Successful Sales: Relationship Development By Joe Fox and Gerry Giorgio

Last month’s article covered achieving a commitment throughplanning. Planning helps you understand your customers and fulfill their needs.In other words, you start to build relationships.

At some point in the sales cycle, usually soon after theplanning stage, you will be in a position to ask for a commitment. Thesecommitments can cover everything from making an appointment with you, toagreeing to purchase your products. You will find many points in the salesprocess that will require your customers to commit to you. For example, you maywant them to agree to accept a sample of your product, place a trial order,acknowledge your company as a primary or secondary vendor or even meet with athird party critical to your product. All of these events will require yourcustomers to make a commitment that will move the sale forward.

When you ask for a commitment, the relationship you havewith the buyer will be of critical importance because it is the foundation ofthe sales process. It is integrally linked to the commitment you will ask ofyour customer.There is no getting around this.

It is important to note that the relationships you have withyour customers are in direct proportion to the size of the commitment you willreceive from them. If you have a small or casual relationship with them, thenyou can usually only ask for a small commitment. However, if the relationshipsare strong, what you can ask for will be proportionately larger.

For instance, if we just met, I could probably safely ask toborrow your pen. The relationship is small at this stage and so is thecommitment. If, however, I ask to borrow $50, I had better have a relationshipwith you that was longer than just a first meeting and strong enough to evokethe trust needed for such a request.

Personal vs. Professional

Surprisingly, business relationships are not much differentthan personal ones. Certainly, the elements within these relationships and theactivities surrounding them can be different, but the fundamental principlesare very much the same. What makes good relationships in business are the verythings that we look for in all relationships. You want someone who istrustworthy, considerate, kind and sensitive to your needs. Someone who hasintegrity and follows through on their commitments. These are the samecharacteristics you want when doing business.

People make decisions emotionally. They may defend themlater with a logical explanation as to why they arrived at such a decision, butthe primary force at play is emotion. And it’s through our emotions thatrelationships are built. Simply put, people respond to people they like.

The most obvious benefit of good relationships is they cangarner business that might have gone to your competitor. We have also seen agood relationship with a buyer make the sales process easier and moremanageable. For example, policies set at a buyer’s corporate can negativelyimpact your efficiency and profitability, but a regional buyer may have theauthority to go against these policies. A strong relationship with thisregional buyer will make them more likely to go against negative policies toyour benefit. But their willingness to do this will be dependent on theirrelationship with you and your company.

Another benefit would be where the relationship brings youthe opportunity to land a new or expand an old account. If you are favored orfirst in the buyer’s mind, you have the chance to pitch your company. Sometimesjust getting the chance to demonstrate your capabilities is enough.

Questioning Basics

It’s easy to see just how important relationships are inbusiness. So how do we begin to build relationships that will develop into arecognized mutually beneficial arrangement? The answer lies in understandingthe other person.

The best way to achieve this understanding is through askingquestions that will give the needed perspective. Questioning will provide youthe opportunity to get to know your customers in ways that will help youdetermine which of your products best suits their needs. Asking questions andtruly listening to the answers is how you will sell yourself to customers.

However, asking questions comes with a big responsibilityfor the information received. Responsible for its correct interpretation,confidentiality and your ability to decipher the client’s needs. Customers willbuy your product not because they understand it, but because they feel you havea good understanding of them and what they need.

Begin at a personal level with basics that help you get toknow the client.

* Howlong have they been employed with the company and/or at their current position?

* Whatis important to their personal success? (What makes them look good to theircompany?)

* Howis their success measured (by themselves and others)?

* Whatis changing most for them, and how are they planning to deal with the changes?

These types of questions will help you begin to gain abetter understanding of who your buyers are and what forces motivate them. Youbuild rapport and move your relationship forward. And, given the opportunity,it is always good to bring your relationships to a personal level if possible.Just be sure your motivations in this process are sincere and focused onunderstanding them as business partners and potential friends.

Don’t Forget

We recognize that relationships can grow naturally. But mostoften, developing a relationship requires a commitment from you. Too easily,relationships can be taken for granted, and too much time can pass withoutcontact. This is where some diligence comes into play. It takes effort andcommitment to nurture them into what they could be, so adopt a mindfulapproach.

Keep these points in mind when building relationships:

* Relationshipsare the foundation of the sales process.

* Therelationship you have with your customer is in direct proportion to the size ofthe commitment you will have with your customer.

* Businessrelationships are not much different from personal ones.

* Understandingthe other person is key to the development of any relationship.

* Thestarting point of any relationship must be sincerity and truly understandingthe other’s needs.

* Thebest way to achieve understanding is through asking questions.

* Customerswill buy your product because they feel you have a good understanding of theirneeds.

* Developinga good relationship requires a commitment on your part.

Next month’s article will further explore relationships andunderstanding customers by asking good questions.

Joe Fox and Gerry Giorgio

Joe Fox is marketing director and Gerry Giorgio is creative director with MasterTag, Montague, Mich. If you have questions about this article or about sales in general, they can be reached by phone at (231) 894-1712 or E-mail at

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