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Ken Keller: How to partner with clients for success in sales

Brain Food for Business Owners

Posted: May 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

The business world is becoming more competitive by the day.

New entrants struggle to gain both acceptance and clients while building market share. Longstanding businesses try to retain clients and build upon an established base.

One key strategy for gaining and retaining clients is to become more than a mere vendor; it is to become a partner by building long-term relationships with clients and helping them achieve their goals.

The best salespeople master this skill; for the remainder, it never enters their mind. 

A starting point for executing this kind of strategy is to sit down and calculate what the “current reality” is for clients. What are the brutal facts facing them each and every day?

Successful salespeople build a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats matrix from the client perspective.

This one exercise can go a long way to gaining a deeper understanding of client needs, desires, fears and aspirations.

Taking ample time to anticipate client needs is often thought of as a waste of time by underperforming salespeople.

Successful salespeople know that when helping clients consider their long-range needs, the message is clear that the relationship is for the long term and not just for today’s sale.

By assisting clients with a plan for the future, the perception of commodity disappears because the relationship has growing value.

What client does not need more ideas? Every client looks for ways to get the most for his or her money. This is the concept of value.

Successful salespeople become a strategic resource for clients. Reading newspapers and trade journals, and attending industry events provides solid understanding of what a client deals with and helps to improve both creativity and idea generation useful to clients.

Far too many vendors fail to stay in touch on a regular basis. Absence in business does not make the heart grow fonder; it only makes a competitor look better to the client.

Successful salespeople spend time strategizing about the best possible stay in-touch program that goes beyond an invoice or a statement. They ask for the preferred method and frequency of communication, and implement accordingly to the client’s wishes.

During client visits, successful salespeople follow one simple rule: listen. They let the client do the talking. Only when an accurate picture of client issues and concerns is framed can specific needs be addressed. 

It is usually very difficult for those not well-schooled in selling to listen silently while the client speaks. Many salespeople are trained to do most of the talking, lest they somehow lose control of the selling process.

The reality is that on every sales call, there is plenty of time for both parties to say what they want to say. The best salespeople know this and act accordingly.

Sometimes vendors fail to take responsibility when something goes wrong. When something becomes broken, successful salespeople take action, fix the problem and do this quickly.

Anyone reading this column has experienced a situation that could have been handled differently and favorably if someone had taken the time immediately address an issue the first time it happened. Clients remember when this does not take place.

Successful salespeople who want more from their clients know that one way for this to happen is to be more accessible. Successful salespeople are present for their clients. It is understood that the goal is to increase the comfort level of the client, because that raises the comfort level of the client.  

Clients are sometimes unreasonable, and ask for things that cannot be delivered. Successful salespeople know that if a client cannot be helped, they have an obligation to say so. The true proof of professionalism is the ability to say “no.”

Few clients expect everything from a vendor but inquiries are often made despite knowing this.

When this takes place, and it takes place often, the successful salesperson understands that the client often does not know exactly what he or she wants; what is being asked for is really an appeal for help.

Clients want good, trustworthy solutions to their issues. The successful salesperson knows that pointing the client in the right direction for a solution is as important as coming away with their business.

Successful salespeople know that these strategies are built on a simple foundation: getting to know the client and the client’s business. What is required, and usually remains unlearned by the less successful salespeople, is a grasping of the issues facing the client, both strategic and tactical.

Those who succeed in sales turn buyers into believers by becoming partners. They know that their competitors are mere vendors.  

Ken Keller is chief executive officer of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with companies interested in growing top line revenue. He can be reached at (661) 645-7086 or at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net.  Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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