If you were a prospect, who would you prefer: someone eager to pitch to you or someone genuinely trying to help you?
My best guess is: you’ll choose someone who offers to assist you. And going by that, building relationships with customers has become the cornerstone of success for sales reps, especially in small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
A sales team that builds and maintains relationships enjoys higher customer loyalty, improved referrals, and a smoother sales cycle.
But building sales relationships is more than just having a little small talk before your pitch. In this article, we’ll further explore why relationship building is crucial for SMB sales teams and explain the process.
The Art of Relationship Selling: Building Trust Through Personal Connection
Relationship selling is a process where you build trust and rapport with a prospect instead of merely trying to sell to them based on your offer and pricing.
In enterprise and B2B sales settings, prospects research, compare options, read reviews, etc., before deciding. That’s a long sales cycle.
If you’re there to offer the help and the content they need when they need it, they’ll trust you, and their deal will be yours to close.
The folks at RAIN Group wanted to put this claim to the test. They surveyed over 7,000 buyers, representing $3.1 billion in annual B2B purchases across different industries.
Their discovery? In their own words, “We found that sales winners consistently do three things: They connect, convince, and collaborate with buyers. Our research found that sales winners make strong personal connections at more than double the rate of second-place finishers. Relationship building in sales is far from dead.”
Relationship Selling Techniques
In relationship selling, you’re selling both your product and yourself as a helper. The success of your product depends on how well the customer receives you.
This means you can’t be in a rush. This doesn’t align with your goal of quickly crushing your sales quota, but that’s the idea. Relationship selling doesn’t apply to every business.
Perhaps yours is transactional selling, where the rule of building a strong relationship doesn’t generally apply.
But if you want to adopt relationship selling as a sales strategy, check out some key techniques below.
Listen Actively, and Participate
You should start actively listening from the first time a potential customer engages with you. This involves listening and participating in a discussion to actively engage with the customer, understand their needs, and foster a collaborative environment.
You can use open-ended questions to encourage customers to share more details and insights. This allows you to uncover their needs, pain points, and desired outcomes. It also demonstrates your interest in their unique situation and encourages a deeper conversation.
Take, for example, an open-ended question like: “What specific challenges or goals are you currently facing in your business that you’re looking to address?”
You can connect this to preliminary research you’ve done about them. Let’s say you know a prospect has downloaded a PDF from your website on effective cold emailing. You could ask them, “What challenges are you facing with your cold emailing strategies?”
This question allows the prospect to share their unique situation, providing you with valuable insights into their pain points and desired outcomes.
Once they open up about their challenges, paraphrase their statements, repeat key points, and summarize to confirm your understanding.
This shows the customer that you are actively engaged and committed to comprehending their perspective. This action will reassure them and make them want to listen to you more.
We know from experience that this isn’t that simple to pull off. The key to success is to ensure you speak at a suitable time when they want to talk. You can always judge that by their mood at the beginning of the conversation.
Offer Advice Tailored to Their Pain Points
Now that the prospect has opened up, they expect you to provide a way forward. This is your chance to show expertise, display thought leadership, and prove they can rely on you.
To succeed at this, as soon as you’ve identified their pain points, draw a clear connection between them and your product or service’s solutions. Explain how your offering addresses their pain points and alleviates their concerns.
Suppose you’re selling CRM software, and your prospect’s current CRM doesn’t automatically log calls. If your product has an automatic call-logging feature, this is your opportunity to display it.
You can strengthen your offer by sharing relevant case studies or success stories highlighting how your solution has successfully resolved similar pain points for other customers. This action helps the prospect visualize how your product or service can help them overcome their challenges.
Empathize and Handle Objections Well
You’re probably thinking, “What if this prospect has an objection?”
The solution is straightforward. As a sales professional, handling objections professionally and closing deals is part of your job.
First, empathize with them by acknowledging the problem and presenting a solution. You can do this by offering alternative solutions to address their objections. This includes exploring different approaches that may alleviate their concerns.
In the case of our CRM buyer cited earlier, migrating from their current CRM to yours without losing data is a headache. You can offer solutions like connecting them to an internal expert who would help them with a painless migration.
And if this objection arises out of misconceptions or misunderstandings, clarify any misconceptions and provide accurate information. Educate the prospect about the features of your product or service and address any misconceptions hindering their decision-making process.
But most importantly, be transparent in your communication and avoid making exaggerated claims. If there are limitations or areas where your offering may not meet their requirements, be honest and explain how you can work around those challenges or offer alternatives.
Provide Valuable Content and Show Thought Leadership
To gain a prospect’s trust, you need marketing materials that show you not only understand them but also, in fact, know how to solve their problems.
Content should address them based on their industry, pain points, challenges, and goals. Research their specific needs and preferences to ensure your content is relevant and valuable to them.
Finding this information includes conducting market research, monitoring industry trends, and analyzing customer feedback to identify the most relevant and valuable content ideas. You can also gain customer insights by looking for data such as pages visited, contact history, and social profiles in your CRM.
Use those insights to develop compelling content that offers insights, educates, and provides solutions to the prospect’s challenges. This knowledge sharing can come in the form of blog posts, whitepapers, e-books, case studies, infographics, or videos. Ensure the content is well-researched, well-written, and showcases your expertise.
Then, deliver the content to match the prospect’s preferences. Some may prefer email newsletters, while others might engage with webinars or social media posts. Consider their preferred communication channels and provide the content in an easily consumable format.
