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What Salespeople Know About Relationship-Building That You Don’t

3 min read

My ultimate goal is to help them: personally, through my network, and hopefully, by what my business offers.

It’s 2007. I’m interviewing with The Ariel Group, and I’m asked to provide a reference from a client I’m currently working with. I provide the name of a manager from a large U.S. airline company. A few weeks later, I’m offered the job. On my first day, I decide to call this client from my car, share that I got the job, and thank him for being a reference.

He answers the phone but he doesn’t sound as excited as I am. When I ask why his response floors me:

“You called me at home. I’m in bed.”

Here is a contact I worked with – and for some unknown reason — accepts my phone call, at 5:30 in the morning.

While it’s a good lesson, the fact he picks up the phone speaks volumes about our relationship. He not only acted as a reference for me, he’s willing to take my early morning call.

When you have strong relationships with others, they are likely to do things on your behalf that will surprise you. The power of this type of connection has rippling effects that go beyond business and often into what life is about – valued relationships with others.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This guy’s in sales – don’t all salespeople have ulterior motives and hidden agendas?

That may be true for some sales professionals, but the reality is that trust is the new currency of business. How much a person likes you goes a long way and consumers ultimately buy from people they like. As Jim Dougherty reminds us from Harvard Business Review:

“You can’t move very far in a relationship without this [someone liking you] basic prerequisite.”

Here are 4 things salespeople do to build great relationships:

Be Helpful and Build Friendship First

My intention when I meet with someone new is two-fold: to begin establishing a friendship and let them know what I might offer. If we don’t find a commonality in business, the worst thing that has happened is I’ve made a friend. My ultimate goal is to help them: personally, through my network, and hopefully, by what my business offers.

A common complaint of salespeople is we talk too much. I wonder if those who talk too much are leading with WiiFM instead of the approach of “How might I help them?”

Hone in on helping others first and you’ll build the relationship.

Be Aware of Unspoken Cues

Body language and tone matter more than you think. The more tuned into these cues you are, the better you’ll be able to listen.

For example, if I’m having a conversation with someone and they lean back in their chair and cross their arms, they likely have skepticism about what was said. Or, if they lean in and place their arms on the table, I sense they’re intrigued.

On the phone, you don’t have the ability to see the client. A goal should be to match the energy you receive on the other line. In the same way, if you hear a concern or challenge, take the time to stop and pause. It will unlock clues on what’s important to them.

Avoid Back-to-Back Questions

A challenge to be mindful of (one that I’m not always successful with) is asking back-to-back questions. When I’m trying to build a relationship, I don’t want it to feel like an inquisition; I want to be genuinely curious.

By allowing others to answer a question fully before moving onto the next, you learn more about them and the connection can deepen. If you aren’t listening and going through a checklist of questions (What did you do previously? How did that go?), their answers will shorten, as will their patience.

You Both Should Drive Towards a Collective Agenda

With valued friendships, you make commitments to each other. When you finish these “action items,” you’re acting as advocates of one another because you both want to complete the collective agenda.

Think of the friendships where this isn’t the case. Maybe someone is always asking, “Hey can you pick me up?” to save them time. You get there, they aren’t ready, and now your plans are delayed. You realize their agenda is always going to be more important than your agenda as a team.

That’s the reason the last movie I saw is Kung Fu Panda 3. I’m married and the father of three girls. My family’s collective agenda is more valuable to me than seeing The Revenant.

The Result? Powerful Connections and Shared ROI

If you have taken the time to create authentic relationships in both your personal and professional lives, your personal ROI is larger than you realize because those people carry you with them wherever they go. When your trusted connections come across a situation that may benefit you or have an opportunity to assist you, they’ll do it — because they value the relationship too.

And when they do, be sure to genuinely thank them. I recommend doing it after 9:00 am.


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