Spend some time in the psychology or self-help section in any bookstore and you'll find hundreds of books written on transforming troubled relationships. Whether husband/wife, parent/child, friend/friend or employer/employee, they dominate the shelves promising THE magical solution to resolving any issue imaginable.
If you're in sales, what about the buyer/seller relationship? The same elements that make any relationship thrive also apply to developing and strengthening bonds with our prospects and customers.
If I were to ask your prospects at the end of your sales calls to rate the strength of your present relationship on a scale of 1 to 10 what do you suppose they'd say? Chances are they might give you a score in the 2-4 range. Trust me. This is not enough to close business without reducing your price to absurdly low levels. Spending an hour dazzling your prospect with marvelous features and benefits doesn't, nor has it ever, solidified anything, least of all a bond of strength.
What would happen if you said to the same prospect that you understand that they will only do business with people they trust and ask them to share with you the ways to strengthen your relationship and build enough trust for them to make a purchase?
Your new goal is to build that relationship to a score of 7 or above. Bartlett's rule states: The weaker the relationship, the more pressure that is placed on the proposal. Typically, more pressure on the proposal means a salesperson will need the lowest price in order to close the deal.
Feel free to challenge this rule by reviewing your last ten proposals. Did any close without being the lowest price point? How did the quality of your relationship with the prospect affect the closing process?
Far too many times, salespeople misjudge the strength of the relationship with their prospect by strictly focusing on the way they are treated. Unfortunately, we have taught prospects that if they treat us well we will give them a proposal or whatever they ask for. Salespeople act this way because they are bombarded with so much rejection that they become hostages to any signs of hope or optimism.
Let's face it. Salespeople in general are often the neediest people on the face of the earth. This neediness can easily lead to delusion and denial and create a false sense of security that the relationship is stronger than it actually is.
Here are three ways to build stronger relationships with prospects:
- Measure all of your relationships with prospects with Olympic designations: Gold, Silver and Bronze. The goal must be to achieve GOLD status with every prospect and customer relationship. Gold status is "won" when you unequivocally know that they trust your values, your word and your commitment to delivery. A partnership is established whereby any challenge they face is fully explored and they have ultimate confidence that your "solution" is best for them. Conversely, bronze status is just what it infers: either the prospect/customer or you are focused on a price-based sale versus a long-term relationship.
- Demonstrate that you value your prospects and customers more than simply a source of revenue. I always ask every prospect and customer I have what I must do to provide more service to them than any of my competitors. You must recognize that a sale is accomplished between the buyer and seller, not two companies.
- Fully comprehend your competitive position. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. At the top of one half, write your company's name and on the other, your top competitor's. In each column, objectively list the relationship "leverage points" referencing gold, silver and bronze status above that you believe each company has with a prospect. All things being equal, all potential buyers will do business with sellers they know and trust.
Prospects/buyers are more astute today than ever and are armed against the slick, fast-talking, manipulative "antics" of sellers who only want to make money. Professional selling demands that salespeople understand that a rock-solid relationship is the foremost "feature and benefit" for a prospect. Everything seamlessly unfolds from there.
Illustration by Rob Green