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October 21, 2015 | by Bob Butler, president, CEO and co-author of Butler Sales Training Programs

Successful Selling

How developing and keeping strategic relationships leads to more sales

“You only call me when you want to sell me something!” Most of us have heard or said these words before, usually when a customer-supplier relationship has become transactional.

It’s a common problem: Sales people are impatient, putting customer relationships on the back burner until it’s time to get a quote and decision. But price sensitivity, multiple vendors and quotes, and the lack of a prior relationship means these types of sales people usually don’t get the business.

These scenarios open our eyes to the importance of relationship-selling. The fundamental foundation of a relationship is having people both like and trust you. When a relationship is absent, customers will negotiate aggressively and treat the salesperson as a vendor, not a partner. Nearly 50% of sales people don’t hit quota.  The ones that do achieve quota have relationships*. 

Creating a strategic relationship starts with gaining visibility and mindshare with your customers. The goal: When they need something, they think of you first.  Or better yet, when they need something they call you first and say, “Get it to us.  We don’t care what it costs.” That doesn’t happen in one call, one visit or one sale.  It requires regular visits and phone calls that don’t ask for a sale. It means learning about the person, building and sharing a bond.  It’s understanding not only what they’re business needs are, but who and what is important to them personally. The sales professional must continually qualify and stay abreast of the ongoing changes that occur in the buyer-seller relationship by staying in touch frequently, not going months at a time without calling or being in front of the customer.  

Although relationships take tremendous time and effort to build, they are remarkably easy to lose. If you don’t stay in touch, say every two to three weeks, you are vulnerable to losing that account.

To properly maintain strategic relationships, an entire team is needed; after all, outside sales reps can’t do it all. The larger the account, the more it requires multiple touch points from different players, including tech support, metallurgists, estimating, and inside sales.

As accounts grow, companies must sell deeper and wider, matching sales teams with the customer’s buying team – both in number of people and levels of seniority.  Multiple touch points throughout the organization are key to establishing and maintaining business as staffing may change.  Inside sales has always played a vital role, because they handle day-to-day activities and cement customer relationships the outside rep initiated. But as cost containment increases, so too does the role of inside sales, putting much of the burden of maintaining the relationship on inside staff. 

This is where strong sales training comes in: When teaching and training salespeople, relationship selling must be first and product selling second. Relationship selling might not be first nature to everyone, but training programs teach salespeople how to actively listen and ask questions that identify customer needs. 

Budgets might not allow the type of evening and weekend entertainment that were necessary to keeping clients in the past, but relationships and team selling are still a vital part of successful sales strategies. If a salesperson is willing to spend the time and make the effort to build a relationship, it will pay off in future sales.

* Verified by The Chally Group and Sales, Marketing & Management Magazine.

For more information about relationship selling for inside sales, see the Inside Sales Strategies course on our website.