As a vendor, getting invited to a client’s internal planning session doesn’t happen easily. It’s a function of having built a strong, trusting, and collaborative working relationship where clients feel as though you are part of their family. In this article, I’ll share the three steps I use to create lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with my clients.
1) Establish Trust and Work to Keep It
My top goal in the first 1-2 minutes of a new call or meeting is to create a sense of ease and to establish trust. I do this in a consultative way, seeking to listen intently and to begin to understand key drivers. According to a multi-industry survey, B2B buyers only trust 18% of the salespeople they interact with. Here are the top pitfalls and how to prevent them:
- Giving a scripted pitch instead of gaining an understanding of the context, pain points, and objectives of the buyer. Every enterprise faces unique and multi-dimensional challenges. To earn their trust, you need to focus on solving problems, while steering away from any attempt to generically explain your offerings and vanilla benefits.
- Inability or unwillingness to address specific questions. Enterprise buyers often ask pointed questions, either because their time is highly limited or simply because they’re working off research checklists. It’s important to understand the nuances there and the motivations of the buyer. The hot buttons of an IT executive will be very different than a Head of Sales.
- Ineffective communication skills. Sales are driven by conversations. To turn prospects into customers, you need to be easy to speak with. A couple of easy communication fixes are mimicking your prospects’ communication styles, asking more questions to keep the conversation focused on them, and speaking more concisely to save their time. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason!
- Trying to force a decision too soon. Expensive B2B decisions often take time because multiple stakeholders need to be won over, costs may need to be approved, rollout may be optimal for certain times etc. An effective salesperson understands this and, rather than trying to force a decision, they seek to wow every stakeholder they meet and continually offer to support the decision-makers.
I start this process right up front on my intro calls. I ask my prospects to give me a brief introduction about their interest, needs, and goals. I listen carefully to the overt communication and also to the unspoken nuance of other potential drivers. I take copious notes (or my PA does) and highlight keywords, and I then ask how I can best help them maximize their time on the call. As a result, my descriptions of the Prialto service and use cases are delivered with direct relevance.
Of course, not every intro call will lead to a sale. It’s incumbent on the salesperson to be super clear to your prospect if and when you think your service may not be the right fit. This approach helps to drive conversion rates much higher than industry norms.
One way or the other, it’s critical to respond to specific questions with tailored answers, and not a scripted response. Still, a direct answer should only be communicated in such a way that it bolsters your business case and value proposition – assuming you think your service can help. Corporate buyers need to yield a significant ROI. To sell to them, you must know all the nuances of your product/service and use a value-based selling approach to help them justify your offering.
2) Develop Genuine, Lasting Relationships
Strong client relationships are built over time and often through a series of exchanges focused on helping your clients succeed. When you help your clients be successful, success comes back to you.
Here are three keys to developing lasting relationships with your clients:
- Appeal to your clients’ personas. Whether they portray themselves as a super-connector, expert of X, industry disruptor etc. tailor your conversations with clients to emphasize what makes them stand out.
- Maintain a regular cadence of communication. Even if your company has account managers who take over the client relationship once the deal is closed, you should still check in on at least a quarterly basis. The conversations you have with clients will help you yield unbiased insights about your offering (and thus enable you to pass that feedback onto your product/service teams) and, as your relationship grows stronger, increase loyalty to your company.
- Always look for ways to help. In conversations with yourself or your account managers, your clients may express challenges that your company can’t solve. When that happens, don’t just apologize for not being able to meet their needs; connect them to someone who can.
I am constantly on the lookout for opportunities to help my clients – in ways that have nothing to do my product or service. I seek out opportunities for strategic introductions, for news or product information that could be of interest, for events that may be relevant, for a potential candidate to hire, or even for a new restaurant recommendation in a city that my client travels to frequently. Strong client relationships are built over time and often through a series of exchanges focused on helping your clients succeed.
Remember: when you help your clients be successful, success comes back to you.
3) Focus on Client Satisfaction Post-Sale
Once you’ve closed a deal, your next priority shouldn’t be developing a plan to upsell them; it should be strengthening your bond with your customer so they become loyal to your company. To do that, you have to check-in regularly to see how satisfied they are with what you sold them.
I’m in constant communication with my account managers to ensure everyone I’ve sold to is getting the best possible value from our service. As soon as an issue arises, I’m available to hop on a call to find out exactly what went wrong, address the issue and to ensure the client that we have a plan to avoid the issue going forward.
I’m not suggesting this is easy stuff. With some years of experience, sensitivity to nuance, strong listening skills, and a general attitude toward being helpful, you will find ways everyday to add value to your clients and strengthen those ties a little bit at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are strong client relationships.