Your organization needs a sales team that does more than make presentations to prospective clients. It may have to build the kind of long-term relationships that engender trust in your company, which, in turn, ensures steady business.
Believe it or not, the ability to develop long-lasting business relationships with clients can be taught.
“This is more than just how you sell,” says Vera Jasper-Lewis, executive director of sales and marketing at Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College. “It’s how you develop a relationship with your clients. It’s the touchy-feely part of selling.”
For instance, your company may have technical experts who are brilliant in their own field but lose confidence when having to create better business relationships. When in doubt, they fall back on their expertise, potentially boring clients and dazzling them with too many facts and figures.
Smart Business spoke to Jasper-Lewis about defining the process of relationship management and the training available in Northeast Ohio.
Is business relationship management a part of the sales process?
Definitely. Business relationship management is not only a part of the sales process, but it’s a critical part that a lot of organizations leave out.
Management sometimes wants to make the sales process very simple and easy to assimilate, which can be the wrong approach. That’s fine if you’re selling something where you don’t have a lot of repeat business, like roofing services. But when you depend on repeat business, your sales-people have to take special care to develop relationships.
Does most business relationship management occur before, during or after a sale?
It’s ongoing. A good part of building trust is before a sale ever goes down. The relationship building goes both ways, too. You not only have to understand their business, but you have to coax them to understand your business before you can both begin to understand their problems and possible solutions.
What are the keys to developing good business relationships?
Gaining clients’ confidence and trust in you and your company is one of the keys. Too often, consultants, salespeople or other company representatives deluge clients, or potential clients, with too much information.
Relationship building is all about the fact that — at gut level — it’s the salesperson that they buy. During meetings, the salesperson not only represents the company, he or she is the company.
It’s less about your product and a whole lot more about how your representatives connect with your client. They need to be a trusted consultant, to understand the client’s needs and to get to the core of what is going on in the client’s company.
Equally important is the ability to draw out unspoken agendas and to deliver messages the client may not want to hear. Clients often think they know what they want, but they may, in reality, need something quite different or more than they believe. Another part of the relationship building is to tease out needed information without seeming to interrogate the client.
How do you build the necessary trust?
You must, first and foremost, be a person of your word. If you tell the client you’re going to do something, you have to do it. If I tell someone that I’m going to send him information, I send the information. People trust you because you do what you say you’re going to do and you’re looking out for their interests. They feel you’re a partner in the process instead of a vendor.
Can nonsales personnel be taught business relationship building?
Absolutely. I’m a great example of that. More than 20 years ago, Westinghouse and General Electric were looking for sales-people who were first and foremost technical people. I became one of the first non-business employees who was asked to sell very technical equipment.
For some of the strong technical-based people, converting to a sales-first mindset just didn’t work. But some of us gained a different perspective that had an impact on what we designed because we developed relationships with our customers.
It’s very easy to teach people how to build business relationships, and most understand it, even if they don’t adopt it. It’s very easy to grasp the concept if the teacher or facilitator relates the process to the students’ own personal experiences.
Some subtopics included in teaching relationship building are 1) understanding the customer’s customer, 2) the customer experience, 3) past the sale and 4) developing a person-to-person relationship.
Building and managing a business relationship is a throwback to the days when top executives knew each other so well that they sealed a deal with a handshake — before so much sales was conducted as if products and services were nothing more than commodities. The important thing is that this kind of approach is not about somebody buying something; it’s about growing a partnership and helping customers better serve their own customers.
VERA JASPER-LEWIS is executive director of sales and marketing at Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (216) 987-2963.