You've probably seen the recent television commercials created by a prominent investment firm whose representatives are mistaken for the gushing father of the bride, the enthusiastic mother of the young soccer player and the proud father of the recent college graduate because they appear to have such a deep, personal investment in the child and their family, often stretching back over many years.
While these advertisements are amusing when the representative's identity is revealed, they illustrate an important concept - building long-term relationships with your clients involves more than simply understanding and meeting their needs in a one-time sale.
Implicit in the definition of relationship building is the idea of adding value to the transaction, going beyond simply being an order taker to being an asset in the business or personal lives of your clients.
"In today's market, conventional sales methods no longer work," says Jeff Thull, president and CEO of Prime Resource Group and author of "The Prime Solution."
"Salespeople must think for their customers, creating revenue-building solutions that the customers can't come up with on their own. Everyone in the organization should be concerned about creating and capturing value for the customer."
First and foremost, to add value to your sales relationships, you must provide training for everyone at your firm who will come in contact with customers - not just the sales force.
From the person who answers the phone all the way up to the CEO, everyone in the company has a contribution to make; whether through their customer care abilities, problem solving skills or product and technical knowledge, each can add their own excellence to the team, helping your company stand out from your competition.
In essence, the better trained your staff are, the more you have to offer your clients.
In addition, product, technical or sales training for your staff offers a lasting contribution to your client's future prosperity as well as creating the capability of your team to respond to all of your customers' needs.
Those who reap the most benefits are the firms that take the time to train their staff to educate customers on how to gain the full value of the product or service they have purchased.
Though you may not realize it, your firm probably possesses specialized expertise that can easily be translated into added value for your clients.
Perhaps you or a member of your team has expertise or extensive training in marketing, strategic planning, staff training or public relations. By bundling the services of individuals with such skills into the sale of your product or service -- perhaps even at no charge -- you add a dimension to your firm's appeal.
It will also streamline several processes for the client into a single solution and save countless man- hours as well as expensive consulting fees to achieve the same results. By building in these unique, cost-effective and time-saving options, your firm and its services become indispensable to your clients.
Most importantly, by seeking to play an active role in your clients' success, you show that your firm is truly interested in helping them achieve their long term goals, not simply making a sale.
Take the time to give referrals to your customers.
Although any firm can give referrals, to make it valuable to your client, you have to provide leads that are more than simply names. Take time to make it a personalized reference by calling the individuals you'd like to refer and explain to them why you feel they should use your client's firm. Then, contact your client and provide both contact information and background on the person whom you're referring.
By actively mediating between the two parties, you demonstrate not only your professionalism but also your interest and concern in the mutual success of both parties by pre-establishing a rapport from which they can build their relationship.
Let's face it: competition in the marketplace is fierce.
Therefore, creating a genuine relationship can reduce the likelihood that your firm will be vying for the same accounts and clients as your competitors.
Your focus, instead, will be on constantly thinking of new ways to add value to your sales and consistently creating true partnerships with your customers.
Be willing to share your business knowledge for the common good with clients and firms with whom you can build alliances.
Provide your distributors with all the marketing materials, points of value and support they need, not to just effectively sell your product, but to be successful in their business endeavors as a whole.
As the adage goes, you reap what you sow, and so it is that the more you are willing to give and share with others, the more you increase your own potential for success.
Then, it wouldn't matter how many companies sold the same product or service because your approach is not focused on competition, but instead on showing others the kind of generosity that you would like to receive.
Finally, build a strategic relationship with your clients based on creating solutions.
Once you have established your own integrity and professionalism in the eyes of your customers by offering them capable, helpful and effective staff, use of your experts, referrals and the wealth of your experience, you are ready to take the concept of adding value to the next level by building strong strategic relationships with them.
When you and your client invest in your relationship to this depth, you can intuitively tailor your products to fit their needs and create new solutions at every stage as you observe their needs evolve and change.
Within this relationship, you become a trusted adviser, helping them formulate key points of strategy and assisting them with creative solutions when problems arise.
In this way, you become far more than the product or service you sell; you become an invaluable part of their team, an integral contributor to their future and, as in the investment commercials, a member of the family.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.