Feb 12, 2020 • Podcast

How do I build customer relationships as a new salesperson?

Relationship building is a critical skill for salespeople, especially new salespeople. In this episode, Paul shares several relationship-building tips. 

Show Notes

The foundation of any good relationship is trust. As a new salesperson, your initial goal shouldn’t be building relationships, it should be building trust.  

“Trust means that you deliver the good news and the bad news. It means setting expectations and then delivering on them.”

Look for opportunities to build trust.

“Discounting is an integrity issue. Think of the impact that discount has on your customer relationship.”

If you’re new to sales, learn from your customers. Fully immerse yourself in the customer’s business. In some ways, the customer is your teacher, making you their student. And naturally, your teacher will want to see you succeed. 

The customer giving you “last look” is fool’s gold. “At first glance, ‘last look’ might seem like an advantage, but it’s not.” Don’t take the bait. 

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How do I build customer relationships as a new salesperson?

(Transcribed from podcast)

Today we have a great question. In a recent training seminar, I had a group of new salespeople coming in, fresh out of college. We were talking about relationship building and how important relationships are. The salesperson asked, “How do I build relationships with new customers? Customers that I’ve only met once or twice. How can I build up that relationship and shorten that relationship curve?”

That’s a great question because salespeople are constantly building relationships with either new customers, or, they’re new salespeople building relationships with the existing customer base. Either way, in sales, you’re in the relationship business. Relationships are important. Our research shows that relationships are more important than price. In fact, in our most recent survey, we asked a group of decision makers “Why would you choose one supplier over another?” and relationship with the salesperson ranked higher (more important) than price. So, relationships are key.

We’re going to answer that question, “How do you build relationships as a new salesperson?”

Number one: Honesty is going to be critical. Honesty and trustworthiness are really the foundation of any good relationship. As a new salesperson, you have to remember that. Your motivation might be to go in there and sell, but, keep in mind that part of what you’re doing is trying to build trust. If you’re going to build trust, it means that you have to deliver the good news and the bad news. It means that you have to look for opportunities to make promises, and then deliver on those promises. You need to build this relationship upon the foundation of trust.

Going hand-and-hand with that, you need to be authentic. Authenticity is critical. It’s critical that you’re acknowledging some of the general similarities between your solution and other solutions. It means that you have to be true to yourself and how you carry yourself. It’s important that you’re professional, but customers have a knack for picking up when you’re not being your real self, when it’s forced, when you’re not being authentic. It’s critical that you remain authentic and true to yourself.

One other tip…This is a piece of advice that I experienced early on in my sales career. When I was selling in the tool and fastener industry, one of the things that was critical was getting out to see some of my key customers. That was one of the ways I was able to forge some of the strongest relationships I’ve ever had in sales. It was by getting out there and spending time in the field with my customers, working with them hand-in-hand, walking in their shoes, seeing the world through their eyes.

Here’s what we did. My sales manager is the one who helped get this going. He called up some of the top customers who I had not yet met, and set up some field time with me. Meaning, I was able to go out and spend some time on construction sites asking questions, spending a few hours learning from these customers. The benefit is that I was playing the role of the student. I was the eager young student trying to learn everything I could about this profession which meant that my customer was playing the role of the teacher. Think about your college, high school, grade school teacher that made a difference. That teacher/student bond that develops is a very powerful one. That’s what would happen with some of these existing customers. By my manager setting up this field time, I was able to go out there, learn, play the role of the student (which meant my customer was playing the role of the teacher), and that helped build a very strong bond with some of these customers.

As a result of the customer playing the role of the teacher, I was playing the role of student, which meant that they wanted to see me succeed. Some of the great teachers you had throughout your educational careers wanted to see you succeed, get better. I did notice that many of those customers wanted to help me along the way.

Another thing that you can do as a new salesperson going out there trying to build new relationships, you have to deeply listen to your customers. LISTEN TO THEM. Most salespeople listen with the intent to respond instead of with the intent to really understand the customer. Our research on top-achieving salespeople shows that they will listen 60 percent of the time on a sales call. If you’re a new salesperson, you have to open up your ears and shut your mouth. Try to use them in the proportion in which you have them; listen twice as much as you speak.

I get it. We’ve all heard that before, it’s important to listen. One of the best ways we can listen is to give ourselves opportunities to listen. This means we have to have some great questions ready to go. Have a list of open-ended probing questions that help you understand the buyer’s needs—what’s important to them. Practice those questions. Role-play them and get comfortable focusing on that customer. Again, deep listening is important.

