First, an introduction: I’ve been the Vice President of Sales at myGreenlight for 5 months, arriving by way of several well-respected organizations such as SkillSoft, The Economist, The New York Institute of Finance, and a high-profile Chicago-based start-up that was notable for having been cofounded by three Nobel Prize winners. Unfortunately, the closest I ever got to meaningful interaction with any of them was the time one said hello, before kindly asking me to fetch him a cup of coffee. (And yes, he used the word “fetch.”) My goal with my monthly post is to create a go-to sales forum for proud members of our elite tribe. Let’s face it, we’re different than most. We are the wealth-creators for our companies and with that comes challenges and pressures that only someone “on the inside” can relate to.
With Q4 looming, it is a perfect time to consider the strength and depth of our client relationships and more importantly, how to elevate them. Effective selling is not a singular event, but rather the result of an ongoing process of building trust. While it has always been the responsibility of strategic salespeople to illuminate the interlock between your company’s products/services and your clients’ business imperatives, the seller/buyer relationship has also become a personal journey of far greater complexity.
Most would agree, in this economy, very few sizable deals are struck without complete trust having been established between provider and client. This level of trust goes far beyond being perceived as reliable. Consider what it would feel like to put your own professional reputation and career trajectory at risk with a large-scale purchase. What level of personal trust would you require before making your decision?
In a compelling article from November 2010, the Harvard Business Publishing blogger Michael Schrage posed a simple challenge, in writing about the impact of information asymmetry. He asked readers to consider which clients were most profitable – “not the biggest, not the best, not the most satisfied: the most profitable.” Are the most profitable clients the ones who operate as savvy, informed partners who deeply understand and appreciate (and scrutinize) the service you’re providing, therefore maximizing the value of the partnership, or are they simply the ones who have overpaid?
What a great exercise for all sales professionals. Hopefully your results are not too disturbing. However, that introduces an even more important question: As salespeople, how can we ensure that more of our clients fall into the category of those maximizing the value of the partnership?
Remember, building trust doesn’t happen in a single meeting, even when you’re armed with the most pitch-perfect PowerPoint, aggressive pricing strategies, and clever marketing materials. Trust is built through a deliberate and authentic process that we as sales professionals dictate. Whether you are selling a service into the senior-partner level of a top consulting firm or selling a commodity into an aggressive procurement group, strategic sourcing has become an intense practice for most organizations. As many reading this will attest, the growing complexity around negotiations in a variety of industries confirms the emphasis companies are placing on the procurement process. And so we must establish a sales cycle that is framed not only in business impact, but also in deep trust. What it takes to get there is a complete understanding of the systemic and non-systemic risk incurred not only by the client organization, but also the personal risk assumed by the individuals we are dealing with.
Consider the most emotionally rewarding deals you’ve successfully orchestrated throughout your career. Make a list of the common denominators associated with those cycles. I would bet that almost all of you would cite the strong personal bond you established with your client counterparts. Remember, trust is much more than reliability. When we build trust in pursuit of business relationships, we must uncover a common set of values, beliefs and mutual objectives with our clients. When authentic trust exists, both sales professionals and clients are united in mutual creativity to ensure the best partnership for everyone.
As 2011 begins to wind down, it is a perfect time to assess your current clients and prospects and ask how you can elevate your discussions to lead to far greater mutual understanding of their business objectives and how your relationship might better serve them.
Until next month, good selling.
Do you make building trust a deliberate part of your sales process? Do you emphasize both business impact and personal bonds as you build your sales strategy?