Corporate sales training has come a long way from a slap on the back and a “Go get ‘em, Tiger.” I was lucky — in my first sales class 20-something years ago, we spent two weeks learning the basic steps: how best to present a product’s features, functions, and benefits, and the right way to compare your wares with those of competitors. Fortunate as I was to receive such a thorough grounding, I now see that my education fell far short of what true success demands.
Since then, I have come to appreciate that, while knowing the details of my products is essential, the tremendous power of relationships is even more important. Creating and maintaining genuine connections with your customers can be the difference between working in sales and being a sales phenomenon.
BOYS, THINK PINK!
Selling is not a competition, it’s a connection. Rather than putting the competitive instinct in overdrive, devote your energies to making connections with customers, their co-workers, the people in your own organization and beyond. This strategy will not only increase sales and profits, it will speed up the sales cycle. Oh, and here is another important gain: Connections make the business of selling more fun, too.
I hate to sound sexist, but most women are natural connectors, while many men make the mistake of leaning toward the “rugged individualist” style of selling. It’s one reason why women so often make great salespeople: We invented networking! But don’t despair, guys. If you’re not selling by using your connecting skills, read on and learn how. Male or female, there’s always room to take your connecting abilities up a notch. Here are five ways to better connect with customers.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
At the beginning of the sales cycle, unless you plan to compete only on price, you must establish a human tie. The people connection must precede the business link. Too many salespeople, especially those new to the profession, want to rush right into discussing the specifications, financing or advantages of their wares. Seasoned professionals know better. They establish the connection first — personal, professional, or both — before the sales conversation moves on to the details and the close.
Recently, I spoke with the owner of a large bakery. For eight years, she built the connections to win a large, local stadium’s bread-supply contract. Yes, it was a long haul, but she just hung in there, connecting with the buyer and his associates by sharing meals, playing golf and generally keeping in touch. Eventually, she got what she had worked for. The key ingredient of her eventual triumph: She didn’t wear resistance down, she built connections up!
SPREAD THE JOY
After closing the first sale with a new client, keep connecting, because it’s the key to long-term sales profits. With the high cost of attracting and winning new business these days, chances are there will be little profit on the first sale to a new customer The good news is that long-term, repeat business promises plenty of opportunities to boost the bottom line. I call this the sweet spot of selling. Let your competitors churn and burn their customers. Invest your time and effort in keeping existing clients happy and, if at all possible, making them even moreso.
When I was addressing this topic recently, a member of the audience chimed in that he had tried Internet banking but was ready to go back to a bricks-and-mortar outfit. He just didn’t feel any connection. Obviously, whatever its other advantages, his online bank couldn’t offer what he valued most: a human connection.
THE WHOOPS FACTOR
Sell long enough, and you’re going to make a mistake or two — even with your best and most valuable customers. When this happens, you need to reconnect. No matter whether you pick up the phone, visit in person, or have the president of your company make the connection, do whatever you think is slightly more than necessary. A few minutes of connecting might prevent the loss of a major customer — and maybe all his or her friends’ future business, too.
Selling is about more than low prices and good jokes.
Make sales and customer service easier
Want to sell more? Do more demos. I call it "Show and Sell" demos.