One of the great advantages new salespeople have over experienced salespeople is that they don’t know as much. I’m the first to admit, and I’ve said this on podcasts before, knowledgeable expertise is critical. That is important to your customers. But, let’s think about the benefit of not knowing as much. When you walk into an appointment and you’re less knowledgeable about that customer and what they do, you’re naturally going to be more curious. You’re going to ask the questions that maybe an experienced salesperson wouldn’t think to ask. You’re not going to know what you don’t know, so by asking those questions, you’re able to put the focus on the customer. You’re able to listen. One of the greatest benefits we have as salespeople is walking into an opportunity and not knowing anything about what they need and what’s important to them. Because, when we don’t know…we ask.

When you do ask, though, you have to deeply listen. Listen with the intent to understand. Don’t listen for an advantage. Don’t listen so that you can try to sell them on something. Listen with the intent to understand.

The other thing—this is such a critical part of building trust, and thus, building a strong relationship—hold the line on your price. Don’t discount! I want to be clear here. Discounting and pricing is an integrity thing. If you’re trying to build a strong bond with a new customer and you put together a pricing proposal, and the customer says, “Your price is too high” and you say, “Let me see if I can knock ten percent off.” You knock ten percent of the price. You don’t change the package at all, and then you come back to the customer and say, “Okay. I was able to get you that ten percent discount.” At some level, that customer is thinking, “If you could have done that before, why didn’t you do it? Were you just trying to rip me off before? Were you lying to me when you said this was your best price?” This is where salespeople get a bad rep. It’s because they don’t think about the implications of discounting on the trust factor. When you do discount and you don’t change your package, you’re effectively telling your customer, “I was overcharging you before.” They’re always going to be skeptical of you.

A couple of years ago, I was doing some training with a group that manufactures threaded rod systems. It was a great program because we actually had a purchasing manager in our program. The purchasing manager from this company was able to share some of his thoughts and how he interacts with salespeople. Pricing actually came up. I asked him point blank, “Are you the type of purchasing manager that purely focuses on price?”

And he said, “No. Price is going to be one of the important factors when I’m making a decision, but oftentimes, I have three primary vendors we’re buying steel from, and I will ask each of them to put together their best price. When they send over their proposal, I’ll lean on them a little bit more.” He continued, “Usually, they’re all pretty competitive. What I’ll do is actually go with the salesperson who decides to hold the line on pricing because I know that I can trust them.”

Pricing is an integrity issue. Discounting can destroy trust with that customer.

A few other tips…When you’re trying to build relationships with your customers, you want to assess your behavior. You want to look at how you behave in front of that customer. I realize that it’s hard to observe yourself in action. I would recommend bringing a sales manager or a colleague with you on some calls and tell them, “The reason I’m having you join me on this call…I’m trying to build trust. I’m working on my relationship-building skills. Observe my interaction with the customer.”

Ask yourself, “Am I building trust? Am I doing anything to destroy trust, to destroy the relationship, to destroy my credibility?”

Ask them to assess you, observe, and report back to you. They’re able to observe you in action and provide some good feedback.

Once you’ve identified some of the behaviors you need to work on, you also need to continue to role-play and practice. Work on the tips and advice that your sales manager or colleague will give you.

One final tip: When you’re out trying to build trust, trying to build rapport with a customer, don’t badmouth the competition. I know it can be tempting sometimes, but when you’re badmouthing a competitor, you could be badmouthing one of their friends. They could already have a strong relationship with your competing company. So, don’t badmouth the competition. That destroys a little trust and loyalty as well. It shows that when you’re talking with someone behind their back, whether it’s a competitive salesperson, or whether you’re badmouthing the competition, you know that customer’s going to wonder, “What are they saying about me?” Keep that in mind. We don’t badmouth the competition. However, there is one disclaimer. If you’re talking to a customer and they decide to badmouth the competition, it would be impolite not to listen to them.

Okay, the final final tip. In sales, sometimes a buyer will make you think they’re doing you a favor by saying, “I’ll give you the last look.” As a new salesperson, getting the last look means, “I’m going to get a bunch of different proposals and I’ll let you get one last look at all of them, and you can adjust your price.” At first glance, this might seem like an advantage. But by accepting that and saying, “I appreciate that. I will take last look,” you’re letting them know that you’re flexible. And also, you’re taking your competitor’s proprietary information and looking at it. They [the customer] might question your integrity. When you are presented with that, I would respond by saying, “I appreciate the offer of last look, but, you’re already getting our best package. Take a look at what we’ve put together for you. Feel free to compare to all the other options you have. At the end of the day, I know we’re best suited to take care of you. We don’t need to take another look because you already have our best solution.”

You might shock them. But, what you’re also doing is building a little bit of trust along the way.

Make it a big day!

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