I once heard a local entrepreneur say, “Being in business means being a salesperson.” In fact, it goes even deeper than that: in a very real sense, everyone is a salesperson. From the time we were small children, we all experimented with different techniques to get other people to do what we wanted them to do. Some of us did so more successfully than others. Those who had the greatest success were those who understood relationships with other people. Today, “relationship selling,” as it is called, has become a key skill for the entrepreneur.
If you form meaningful relationships with your customers, they are much more likely to return and buy from you again. Once you have established a relationship with a customer, that customer will have an entirely new attitude towards doing business with you. Insurance agents are a perfect example. Insurance is as trust-based as any type of business on earth. If my agent—and the company he or she represents—gains my confidence, I am not likely to switch agents, even for a lower premium.
Here are five principles that will help you form a bond of trust with your customers:
1. Understand your customer’s real needs. Careful listening to your customer can compensate for a great number of factors that could be seen as drawbacks in a company. When you are in the market for a product or service, wouldn’t you prefer to deal with someone who is sensitive to your needs and desires? Sometimes, the customer isn’t clear as to what he or she really needs. Your careful listening can make the difference.
2. If your customer is another business, learn as much as you can about that business. Customers will be more likely to bond with you if you show a genuine understanding of their business and what it means to them both personally and professionally. Read annual reports, trade journals, and media articles to acquaint yourself with the business you are dealing with—including knowledge about their competitors. In this case, knowledge shows you care.
3. Provide exceptional service. Exceptional service yields the strongest bond of all. Providing exceptional service isn’t always totally up to you. Even as a company owner, you will sometimes not have as much control over the quality of service as you would like. You can be creative, and an innovative solution is usually possible, if you just give it some thought. As a customer, I frequent several businesses as a regular customer totally because they place a heavy emphasis on providing exceptional service at all times.
4. Don’t fake knowledge you don’t have. If you’re like me, you would rather have salespeople admit to having less than perfect knowledge of a product or service than to hear them pretending to know things they don’t really know. Any real relationship between people has to include honesty. I once had a car salesman tell me that the car I was test driving had front-wheel drive. A quick check on the Web proved him false. I don’t think he was deliberately lying; he was just faking it, hoping to be correct.
5. Avoid taking your special relationship for granted. Don’t ever misuse the relationship you have created. Avoid ever getting to the point where you take the customer for granted. The bond you have worked so hard to form is a precious commodity. Treat it—and your customer—accordingly.
Most importantly, to make relationship selling really work, you need to be real. If you’re just doing all of this to play a game—to end up with the winning hand, the whole process could come back around and “bite you.” Don’t be the phony friend who doesn’t really want a relationship, but who wants relationship selling anyway. It just doesn’t work that way.
Lowell H. Lamberton is Emeritus Professor of Business at Central Oregon Community College.
For more information, feel free to contact Professor Lamberton at 541-383-7714.