Today, sales professionals must compete to stand out in a crowded marketplace. It can be difficult to get the attention, and interest, of customers who are surrounded by more sales pitches than ever before.

That's probably why, according to the sales and marketing firm Marketo, 71 percent of organizations do not believe their salespeople manage their time effectively. It seems more difficult than ever to get sales outcomes that move the needle.

But earlier this month, while I was keynoting at a swimming pool installation industry conference, I had an opportunity to meet several industry leaders at a pre-conference dinner. When I asked one business owner how business was going, he revealed enthusiastically that his company was selling so well that they had to work hard to keep up with demand.

While he was praising the effectiveness of his sales leader, who he had pulled out of retirement the previous year, I heard him mention that one key to his success was a candy jar.

Incredulous, I asked him if had heard him correctly and he confirmed that a simple candy jar jumpstarted his sales to its best year ever.

Find the right targets

He explained that his company installs residential pools in the greater Phoenix area, and that its best sales strategy is to target businesses who build new homes in the area. Their biggest sales target was a housing company that has offices in every community within Phoenix.

The sales leader delivered empty candy jars with the company's logo to each sales office of the home-construction company. Then, every week, he or someone from his sales team would pay a visit to the sales offices in each community to keep filling up the jars.

The owner noted that he'd tried online marketing and lead generation but didn't get great ROI from those methods. The candy jar strategy gave his company a guaranteed opportunity to connect with a potential buyer, at a fraction of the cost.

Relationships are crucial

Part of the effectiveness of the candy jar strategy was that, by returning each week to refill the jar, the company had a reason for dropping by to say hello and engage. In the process, they built a relationship with a potential client in an authentic, personal way.

When the sales leader--or a member of his team--refilled the jars, they took the opportunity to talk to the employees at the office and build a relationship with them. Once they had built a rapport, the sales representatives would ask if there was anything pool-related they could help them with, whether it was informational, logistical, or anything similar. By having those conversations in the context of a preestablished relationship, the company was able to be in the right place at the right time.

It's easy to take for granted how valuable relationships are in business and in life. At my company, we've made "Embrace Relationships" one of our core values, because we want to be known not just for the effectiveness of our services, but also for the integrity and values we operate under.

Focusing on relationships, as this pool company did with their candy jar strategy, will bring the right kind of recognition to your business, and help you close deals.

Set yourself apart

It has never been easier to do business remotely. A company can contact new leads via automated emails, do a full sales pitch in a video-call, and close a deal without even meeting the client in person.

While that can be an effective way to do business, the prevalence of virtual communications means companies that do business in-person can distinguish themselves from the crowd. According to Virgin, 95 percent of people say in-person meetings are essential for long-term business relationships.

By building relationships in person, you're showing prospective clients that they are worth your time and effort. In a business landscape where people are less likely than ever to meet face-to-face, you can make your organization stand out in a valuable way.

In business, and in life, little things can make a significant difference. By using something as simple as a candy jar, it's possible to build lasting relationships, find and impress new clients, and build a better business.