Small Business

Beyond The Customer Connection


By Michelle Nichols In selling, as we all know, the relationship between the salesperson and the customer is the trump card. It beats not only price, but terms, delivery, and a host of other issues. However, like a game of bridge, winning at sales requires a lot more than one strong hand. Beyond the salesperson-to-customer connection, there are at least seven other links that you need to create and cultivate in order to maximize results.

Think of the connections as strands of rope. The more you have, and the tighter they can be twisted together, and the stronger your bond with the customer becomes. This can make the sales process easier and faster. More important, it's also your safety net when things go wrong.

MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Let's face it, over the span of any relationship, things change whether we like it or not. Maybe your key customer retires or changes jobs. Or it could be that details of the sale go wrong, like a late shipment, a product that doesn't work the way you said it would, or an incorrect bill. Having a wealth of connections beyond the direct one that links rep and customer can do a lot to reduce these mishaps and their consequences. You could liken it to the difference between a speed bump and a brick wall. One simply slows things down, the other represents a dead stop -- and often, a painful one. Bear in mind, too, that developing these connections is best done early. Build the bridge, in other words, long before you need it.

Here are the seven supporting relationships I see as vital for developing and maximizing sales results.

Yourself. The most important person with whom a sales rep needs to have a good connection is himself. It's vital to get enough sleep, have a good relationship with your family, pay the bills on time, and to schedule some fun. Without getting too touchy-feely, consider this: If you were the customer, would you rather deal with a sales rep who is completely focused on your needs -- or an unhappy camper distracted by marital woes and money problems? Believe me, customers don't want to hear, or even be aware, of your personal problems.

Your peers. If colleagues are selling the same product, each needs to keep the others appraised of developments -- new sales techniques, say, that work like a charm (or fail miserably), industry news, and any other information that all could use to improve the sales team's batting average. This will help speed sales. Go team!

Your boss: It's part of the salesperson's job to have a good relationship with his or her superior. Find common ground, develop rapport. This may not be easy, but it will help you to sell more, so it's worth it. Again, look at it from your customers' point of view: They prefer sales reps who get along with management because, when special deals or terms are needed, the request is more likely to be approved if the rep has "swing" with his or her boss.

Your fellow employees. We've all heard of instances where someone in the accounting, shipping, or legal departments had a grudge against a sales rep and went out of the way make selling an uphill battle. You know how it works -- somehow, the paperwork keeps being delayed or the shipment is inexplicably late.

Why? Most likely, it has something to do with missing and broken connections between the salesperson and fellow employees. Be nice to everyone in your company -- and I do mean everyone. They can help you or they can hurt you. Why encourage the latter?

Your company. Know the key facts of your outfit's record and its connection to your particular customer, especially if the relationship goes back a long way. I speak from experience here. In my first job out of college, I sold for NCR -- National Cash Register, which was founded in 1884. While I was brand-new, some of my customers had 30-year relationships with my employer. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that I should have made the effort to learn more about NCR and its involvement with the businesses that were my assigned accounts.

Your customer's company. If you've been calling on Amalgamated Widgets for 20 years and this is the fifth buyer you've dealt with, be ready to tap the wealth of knowledge you have acquired. Not only will you be aware of the company's black holes -- its quirks and organizational eccentricities -- you'll also be better prepared to avoid falling into them. With regard to your client's support employees, as with your own outfit, make friends everywhere you go. As Aretha Franklin so aptly put it, the key theme is R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Your place in a wider world. No matter whether it's the local Chamber of Commerce, the American Cancer Society, or the National Association of Dog Lovers, get involved! Human interaction brings you into contact with prospective customers, generates referrals, industry information, and business ideas. Not only is there a is there a tremendous potential payoff here in terms of sales, meeting new people is also a lot of fun. And who knows, it might just make the world a better place.

Don't worry about building all these relationships tomorrow. Start by being mindful of the opportunity to build parallel connections during every customer contact. The payoff may come immediately, from referrals or new business, or much later, when a shipment gets bollixed and you need some flexibility. Either way, building multiple connections can strengthen your selling power and help you sell more. Happy Selling! Michelle Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston, Tex. She

welcomes your questions and comments. You can visit her web site at www.verysavvyselling.biz

or contact her at michelle.nichols@verysavvyselling.biz


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