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by Jim Pratt       

   OUR CAREER GROWTH AS A SALES PROFESSIONAL depends upon our ability to build strong, continuing relationships with top-producing sources of business. Besides building these relationships, a Sales Professional is someone who:

  • Gets business from a prospect who is already committed to someone else
  • Helps his or her business sources reach their full potential
  • Constantly upgrades his or her clientele

   And therein lies a problem. How do you gain the attention of these attractive prospects? How do you overcome their commitment to another supplier? How do you combat their indifference to wanting to see you?
   A core theme of relationship selling is that if two people want to work together, the details won't stand in their way. Success with a client comes by giving value-added service, accomplished by delivering more than your client expected when he or she decided to try your service.
   "Golden handcuffs" tie business sources to you. Your image, knowledge, sensitivity, attitude and success create these bonds. You become someone's business partner because they discover it is in their best interest to work with you. Another way to say this is that a Sales Professional helps his or her clients be more successful.
   Building a relationship starts by overcoming their indifference towards you even before your first meeting together. You shouldn't call on a probable prospect unless you have "pre-marketed" yourself.
   A good approach campaign changes your acceptance rating considerably. Create a positive image in your prospects' minds by sending them helpful ideas and general market information. The greater the positive image you build, the greater your success will be.

Path to Success

   The first objective is to define the Highest Value Needs of the prospect. To do this we must conduct a meaningful interview in a favorable environment.
   Get the prospect away from his or her telephone during the interview. Suggest that he reserve his conference room for your meeting. At that time you should determine:

  • Highest Value Needs (HVNs) held by the prospect.
  • Social style of the person
  • Current relationships with competitors
  • Objections to be resolved

   Professionals never recommend an action until they have fully determined a problem, opportunity or need. How would you feel towards a physician who prescribed a medicine prior to conducting a thorough physical?

Interview For Results

   When you call on someone do you dump product information on them? We all know that traditional salespeople talk too much. Relationship Sales Professionals listen - and listen - and listen!
   There is a difference between a traditional and possibly manipulative salesperson and a relational, non-manipulative one.
   Traditional salespeople spend most of their time on pitching and selling features. But Relationship Selling focuses on finding customer needs and problems and offering solutions to meet those needs. Less emphasis and time is devoted to aggressive selling and more to building relationships and providing value to the customer.
   We should spend the same amount of time in an interview as we are now - but we should spend it differently. Our emphasis should be in information gathering and "needs analysis" rather than pitching features.
   When you are in front of a prospect, it is important to remember that the listener controls the interview.
   We don't sell our products or services to someone unless they perceive it is in their personal interest to have us do so. Therefore, we must determine their interests and Highest Value Needs. Once we know those needs, we know that we will do business together.

Fulfilling Unmet Needs

   Next we should determine our prospect's social style. This allows us to prepare an appealing presentation. Is he or she an analytical, driver, expressive or amiable?
   When asking about a prospect's current business sources, find out the strength of those relationships. You already should be aware of any unmet needs. While interviewing someone, you will be able to determine what their objections are going to be when you ask for their business. If someone surprises you with an objection it is because you didn't ask enough questions or you didn't listen during the interview phase of the selling process.
   If we know our prospects' needs, social styles and objections, we are in a position to offer solutions that they will find acceptable and desirable. Thus we can "motivate" prospects to move in our direction. It's amazing how many experienced salespeople "wing it" here. Sales Professionals should have concrete reasons a prospect should work with their company.
   We should suggest an action that will move us towards a business relationship. If we are not successful initially, we position ourselves to continually call on our targeted prospects. Our goal is to move our relationship along rather than to concentrate on a single transaction.
   Prospects tend to react negatively when a salesperson pleads, "Just give me a try and I'll show you what I can do," because the statement has become trite. It's far better to suggest some action that will directly benefit the prospect.
   Don't avoid asking for the business, but don't be in a hurry. You want all of this top prospect's business - not just a single order.
   When you feel the time is right to ask for your prospect's business we suggest an open-ended question: "Considering what we have been discussing, do we have a basis for doing business together?" The answer will determine your progress and where the relationship is headed.

Make Fewer Sales Calls (or Focus Precedes Success)

   We start building strong business relationships by targeting a select number of prospects. A successful career as a Sales Professional is built upon maintaining a limited number of highly productive clients and not on seeing how many calls can be made in any week. Every Sales Professional should have a written list of targeted future business partners.
   It is essential that we continually upgrade our clientele in order to increase our production. Since we can work only with a limited number of clients, they must be the best available among the kind of business we want.
   Prospects are open to a new salesperson who will help them to be more successful. Despite this fact, most prospects are reluctant to change, and the more successful they are, the more this is true.

Preparing For Action

   Once we have defined our prospect's HVNs we must decide whether it's best to ask for a subsequent appointment or if we need to suggest some immediate action. We are influenced in this decision by how well we have determined needs, social style, his or her present relationships, and what the objections will be. If in doubt on these issues, continue your interview. Or if you're pressed for time, suggest making another appointment.
   Tell your prospect you would like to gather some information and ideas to bring on your next visit. Make sure to schedule your following appointment before leaving!

   Relationship Selling consist of targeting a limited number of strong potential business sources, developing a relationship with each one and building and maintaining those relationships. See fewer people if you want to do more business but be sure they are the right business sources for you.

Jim Pratt is the CEO of the Pratt-Daly International Sales Consulting firm based in San Diego, CA. Jim's experience includes leading sales forces of one to 4,800. You may reach Pratt-Daly at 800.374.0300.