“People do business with people”
We believe that people and the relationships we build with those people are critical for a successful business. People are the core of everything; company performance, competitive advantage, ethics and networking. Unfortunately, too often the basic rule of treating others as you would want to be treated, is forgotten; and more often than not is the root of a relationship’s demise.
The foundations of a healthy relationship
Building strong customer relationships is a consultative sales person’s most important objective. If we consider other relationships; the people we choose as friends are people we like, whose company we enjoy. They are people who are both interesting and interested, people with whom we have found common ground, people we can depend upon and trust. Although we might make an immediate connection with someone, a relationship doesn’t happen instantly, it is developed over time as a result of numerous interactions. I am not suggesting that our relationships with friends are the same as those in business or that we try to befriend our clients and colleagues. The point is, that all successful relationships whether personal or business, are built upon mutual trust and respect and they take time to develop. So how do you start to develop successful business relationships, especially in sales?
The relationship starting point
Just as in a personal context, in a sales situation, the starting point of the relationship is for the customer to believe that you are genuine, that you are interested in them; that you want to understand what their concerns are and what they are trying to achieve. To be able to help them, they must view you as someone who is credible, someone they respect, someone who has the skills and experience to provide them with the right solution to their specific need. Most of all they need to trust you. How is this achieved?
If before you meet you have done some research to learn something about the other person it will be much easier to start the conversation. Before attending a social event you might ask the host to ‘fill you in’ about the other guests, what they do, where they live etc. Preparation in the business context is much more important, it creates an immediate and effective differentiation from potential competition and it will help the consultative sales person demonstrate their sincerity and interest in the customer and effectively engage with them.
When getting to know people socially, we engage with each other by talking. If a relationship is going to develop, people talk to each other not at each other. It is seldom we connect with the person who just talks at us, who never asks us any questions, who just talks about themselves. We connect with people we are able to engage with and part of being engaged is listening.
Listening to what the other person is saying demonstrates sincerity and interest. Active listening enables us to use what they are telling us to steer the conversation. A dialogue begins to flow as a result of listening to what the other person has been saying. In a sales context, especially at the start of the interaction, the consultative sales person lets the customer do most of the talking, far more so than within a social context. In sales, listening attentively is critical for the sales person to learn more about what the customer is thinking. The sales person can then use questions to better understand their needs.
Having listened attentively, the consultative sales person is much better placed to ask pertinent insightful questions. In this way not only does the consultative sales person show they care about what is being said they also learn important information which might enable them to offer solutions when the time is appropriate. The foundation to a healthy business relationship is engaging with the other person, demonstrating a caring, sincere interest in them. Careful preparation, attentive listening and good questioning help to develop the relationship and build trust.
Next time we will look in more detail at this cornerstone of relationships, trust; why it is so critical and what you can do to develop trust with your customer.
We end with one final crucial point: the consultative sales person always remembers selling is not about making a presentation but about starting a conversation. What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you?
The previous posts about how to become a trusted advisor 'The Trusted Advisor' by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green & Robert M. Galford,' discussed how to earn trust, give advice and build relationships. Along side developing these skills, it is important to know how to focus on the other person, to be self-confident, to put your own ego aside, to be curious, to maintain a high degree of inclusive professionalism and always be sincere.
Focus on the other person
“The only way to influence someone is to find out what they want and show them how to get it” Dale Carnegie. To achieve this degree of influence it is essential to be able to focus on the other person giving them what they need and want. It is not about providing them with your knowledge or expertise but more about giving reassurance, helping the client see new approaches and make decisions. The ability to become an empathetic listening is key to this. How well we succeed in this depends on how able we are to truly feel what the other person feels, focusing on them not our own self-promotion. This is a skill that takes years of learning to master but it reaps great rewards.
What is being referred to in the context of being a trusted advisor is the ability to have the self confidence to listen and understand and brainstorm before offering solutions. To put aside the fear that we are squandering critical influencing time by not immediately providing solutions.
This is the ability to focus on the consultative relationship process, the issues at hand and not on any blame or credit attached to it.
To solve other’s problems we need to ask questions, and to listen, in other words to be curious focusing not on what we know but what we don't know. It is our curiosity which creates the situations which allow us to contribute.
By this we mean being able to align with our clients to work collaboratively by acknowledging and engaging them to find solutions rather than just providing them ourselves.
We demonstrate our sincerity to others by caring behavior, by our attention and interest, by our research and by how we listen. When we then respond enthusiastically we invite the other person to explore with us the possibilities and solutions. Being sincere is a critical element of any relationship and of trust. Sometimes we might find ourselves in a situation where it is impossible to relate or be sincere. As long are really sure that you have tried everything you can there are times when you have to accept the situation for what it is and walk away. In relationships there really are only win-win and loose-loose combinations.
Being sincere and building a strong client relationship doesn’t mean you have to become your client’s friend. To be a trusted advisor you have to care and show you care. Being sociable with your client will definitely deepen your understanding of your client’s needs and fears but that doesn’t imply that you have to become their good friend. If you are attentive to your clients needs the effectiveness of the sales process will be enhanced. To earn trust you will need to do this and to be vested in the long-term benefit of the relationship.
Ultimately you are not trying to build a relationship that is simply a means to an end but you are trying to create a partnership that will mean you go on a journey together to resolve your clients needs. What do you think, do you have any other suggestions, we would love to hear from you?!