Keith Ferrazzi wrote a great blog post recently on Harvard Business Review’s blog called How to Turn a Relationship Into a Sale. The article is written for sales teams, but I promise you it applies to you as a leader of any size team, or if you’re a solopreneur like a coach, speaker, consultant, author, or trainer. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from his article, and I recommend you download and read the PDF he generously includes, too! I’ve cut the article down to just my favorite bits, but you can read Keith’s full article right at the HBR blog site directly.
Sales teams that focus on relationships quickly learn the value of providing personal and professional value to clients rather than focusing solely on the sale.
The impact of relationship building with your customers may surprise you. Ferrazzi Greenlight’s study of 16 Global Account Teams (PDF) showed that these strategic, relationship-focused teams grew their accounts at least twice as fast as regular transactionally-focused account teams. This happened despite the fact that the relationship-focused teams worked on the company’s largest, most mature accounts — the most difficult to expand rapidly because they were already so large.
Why? People do business with people they know and like. And people like people who focus on their success. The good news is that transactions often happen as a matter of course when sales teams focus on building great relationships with generosity.
Generosity Without Expectations of Tit for Tat
Be prepared with five packets of generosity and no expectations. Do the homework required to go into each meeting with a list of five ways to make the person you’re meeting successful. That’s what’s going to arrest people’s attention and make them willing to develop a closer relationship with you.
Research the person! You’re looking for personal reasons to care. Find a way to introduce something that leverages your shared interests.
The direct result of focusing so intently on generosity, or even of a single email ping to renew a relationship, is to advance the relationship. But think of it as good sales karma for which you may be rewarded.
Become a Trusted Advisor.Essentially, the key is to stay focused on your customer’s success, adding insights and value related to a prospect’s business “until they start asking questions about how you can help them with that business.”
The bottom line is that you have to believe in “the ask.” It will be difficult to feel good if you’re selling snake oil. But if you believe the ask is generous, with low barrier to entry but huge opportunities for return, the ask becomes just another piece of generosity.
And Yet, the Path from Relationship to Transaction Can Be Hard.
After so much authentic concern for the success of your customer, sales people can hesitate, reluctant to appear to be capitalizing on the relationship and somehow tarnish it. But if you have truly built a great relationship, you can be exploratory about it. During a lull in the conversation, just ask: “You know what I do. How can I be of service to you?” Leaving it open ended gives the client the opportunity to shape the discussion so that they’ll never feel pushed. And your relationship earns you the time to go deep, which can be required to differentiate today’s complex solutions.
Moving from relationship building to selling boils down to asking two questions:
1. Have I been truly generous to this individual, and earned enough trust that they’re ready to listen to my “ask”?
2. Do I 100% believe in the value of the solution I’m offering? If the answer to those two questions is yes, you’ll often find a transaction further deepens your relationship with your customer.