Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International Inc.
The single biggest void in professional sales today is the skill needed to cultivate meaningful customer relationships. Ironically, making customer connections has never been easier, thanks to social media, email, and texting. But, because our ability to connect is never more than a few keystrokes away, we have a false sense of our position with customers and prospects.
Making Connections via Technology Is Not a Relationship
As I told Selling Power publisher Gerhard Gschwandtner in the video interview below, we often confuse a voicemail, email, or one-way texting with productive progression in a customer relationship. This level of engagement may or may not help us get or stay on our customers’ radar, but it does not create opportunities for problem-solving conversations and needs assessment. Nor do these connections drive purchase decisions, displace competitors, or facilitate influence. For these outcomes, you need a bona fide relationship with a degree of influence with your customer. Such relationships are based on trust, credibility, rapport, and respect; all four are the building blocks to a long-term, productive, and profitable relationship.
How do you move your position from remote engagement to a deeper relationship, such as trusted resource and advisor? Consider these tips.
- Create Curiosity.
Make yourself interesting and valuable to your customers and prospects by giving them information related to them and their interests. This information includes competitive information, industry-specific insights or news, or general business information.
These materials may have no direct connection to your products or services; they may not always have a direct connection to the customer’s business, but they must provide new insights of interest. Be a strategic resource: you should provide detail and thoughts on why the information impacts their organization and market. Research articles related to industry trends or concerns specific to your customer. Share insights from blogs, articles, or the latest business/leadership books – these can be leveraged across all of your customers and prospects. Customers often miss published coverage about their own company, and are appreciative when it is shared. Even when the subject matter isn’t of direct interest to your customer, you are demonstrating your insight and that you have your finger on the pulse of current events and thinking in business. You are positioning yourself as a credible information resource with insights that can help achieve their business objectives.
- Be Curious.
The best sales professionals always have an authentic interest in their customers and the business reality in which their customers live and compete. It is often surprising how little sales professionals know about their customers' worlds. In our everyday struggle to become more networked, we have to be interested to gain and keep access to the higher levels of an organization. Cultivate your own intellectual curiosity. Understand more than is required to hold your own in discussions with customers. Doing so will not only improve your insights and progress your position with customers, it will make your professional life more interesting and fulfilling.
- Create Opportunities to Listen, Not Talk.
This perspective is often counter-intuitive to sales professionals, but it is the time spent listening, not talking, that deepens our relationship with customers. Think about the most significant relationships in your personal life. These were not cultivated with one-way conversations in which you continually talk about yourself, your assets, and your strengths. They are the culmination of reciprocal contributions and emotional investment.
Customer relationships are different only in that the investment may not be reciprocal at the outset; initially, you need to do the lion’s share of the work. Invest in the relationship. Stay focused on the customer. Nothing is more disingenuous than listening for advantage to launch into your own agenda. This is a one-way ticket to the exit. Every meeting or conversation in which you learn more about your customer – his/her competitors, concerns, goals, and personal interests – is a meeting in which you have increased the depth of that relationship and improved your position with the customer.
Don’t make the mistake of considering unanswered voicemails, emails, or even text messages as evidence of quality interactions, or assume that customers are just busy and will get back to you when they have time. Although these conversations of good intent get shared with sales leadership and added to the CRM as customer contact, no real progress was made in developing the relationship.
Scroll through your “connections” or “friends” lists. For each name, ask yourself what you know about the individual. Do you really know this person at all? The answer will help you understand your own professional gap and provide the starting point for deepening your customer relationships.