Whether it's true or not, salespeople have a reputation for always focusing on closing the next deal. Buyers know this, and it's the reason why only about 3 percent of them actually trust sales representatives. Only politicians and lobbyists have it worse.

That doesn't mean customers avoid sales reps entirely -- they simply believe that the reps will never have their best interests at heart. Not surprisingly, this doesn't exactly lead to an easy relationship between sales teams and prospective clients.

The B2B sales cycle in particular can last several months before that final handshake. This requires constant communication with qualified leads along the way, and any one touchpoint can mean the difference between new revenue and lost opportunity. Rather than relying solely on check-in emails and ads, spend that time building up trust and staying at the forefront of customers' minds in positive ways:

1. Giving something for free.

Nobody expects anything for free, so stand out by giving away a portion of what you're offering with no strings attached. Whether it's a free trial period for your service or free samples of your product, offering some of it to your lead will create a valuable connection. The buyer gets a test run to experience the product or service firsthand, and you gain much more positive word of mouth for your brand than you would have otherwise.

2. Sending attention-grabbing gifts.

Along with free products or services, send unique gifts such as a fun variety of artisanal office snacks. A large spread of high-quality treats that your clients can share with their entire team will increase the number of individuals willing to sing your praises when it's time to make a purchasing decision.

"A custom-branded box of nutritious, satisfying treats gives you the chance to add some old-fashioned gifting into your sales technique," says WorkPerks Chief Snack Officer Jonathan Shapiro. "Sending meaningful, workplace-relevant gifts to clients will make them feel appreciated -- and, more importantly, keep your company top of mind."

3. Building a relationship beyond the product.

One valuable way to help grease the wheels is to break down the transactional barrier between the salesperson and the prospective client. Crafting a bonding experience, such as renting a suite for a sporting event or concert, can help develop a more intimate, trusting relationship that makes a successful sale more likely.

"Some companies might find it difficult to justify the cost of providing an extravagant experience to a couple dozen prospects, but if just one of those prospects converts, the expense will have been worth it," says Scott Spencer, CEO and Founder of Suite Experience Group. "The recipient of the experience will remember the event for a lifetime -- and remember the company that provided the experience favorably."

4. Reaching out to the underdogs.

As a salesperson, your instinct is to go for the decision makers and make them your best friends. However, often-ignored employees such as secretaries are the gatekeepers to the kingdom.

Free products and services should be directed at company heads, sure, but send gifts that are meant for the whole office to the receptionist or office manager. If making the sale comes down to a close decision, the gatekeepers may be the ones to tip the balance in your favor.

5. Being more than just another rep.

The art of selling has changed drastically over the years, and developing a relationship with your client has become more important than ever. As noted earlier, sending regularly scheduled check-in emails won't cut it, even if they are personalized.

Instead, forward interesting and useful industry articles, interact with your prospect on social media, and -- this can never be overstated -- take steps that show you want to build a relationship, not just make a sale.

It's easy for salespeople to make an impression, but the trick is to be remembered for the right reasons. In the months or even years it takes to court the biggest clients, build up your own credibility and trustworthiness. When the time comes to make a purchase, you'll be the obvious choice.

Published on: May 6, 2018