Focus first on building relationships, and the sales will follow.
Trust is a powerful growth driver. As a small business owner, you're likely responsible for the sales in your business – especially considering that 66 percent oversee multiple departments, from operations and human resources to customer service and IT.
You already know that innovation, strategy, the right solution and the best value should be at the core of every sale. But your differentiator is your relationships. A trust-based selling process can be the difference between making a deal and going back to the drawing board.
Earning trust is not a technique.
It's not a method either. It's a hard-earned result. Clients want to be sure that you know their business, of course, but it's more than knowledge. They want to be sure you care about their business – that you're so committed to and invested in their success that you can go beyond merely responding to anticipating their needs.
You also spend a tremendous amount of time with clients, and they don't want to work with someone they don't like. The more you know your clients and their businesses, the better you can understand their needs and come to them with solutions and growth opportunities.
But when, according to an infographic by EY, 41 percent of people would love to network but can't find the time, trust-based relationship selling can seem almost impossible.
In the constantly changing and challenging business landscape, clients want and need a partner they can trust with their most valuable opportunities for growth. When you earn that position in their hearts and minds, the right solutions and counsel will be there. Trust is an equal-opportunity driver: As your client's business grows, so will yours.
Relationships open doors.
We have a client who routinely followed an expensive and exhausting competitive bid process for their major meetings. But our trusting relationship led to the company awarding us this valuable business without the bid. "No one understands our strategy like you do, and the learning curve for other companies would just be too steep." The client trusted us – and literally invited us to be a part of their team. That made all the difference.
You never know when new opportunities like that could come along. Focusing on the next sale is important, but you also need to use a trust-based selling process with your current clients and anyone you've worked with in the past. After all, businesses are 60 to 70 percent more likely to sell to an existing customer than a brand-new one.
To start building trust, here are some important steps to take.
1. Create a predictable presence.
Build a regular cadence of client engagement – distance learning just doesn't work in sales. You have to be there. Email or virtual touchpoints are fine, but nothing tops face-to-face interactions. Face-to-face meetings allow you to gain greater insights about a person, and, according to the Harvard Business Review, any requests you make will be "34 times more successful than email."
The goal of each touchpoint is to learn something new about your clients and their business, and for you to share at least one valuable piece of information. Pass along industry trends, research or ideas about how to grow their business. Leave each interaction with something you can follow up on during the next, whether that's a proposal, additional information on a concept or a future solution. Your clients' time is valuable, so make sure you always have thought-provoking questions and information at the ready.
2. Treat projects equally, regardless of size.
It's not the size of the project that matters; it's the depth of the connection. I worked with a client on smaller projects for a couple of years – in fact, throughout our relationship, no sale was too small. I built our relationship to the point where I understood her work ethics and habits, her career aspirations, and her organization's business.
After a few years, however, she left. At her new company, she got an opportunity to run one of its largest meetings, and she came to us for help. As our internal advocate, she did everything she could to ensure we got the opportunity, and her efforts were successful. The meeting was a huge hit, and we gained countless other opportunities within the organization as a result. That was three years ago, and we have nearly tripled our business with them since.
3. Have conversations, not sales pitches.
The focus needs to be on your client's needs and goals, not on the sale. People want strategic partners who know their business and are looking for both short- and long-term solutions to help their business grow.
Authenticity works. Showing that you care works. Your objectives for a conversation should never be just to complete another transaction and call it a day. There is simply no sustainable growth in mere transactions. Aim higher, and make trust your target.
If you want to drive your growth, you need to become the integral, knowledgeable team member your client can't imagine working without. Make the investment in clients, show them loyalty, earn their trust, understand their perspective, and bring solutions that truly fit their needs. With a trust-based selling process, your sales will come naturally.