In this blog I relate my experience in 45 years of successful B2B selling. The fundamental skill to my success is building relationships with prospects and customers. Now I read articles calling for “putting the buyer first” and “delivering value.” This is not new stuff. Ask any great salesperson and they will tell you both mindsets are fundamental to building mutually beneficial, long-term relationships.
I was always more interested in what the buyer had to say. Think about it. How can you put the buyer first or deliver value if you don’t know anything about the buyer? The products I sold had relatively long sales cycles. Three meetings minimum and sometimes as many as a dozen spread over a year. The customer was in no hurry to buy. So why be in a hurry to sell? Asking good questions to find out what drives the customer or prospect is the first step in building relationships.
Do The Research
Most of the information I needed to close a deal I learned from the prospect. But not all. Depending on the situation I needed to know more. In the days before the internet (yep, I’m that old) I consulted others in the industry and in my company. What did I need to know? Really everything about the customer and what was driving his need to make this purchase. Sometimes it was a machine to produce an entirely new product. Like the tiny glass beads to make all those reflective signs and clothing we now see everywhere. So technology was important. And technical expert help after the sale. Workplace injuries are expensive and demoralizing to the work force. Selling safety products I usually asked what the most common workplace injury was and what it cost the company. I worked with the customer to educate the workers in proper use of the safety equipment to keep them healthy while doing their jobs. Great salespeople understand knowing all about the buyer’s problem is paramount to building relationships.
Building Relationships Is Personal
My best customers knew about me and my family and I knew theirs. No we didn’t get together on Saturday afternoons in the park for hot dogs and hamburgers. But we enjoyed knowing how each of us was doing outside of work. This is part of building relationships using the principle: “buyers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. In the days before the COVID pandemic, business lunches, networking events, and sports outings all were settings outside of business where long term relationships were nurtured. Now a new set of tools is needed to replace the in-person meetings. But the fundamentals of getting to know buyer’s concerns both professionally and personally remain a key to building relationships.
Getting the order is only one step in the long process of building relationships. And follow up is not only important after the order but in every step along the way. During most of the long sales cycle pursuits customers asked for deliverables along the way. My role as the salesperson was to insure they were sent. And to follow up to learn the prospect’s reaction. On one project when I worked for a custom metal fabricator we were pursuing a project to provide blackened steel ornamental metal work. We produced several hundred samples until we met the prospect’s expectation of “black.” For other projects with this company following up after the sale yielded additional work on the project. Even when I lost a project, I followed up. On several occasions I won work when the competitor failed to perform. Building relationships continues after the sale to be sure the expectations were met and to pursue the next order.
What You Can Do Right Now Building Relationships
- Ask good open-ended questions to understand the buyer
- Learn all you can about the buyer from all sources
- Take an interest in the personal and professional goals of your customers
- Always follow up on each sales activity with the buyer
To learn more sales secrets see Chapter Seven, Understanding Buyer Behavior, in Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling. For even more sales encouragement, join our FREE Sales Club! “See” you next week.