Successful sales requires two seemingly conflicting goals: in the short term you really need to make the sale... yet you also hope to build a long-term relationship.
So how can you do both?
Relationship building is a key aspect of sales. It is of paramount importance that, as entrepreneurs and sales professionals, we put the client's best interest in the forefront of our minds.
But where does assertiveness come into play in our dealings with clients?
Last week I had a great chat with a marketing consultant who is working hard to build a solid foundation of repeat clients for her business. She understands the concept of building relationships but sometimes struggles with knowing how to guide conversations so that they are productive and create forward momentum for her business.
In short, she wondered how to know when to push and when to wait. She wondered if she was not being assertive enough, because many of her discussions with prospective clients ended with no real movement towards turning those prospects into clients.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. We all struggle with balancing the need to make a sale with the need to build a genuine relationship. (If you don't struggle with finding that balance, you either never make a sale or you're a pushy jerk.)
Here's a framework that can help:
1. Sales starts with the relationship -- and with trust.
We definitely want to get to know our prospective clients, and for them to know us.
But you can't do that by using a fire hose. Relationships are built over time, and it's important that early in the process your prospective clients gain trust in your belief in your product or service and your seriousness about delivering value.
Prospective clients need to know that you mean business because that will instill confidence, a vital part of the foundation of the relationship.
So, yes, get to know more about the individual's family, occupation, recreational activities, and motivation (FORM), but bring the dialogue around to business--your business--so that they know you mean business.
2. Sales is a fluid process, but it is a process.
A huge mistake many entrepreneurs make is failing to map out a sales process. They treat every interaction differently and, therefore, fail to gain the momentum that they could from improving at following a standard process.
Last week I was talking with Mary Jane Copps, also known as The Phone Lady. Mary Jane is an expert at telephone communication skills. I mentioned to her that I saw a need for her services, and she immediately said that she could send me a proposal.
I could tell from the conviction with which she made that suggestion that she had a sales process and was confident and ready to engage it. Her confidence and belief in her ability to add value made me say, "Yes, send away!"
3. Identify the need, share the process, and obtain buy-in.
Once you have identified a problem you know your product or service can solve, take a few minutes to identify a decision-making process.
The process should include action steps for both you as the seller and your prospective client as the buyer. As sellers we must be assertive about the use of our time. Remember: Your time has value!
To a certain extent, prospective clients should earn our time. They can earn it by following through on what they say they will do as you help them figure out how to solve their problems.
For example, if you share a case study or a white paper with a prospective client, agree on a time by which they commit to having reviewed it, and then follow up when you say you will. Make those interactions a two-way street: not only is your time valuable, the sense of engagement that results will help you advance the sales process.
Form straight-line relationships.
The late Bill Gove made a distinction between people who loop and people who form straight-line relationships.
- People who loop are typically afraid to tell it like it is
- Straight-line relationships are direct and are based on trust
Trust results when two people are frank and open with each other. Fortunately, you can engage in straight-line relationships almost 100% of the time and be a successful salesperson. In straight-line relationships, clients are not afraid to tell you how they really feel, and you are not afraid to tell clients how you really feel.
The bottom line: Don't just be an entrepreneur who truly desires to add value to clients' lives and businesses. Also believe in the value of your own time.
When you do, you can find the right level of assertiveness to help you be successful in sales -- and to build long-term professional relationships. Not only can you accomplish that... you should accomplish that.