Creating a true business partnership with customers

Establishing partnerships with your customers is crucial to growing your sales and reaching large scale goals.

By adding value to your sales relationships, you can direct your resources and capabilities in ways that will benefit every customer with whom you come in contact.

In selling, we often hear companies pay lip service to the idea of building "long-term relationships," but what does that mean?

Most people think partnering with your customers means understanding what they need and offering solutions. While that's important, it's only the beginning. To truly partner in selling, value must be added beyond simply the acquisition of a product or service.

You have to be able to offer your clients something your competition cannot.

Here are five ways to accomplish this:

  • Training:
    Offering product, technical or sales training will make a lasting contribution to your client's prosperity. The greater investment of time you make in training customers to gain the full value from your product or service, the greater your reward will be in continued sales and referrals. Making the extra effort to help people gain a greater knowledge of and reap the full benefits of your product or service will go a long way toward improving their lives and, in turn, your future sales.
  • Specialized expertise:
    Offering your company's expertise without a price is ... priceless. Consider extending the specialized skills and benefits of the experience of your employees as part of the package you sell. Many firms employ individuals who possess specialized expertise that, when leveraged, can easily translate into added value with no additional cost to the customer.

For example, there is much confusion between the functions of sales and marketing in many firms. Small firms especially may not realize the distinctions between them.

However, someone in your company with specialized marketing knowledge can help the client in many ways, not only by clarifying the important differences between sales and marketing but also by advising about developing a more effective marketing strategy. This person could offer assistance in areas such as advertising or trade shows with support materials that will help the client company improve topline revenue and profitability.

One of our clients is a manufacturer in the home-furnishing business. Its sales rep has vast amounts of sales and marketing expertise in the high-tech arena so she is able to offer her clients valuable assistance in all areas of selling their home furnishings as well as helping her customers sell the salesperson's line of home furnishing products.

  • Referrals:
    To offer an excellent referral, you have to provide more than just a name. One of the best ways you can ensure you're giving a great referral is to call the people you plan to refer and tell them why you think they should use that firm. Then, call your client and provide a brief background and contact information. By briefing each, you demonstrate your interest in the success of both parties and you begin the process of building rapport between them.
  • Adding value:
    Many times salespeople feel that if they are delivering quality products at competitive prices and offering excellent delivery, they're giving their customers added value. In truth, however, today's savvy customers know that in our competitive marketplace, they can expect that level of service as the norm.

To add value to your customer relationships, you have to go far beyond the reasonable expectations of the customer - you have to dig deep.

What can you offer that your competition cannot?

A concern many salespeople have is the number of competitors who are all vying for the same accounts. It is my contention that if a salesperson would commit to adding value to their sales and creating true partnerships, it wouldn't matter how many companies sold the same product or service. Your clients would return again and again because they know that the extra benefits they receive from you they simply cannot get anywhere else.

  • Building a strategic relationship:
    The greatest value you can add to your sales is the development of a personal relationship with your customer. This is where selling becomes more than just an interaction by which the customer's needs are met and the salesperson generates income. This is where you tailor your products to your customers' needs and become totally involved in their business. It can also mean acting as an adviser or helping them formulate key strategy points. In either case, the relationship becomes more involved. It takes on a greater significance in the life of the customer and, as a result, you become an indispensable part of their formula for success.

It's been my experience that the greatest weakness of salespeople is that they are product-centered and not people-oriented and they are tragically unaware of that shortcoming.

Customers today have the luxury of choosing to do business with people they like and trust.

To become a salesperson worthy of that trust, you must go above and beyond to build mutually beneficial, value-added relationships and establish a niche that no one can fill but you.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.