When you want to build a strong relationship with your clients, the type of relationship that is necessary for a long-term mutually beneficial partnership, nothing beats face-to-face contact. Except for maybe a consultant, no one is on-site with clients 24/7/365. If you are an inside sales rep, an outside sales rep with a large territory, or even a strategic account executive who has a few clients scattered across the country or world, you are more likely to be doing business with someone over the phone or via email. So how can you create a loyal, lasting relationship with your clients when you don’t have the benefit of stopping in to see them on any given day?
Put in a considerable amount of relationship work up front
If you just picked up a new client to manage, you have to develop that relationship. Think back to one of your childhood or college friends…you can pick up the phone and after doing some catching up on the family and job, can jump into a conversation pretty quickly. You get their inside jokes, dry sense of humor or even how they have awkward pauses in their sentences. You know when they are being serious and when their tongue is firmly implanted into their cheek. It is completely different for a new relationship where you are guessing and trying to fill in the blanks on their life. You need to budget for the time in your first initial meetings to spend time getting to know them on a personal level. What is their sense of humor like? What common interest do you share? This is not something you do once but rather you need to budget significant time over the first 8-12 months of the relationship to learn more and then as your relationship develops you pick up the phone and do the brief catching up as you do with your childhood friend.
Share your personal life with them
When I first started in sales, I tried to keep my personal life separate from my work life. I didn’t talk about what my girlfriend and I were doing (she is now my wife). I remember getting back from our honeymoon and going out to lunch with a client and he noticed the new shiny ring on my finger and started asking questions about the wedding and honeymoon. I opened up to him and shared my personal life and I literally could see our relationship growing and see his respect for me increase just because I shared with him about my wife and our new marriage. Learn about their spouse, do they have children, where did they go to school? People like to share what is currently happening in their life. If one of your clients has a new child or grandchild…talk to them about it. Share your experiences. By becoming less transactional with your clients, you become more human. Jeffery Gitomer says “In business, all things being equal, people will buy from people they like!” He follows that up with, “All things not being equal people will still do business with people they like!”
Use your dead time wisely
Many sales opportunities have dead time. For example, you had the discovery today but a demo is scheduled two weeks from now. Does that mean you don’t talk to them for two weeks? No! You need to keep a list of all of your contacts and when you have dead time, reach out to them with a “just wanted to say hi” email. Now these emails need to be valuable, don’t just say hi…is there an article that made you think of them? Did their Google Alert you have set for them pop up some interesting information about the company? You do have Google Alerts for your clients, right? During your last call, did they tell you about a conference they were going to, a milestone for a family member or something you can follow up on? Then follow up! You need to use your dead time between stages in the sales process but also your dead time during the day. Waiting for a conference call to begin…send some emails. Riding in an elevator or back of an Uber…Send some emails. Eating a meal alone…send some emails.
Provide value through a newsletter
Invest in the time to produce a newsletter. My newsletter goes out once a month on the first to my clients. It is okay to put some “salesy” material in there but keep the bulk of it to information they could use. For example, are you going to a trade show or conference in the near future, are their tips and tricks for your product you can share with them, or are there value added (Free) services your company provides they can take advantage of? One way I cultivate content is I look back on my agendas from the previous month and look for common discussion points, common issues or complaints and I look for seasonal products. I work with real estate companies, specifically in the accounting and finance departments. So I put out tips and tricks for 1099s during January. I talk about budgeting tips and tricks in August and September. By putting this information in the newsletter, it frees your meetings with them up to discuss other things like the personal side but also the sales opportunities.
Use video a couple of different ways. Provide your clients with webinars that they can watch, record videos of your product in action and share with your clients. Most importantly get your clients to give video testimonials. I just finished Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and he states that when your client decides they like you; their commitment to you heightens when they have made a public comment about you or your company.
Never forget these techniques are not a replacement for being face-to-face, but when you can’t be there every second of every day, each of these tactics will help you improve the relationship. What other techniques or tools am I missing?