While creating your content, demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership by sharing unique insights, industry trends, and analysis. Offer valuable perspectives and have a clear POV on relevant topics. Otherwise, you’re just like everybody else.
What the Internet lacks today is not content; expert opinions give prospects and customers the confidence boost they need to make a decision. If you can stand out by sharing your POV, you’ll become a go-to resource for information and guidance within your field.
Include Personal Touchpoints (Connect on a Personal Level)
There is a simple question to be answered here: How well do you know your prospects?
If you know them well enough, relationship selling has room for personal interaction in the sales process.
Did a prospect recently raise a round of funds? Did they recently get a promotion? You can bring this up in your conversation with them, whether during a sales call, through email outreach, or even in person.
This can even be something as personal as their birthday celebration. Businesses have used different strategies to integrate personal touchpoints into building customer relationships.
Examples of such strategies include:
- Sending them congratulatory messages on their birthday or other important occasions: If you know a prospect’s birthday, you can send them a card wishing them a happy birthday. This is a nice way to show genuine care without getting too involved in their personal lives.
- Engaging them in personal hobbies: Maybe they’re supporters of a popular soccer team that you know, or maybe they love playing soccer. That’s another opportunity to have a friendly conversation.
- Celebrating their career developments: At any point, your customer may have just achieved a great feat or be trying to achieve one. An MBA, a promotion, or a business objective are some examples of personal achievements you can celebrate with them.
Being truthful in relationship selling means being honest, transparent, and ethical in all your interactions with prospects and customers. It involves building trust through integrity, delivering accurate information, and maintaining a commitment to their best interests.
But let’s break this down a bit.
Here are some elements of truthfulness in a customer-seller relationship:
- Transparent communication: Be transparent by always giving accurate information about your product or service, its capabilities, limitations, and pricing. Avoid any misleading statements or exaggerated claims that may erode trust.
- Honesty about fit: Assess whether your product or service is a good fit for the prospect’s needs. If it isn’t, be upfront rather than attempting to force a sale. Focus on finding the best solution for their requirements, even if it means recommending a competitor’s offering.
- Accuracy in representations: Ensure that the information you provide about your product or service is accurate and reliable. Making false promises or misrepresenting features, benefits, or outcomes will damage your reputation.
- Integrity in pricing and terms: Be transparent about pricing, fees, and contractual terms. Avoid hidden charges or undisclosed conditions that may later surprise the customer. Clearly explain the pricing structure and potential additional costs, helping customers make informed decisions.
- Handling mistakes and issues: Mistakes are bound to happen, and when they do, address them promptly and honestly. Acknowledge the error, take responsibility, and work towards a resolution in the customer’s best interest.
When you do all these things, you’ve given your customers a reason to always count on you. And the personal relationship you develop with them now based on trust may get you more sales in the future.
Continuously Provide Value Post-sale
After you’ve successfully nurtured a prospect to buy, don’t stop. If you do, your prospects will feel like just another number in your spreadsheet.
So, continue to build that relationship after sales:
- Onboarding and training: Offer comprehensive onboarding and training programs to ensure customers fully understand how to use your product or service. This includes providing resources, tutorials, or personalized training sessions to help them get up to speed quickly and maximize the value they receive.
- Ongoing support: Maintain open lines of communication and offer ongoing support to address any questions, concerns, or issues that may arise. Additionally, provide a dedicated support channel, such as a helpdesk or customer service team, to promptly assist customers and resolve their queries.
- Regular check-ins: Conduct periodic follow-ups with customers to gauge their satisfaction, identify any challenges they may face, and offer assistance. This proactive approach demonstrates your commitment to their success and allows you to address any issues before they become significant problems.
- Loyalty programs and rewards: Implement loyalty programs that recognize and reward customers for their continued partnership. Use incentives, discounts, or exclusive offers to show appreciation for their loyalty and encourage them to stay engaged with your brand.
The Power of Long-term Relationships in SMB Sales
Relationship selling offers several benefits contributing to long-term success and customer satisfaction. Here are some key benefits of relationship selling backed by research.
Customer Loyalty and Repeat Business
Maintaining a strong customer relationship leads to customer loyalty, which is crucial for SMB sales. Loyal customers provide repeat business and can also be a source of referrals, driving new customers to your business.
According to a Salesforce finding, 95 percent of customers are more likely to stay loyal to a brand they trust, while 92 percent are willing to purchase additional products from a brand they trust.
Increased Customer Lifetime Value
Research shows that 80 percent of customers have switched brands because of poor customer experiences. As outlined in this article, relationship-selling techniques help you avoid that.
Building lasting relationships with customers may lead to increased customer lifetime value (CLV) because they know if anything goes wrong, they can always count on you to fix it.
When you build rapport and good relationships with customers, they tend to upgrade to higher-tier products or services and are more receptive to cross-selling and upselling opportunities.
Relationship selling aims to understand and address customer needs, challenges, and goals over time. By actively listening, providing personalized solutions, and offering ongoing support, you can reduce customer churn rates and retain more customers in the long run.
This will not only increase your profit but also save you money because the cost of acquiring new customers is higher than the cost of keeping an existing one.
Bringing It All Together: Relationship Selling as a Sales Strategy
As a sales leader, ensuring your salespeople understand the value of relationship selling and the sales techniques involved is important. This is especially important if you’re selling high-ticket items.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to their sales quotas, it’s the only thing that’ll help them in the long run. Encourage them to take an interest in their customers’ lives, practice active listening, and use social media platforms like LinkedIn to build stronger client relationships.