How to Turn a Relationship Into a Sale

Foresight and Business Planning
10 Minute Read
September 27, 2021

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. That means a sales call is a success if it advances your customers’ cause and builds the relationship, not just if it closes a transaction.

This won’t be news to most salespeople, who excel at building relationships. What can be hard for many sales people is turning the ongoing conversation of a relationship into a transaction.

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

One of the things I advise salespeople to do is to 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.

What kind of homework? I’m not talking about the usual research on the company and its need for what you’re selling. Research the person! You’re looking for personal reasons to care. Find a way to introduce something that leverages your shared interests. Failing that, fall back to some deeply-held personal interests of your own. Talking about them will make you human, not just a sales person pushing a service or a widget.

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.

Recently, as part of coaching a sales team at a major consulting firm, I gave them several relationship-building missions beginning with a generous remembrance on email. The results were telling. Your mileage may vary, but in this case:

  • One CIO called back immediately, and a week later initiated a dialog about the consulting firm’s services.
  • A senior VP of a global 500 food manufacturer returned the personal message and followed within a week with a request for proposal on Value Chain Transformation.
  • Another partner was rewarded by being invited to keynote at a conference for a major retailer’s top executives.
  • One managing partner credited the outreach with producing a 750k deal.

Imagine the power of offering five packets of generosity. Mind you, they’re not all personal. At least one should be purely professional, even if not related in any way to what you’re trying to sell. For example, find out what the analysts say the company’s goals or “big bets” are and what they have to achieve, and find a way to help the individual serve that cause. Maybe they’re breaking into eTail, and you can introduce a well-known eTail guru.

I’ve always said that one or two of your generous offerings can and should be transactional in nature. “I’m going to send you our really informative new collateral to help sell our solution internally.”

Become a Trusted Advisor.

Essentially, the key is to stay focused on your customer’s success. David Skok, a Partner at the venture capitalist firm Matrix Partners, advises his portfolio companies to focus on adding insights and value related to a prospect’s business “until they start asking questions about how you can help them with that business.” Wisely, David advises retaining the trust you’ve developed by recommending your product only when it’s a great fit for their situation.

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?” The open endedness of that question will let you see if the ripeness is there for the transaction. If they reply “Tell me a little bit more,” they’ve opened up the whole dialog about your products. 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.

The transition can even be abrupt. A banker in London whom I met with the other day had five kids, and I was so intrigued about how an affluent individual sets the right tone in raising kids that I asked too many questions about it. “I’m being self-indulgent, and I apologize. I know we only have 30 minutes, and I want to make sure we had some time to talk about your needs as it relates to our services.” It was an abrupt apology and shift to make sure we spent some time on why I came and why the banker had originally signed up for the meeting.

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.

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

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