Last Updated: August 4, 2022
Building Relationships through Solution and Consultative Selling
The foundation of successful sales and marketing is repeat business and customer loyalty. In order to get to that stage, businesses must build and constantly invest in the improvement of customer relationships.
Customer retention is an art and only possible through staff and training investments. Every position in a business from sales to customer service to accounting to shipping should be focused on building and strengthening the relationships with customers.
Consultative Selling has been an approach that American businesses try to replicate since the 1970’s when the book, by the same name, was first published introducing the concept. This technique follows a pattern of research, ask, listen, communicate, and follow through. A salesperson asks questions to determine what the prospect’s challenge is. In turn, that information is used to select the best possible solution to meet that need.
Challenges for Sales Departments
Regardless of industry, many salespeople do not take the time to learn how they won a deal with a new customer. Assumptions that they ‘get sales’ because they are great at their job or are entitled because they show up every day mask the lack of a true customer relationship.
On the other side, salespeople do not generally invest the proper amount of time to learn why they lose sales and customers all together. It is much easier to blame factors out of their control (if their management will buy it) then to learn the truth direct from the source.
Do not get me wrong, sales is a difficult and stressful job and it is not easy for anyone to face a situation, daily, that is filled with rejections on the path to a win. But sales positions across our country are filled with people who are not the right fit for the professional process that needs to be committed to.
It also starts at the top. Corporate management must want to know what the perceptions of their salespeople are and hold them accountable to the branding standard of the company.
Once you have that feedback, embrace two clichés: 1) perception is reality and 2) the customer is always right. This will allow you to:
- Rethink your current Sales Process
- Rethink your company style of communication
- Identify sales training needs for preparation skills and relevant question asking
To be able to discover what customers think about different types of salespeople representing a company, you need a relationship that allows you to ask how they feel about experiences with your team from knowledge to attitude to work ethic to personality.
Checklist for Building Solution and Consultative Based Relationships
Please refer to the FOC Marketing Blog, Branding Matters, for key notes on:
- Building Relationships with the Relate-Respect-Connect methods
- Use Communication to Impact Branding
- Positivity and Professionalism Tips
After reviewing, the following is a great process to adopt and follow (keeping in mind that any process is ever evolving and not a destination).
- Be Human. You cannot build relationships if the communication is one-dimensional. So many people hide behind email as their preferred method of correspondence and though it can be argued that phones are not usually answered and customers prefer email, there is no substitution for a real human voice. Be more than an email address. Be a person. Even if you have a customer who will not pick up the phone, leave a pleasant, concise voicemail letting them know you have just sent an email with details and information. Get your voice in their head. Email communication is often misconstrued. Take responsibility and control of your branding by not relying on it and your intentions when writing it. When most others are relying on email, stand out, be different. Phone calls are a great way to build better relationships with your customer. As you progress in a relationship, hand written notes in the mail is the next step that in our fast paced world stand out. It is now personal, shows effort and is unique.
- Be Prepared. Not to be repetitive of the Preparation is Key information in the previous blog, but knowing a customer, both industry and company information, is vital. Professional business people are not 8-5 employees. Research and preparation happen the night before or early mornings to ensure they are up to date with their customers when the ‘work day’ starts. Follow their marketing and sales pushes, read their content and news to understand their challenges and what questions to be asking to allow you to provide solutions.
- Have Patience. Building and then maintaining relationships is a long investment of time. It is also worth the investment. Think in terms that you also work for your customer, become a part of their team and successes. That kind of dedication will allow you to put in the necessary time and not rush the process.
- Be Proactive. Most communication in the business world is reactive. When you are trying to build customer relationships, you must be proactive with your engagement. Take the first steps. Reach out to prospects, share content that is relevant to them, forward helpful news and tips, and stay in touch, socially, intentionally when they are not in buying mode.
- Respond Promptly. When a customer contacts your company, RESPOND. Regardless of the tool (email, phone, etc.) acknowledge the receipt of the contact as quickly as possible. Responsiveness is a top branding of your quality of service. Everyone believes they do not have time for problems so a quick response is key to a satisfied customer. True success is going to come with marrying speed with accuracy. A common practice in the business world is the “sundown” standard. We all work longer hours and end our day at different times based on that. Pledge to resolve customer’s needs by ‘sundown’ which means before we end the day regardless of the hour. That practice builds trust and loyalty. Even if the phone message or email can only communicate where you are at in their process, that communication is appreciated by the non-clairvoyant customer who is otherwise left wondering.
- Articulate Next Steps. Never end communication, written or verbal, or a meeting without reiterating the communication and agreed next steps. This provides both alignment for all parties, prevents misunderstanding of expectations and sets you as a leader.
- Exceed Expectations. Now, as the leader managing the next steps, you have the opportunity to stand out and get a positive reputation by first getting the steps completed and then going above and beyond the expectations anywhere you can.
- Internally, Focus on Customer Complaints. Avoiding customer complaints or negative feedback keeps your company from improving your service. Embrace these conversations with the intent to rectify issues and not have to bury or face them in the future.
Establishing trust both internally and externally is going to be your biggest advantage to the consultative selling approach.
Internally, corporate management must embrace this level of honest dialog and commitment to overall company improvement by establishing trust and rewards. It is like ‘good parenting’ where the trust is established ‘in the home’ and that allows for open, honest communication and the ability to grow. Rewards set up for employees counter fear of penalty and encourage them to take risks and share critical information.
Externally, salespeople can build rapport quickly if they share helpful and valuable information to customers, daily, without needing an immediate sale in return. Accountability for response times and frequency of communication to customers must exist.
Building knowledge and reputation will always pay off. If your own product or service is not the best solution for a customer, having the combination of expertise to know that and integrity to communicate it will build a relationship of trust and loyalty faster than any email blasting or robocalling program.
Business happens through relationships. Successful people surround themselves with others who will push them to higher levels. Look around and think, daily, how to raise your personal bar. Write these words on a post-it and keep it where you can see them….. Relationships Matter.
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Additional resources from the FOC team include:
- View the Glossary, Acronyms, Military Specifications for Connectors
- Q&A Resource: email technical questions to AskFOC@focenter.com
Here are the links to this full Marketing Blog Series:
- Branding Matters
- Building Relationships through Solution and Consultative Selling
- Marketing Objectives vs. Actions: Identifying Where the Discrepancies Occur
- The Dilemma of Online Strategy
- Promotion Best Practices
- SOP Development
- Global Strategy Conversation
- The Roles of a Marketing Team
- Trade Show Strategy Revisited
- Product Inventory Management and a quick snapshot….
- Business Development: An Honest Conversation
- Social Media Navigation