Successful Sales: Relationship Development

March 18, 2003 - 14:03

Part three in an 8-part series about sales strategies that improve profit.

Last month's article covered achieving a commitment through
planning. 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 the
planning stage, you will be in a position to ask for a commitment. These
commitments can cover everything from making an appointment with you, to
agreeing to purchase your products. You will find many points in the sales
process that will require your customers to commit to you. For example, you may
want 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 a
third party critical to your product. All of these events will require your
customers to make a commitment that will move the sale forward.

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

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

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

Personal vs. Professional

Surprisingly, business relationships are not much different
than personal ones. Certainly, the elements within these relationships and the
activities surrounding them can be different, but the fundamental principles
are very much the same. What makes good relationships in business are the very
things that we look for in all relationships. You want someone who is
trustworthy, considerate, kind and sensitive to your needs. Someone who has
integrity and follows through on their commitments. These are the same
characteristics you want when doing business.

People make decisions emotionally. They may defend them
later with a logical explanation as to why they arrived at such a decision, but
the primary force at play is emotion. And it's through our emotions that
relationships are built. Simply put, people respond to people they like.

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

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

Questioning Basics

It's easy to see just how important relationships are in
business. So how do we begin to build relationships that will develop into a
recognized mutually beneficial arrangement? The answer lies in understanding
the other person.

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

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

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

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

*               What
is important to their personal success? (What makes them look good to their

*               How
is their success measured (by themselves and others)?

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

These types of questions will help you begin to gain a
better understanding of who your buyers are and what forces motivate them. You
build 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 on
understanding them as business partners and potential friends.

Don't Forget

We recognize that relationships can grow naturally. But most
often, developing a relationship requires a commitment from you. Too easily,
relationships can be taken for granted, and too much time can pass without
contact. This is where some diligence comes into play. It takes effort and
commitment to nurture them into what they could be, so adopt a mindful

Keep these points in mind when building relationships:

*               Relationships
are the foundation of the sales process.

*               The
relationship you have with your customer is in direct proportion to the size of
the commitment you will have with your customer.

*               Business
relationships are not much different from personal ones.

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

*               The
starting point of any relationship must be sincerity and truly understanding
the other's needs.

*               The
best way to achieve understanding is through asking questions.

*               Customers
will buy your product because they feel you have a good understanding of their

*               Developing
a good relationship requires a commitment on your part.

Next month's article will further explore relationships and
understanding customers by asking good questions.

About The Author

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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