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Build customer relationships to improve sales effectiveness

Solution Based Selling details the five purposes salespeople must achieve to tactically manage the sales process. We use the acrostic SOLVE to remember them:

S olidify the Relationship
O pen the Mind
L ogically Justify
V alidate the Value
E ffect Closure

The overarching purpose is to create value for customers. To do this we must understand what problems (or challenges or aspirations) the customer is dealing with. In essence a problem is simply nothing more than the difference between what a customer is experiencing or achieving now (their current situation) and what they need or want (that is, what they would like to achieve). The gap between the two is the problem; so our challenge is to understand this gap and provide a solution using our products and services to help the customer solve their problem.

To help the customer (and us!) identify, understand and solve the problem we need to develop the relationship with them, through either face-to-face and/or phone contact. So, of the five purposes in SOLVE, the most critical is the first: solidifying the relationship. A salesperson must build a good customer relationship as the foundation for any sale so they can really progress the other four purposes. Those who take shortcuts and forego building customer relationships put themselves in a position with little chance of making a sale.

Ways to build customer relationships

Every interaction you have with a customer will contribute to developing the sales relationship, and the best way by far to do this is ensure you make the customer feel important.

There are a few tactics we advocate for building sales relationships and making the customer feel important, including:

  • Mutual interest – people are drawn to those who are similar to themselves or have similar interests; if can you learn what mutual interest(s) you share with the customer, be sure to engage them in conversation about it
  • Ask for their opinions – not only does this show that you value their insights, but that you can learn a lot from the prospect by encouraging them to share their knowledge and experience
  • Gift – this can be anything, physical or intangible, that's designed to make the customer feel important; intangible gifts often come in the form of some type of recognition
  • Indicate that you care – this is often achieved by demonstrating to the prospect that you'd like to remain informed. By asking about the customer's present situation and the outcomes they are seeking, you achieve a result similar to when you ask for their opinion, as your enhanced knowledge of their situation allows you to have a more productive sales communication with them
  • Compliments – it's important to tell them not only what you like but why you like it; otherwise you may be perceived as disingenuous. And the same is true for personal compliments – be sure to focus on the individual's actions and not their traits.

You don't need to use every one of these ideas in building customer relationships; if it only takes one or two to help create a sales relationship that's sufficiently well founded for you to continue moving through the sales process, that's fine. However, do remember that building and sustaining sales relationships means paying them constant attention, whether its your 1st or 50th interaction with the customer.

How do you know when you've done a good job of building a strong customer relationship? A good indicator is when the customer becomes your champion and advocates you to colleagues and friends.

It's important to reiterate that there is no defined timeline for building relationships with customers; it takes several interactions to create a good sales relationship. So as a salesperson, avoid the temptation to move too quickly and exercise patience, because your first steps truly set the foundation for everything to come. One of the great truisms in sales is that while you may not win much business in your first encounters, you can certainly lose a lot! 

Maintaining customer relationships is as important as building them

A fact that's too often lost on salespeople is that the process of customer relationship development isn't linear. In fact, its a process that never ends. Once the customer is engaged with you and you're moving through the sales process, you need to work on maintaining the relationship.

In this regard, the sales relationship is no different to any other relationship in life. Think of meeting old high school friends after many years with no contact. It's extremely hard (if not impossible) to pick up where you left off. That's because the relationship has eroded with time; with both your changing circumstances, you find it hard to relate to each other.

So even when a sale isn't imminent, it's important to remain in appropriate contact with the customer so that you (a) stay up to date with the changes in their situation and (b) you continue to make them feel important. When there is an opportunity for a sale, whether it's in a week or a year, this effort will be rewarded.

Building sales relationships around making people feel important

Above all else, the key philosophy to remember and live by is that all solid sales relationships are built around making the customer feel important. Achieving this goal, however you do it, is essential to completing any sale.

Practical Sales Management and Leadership is a modular, cloud-based, training system designed to help sales leadership teams grow their ability to performance manage the sales force.  Preview a module from the training system here