, but I’d like to see if we can get together for a few minutes. I’d like to discuss why XYZ company switched over to our company and why they’ve become loyal advocates for my firm. From what I know about you and your company, you may find it beneficial to consider our services as well.”
If you have an appointment, always be prepared for an emergency. Make sure you have the prospect’s cell phone number in case something happens before a morning meeting. Call a few days before to confirm a meeting and email the day before with a brief agenda. If you ever get delayed along the way, call ahead. It is just common courtesy to treat everyone with consideration and concern.
Remember, it is not all about you. Your prospect is under a great deal of stress. Treat them with respect and concern. Be both compassionate and empathetic to their needs.
Many people do not understand the difference between empathy and compassion. Empathy goes beyond compassion. Here’s the difference: Compassion is the ability to feel the way others feel. Empathy is having the ability to place yourself in another person’s situation (often referred to as “walking in their shoes”), experience their feelings, and project them back.
Times are tough—real tough. So is competition. Nevertheless, maintaining and projecting a positive attitude will carry you through. When you communicate the features and benefits of your products or services, speak in terms of positive outcomes.
There are many reasons to obtain and maintain a positive attitude. Your competitor’s customer will find interacting is so much more enjoyable than interacting with your competitor! A positive attitude is a lot like anti-wrinkle cream. Although it’s not exactly a fountain of youth, it can make you feel younger. A survey conducted by Prevention magazine found that people with positive attitudes said they looked and felt younger than their age. In fact, they were even told by others that they looked younger than they were. If that isn’t a good reason to stay positive, I don’t know what is!
Want a face-lift in ten seconds? Smile. You’ll not only look younger and feel better, but you’ll make your competitor’s customer feel better, too.
Be Free to be Judged
Whether you like it or not, people are always judging you. Work to acquire the qualities that will ensure that you will be judged positively. In all aspects of your professional life, ask yourself these questions:
- How can I be better than I am?
- How do I want to be known?
- What are my strengths?
- What do I need to improve?
- What kind of person am I?
Put these relationship-building principles to work, and more new customers will become a natural byproduct of your efforts.
There are successful people in every industry—entrepreneurs, fortune 500 CEOs, small business owners, sharp sales professionals—all of whom use these same relationship building strategies and skills to get ahead and stay there. They work smarter, not harder, to build relationships that help them capture their competitors’ customers and keep them. They are masters at it. Now it is up to you to become a master at building relationships. The question to ask yourself is day is, “Would you do business with you?”
Building relationships is the key to selling success.
Making business relationships more personal
- Remember: businesses don’t do business; people do business. Don’t miss out on opportunities to develop relationships with your prospects because you are too focused on your sales pitch.
- Research confirms the fact that companies and individuals who work hard at building and maintaining strong business relationships consistently outperform those who do not.
- The best relationships are planned with thought and care before they even begin. Strategically savvy professionals will challenge themselves to brainstorm ways to make a good impression on clients and prospects alike.
Building successful business relationships
- Listening to your prospect’s needs and concerns is more important than anything you say. When you do speak, ask questions—and be sincere in your interest! Displaying a phony interest in your prospect’s problems is worse than showing no interest at all.
- Sales professionals who proactively offer unsolicited help and advice to prospects will often find their generosity rewarded. Being generous with the time and attention you show your prospects is a fantastic way to demonstrate the advantages that you offer over your competitors.
- Referring potential customers to your prospects is even more impressive.
- Leverage the power of technology and social media to build stronger relationships. With social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, staying in touch with your contacts is a snap.
- Persistence, when coupled with patience and politeness, pays off. Don’t admit defeat just because you got sent to voicemail!
Projecting professional qualities
- Conducting business with honesty and integrity is an essential element of professionalism. Your reputation precedes you, and unethical behavior will inevitably come back to bite you in the long run.
- A friendly face and a good sense of humor will take you far. Research has shown that charismatic and generally likeable individuals get more “lucky breaks” in business. Feeling lucky?
- Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes before asking for his or her time. How would you want to be treated as a customer? Remember the Golden Rule.
- Remember to show humility when business is good, and a positive attitude when times are tough. Confidence is what impresses prospects, not arrogance.