Developing Your Business To Business Sales Skills: The Art of Cultivating Relationships

All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust. 

Bob Burg

We’re all aware of how the age of digital technology has changed the ways people do business, and it’s incumbent upon anyone who wants to succeed to keep up with change and be aware of technological innovations as they emerge. On the other hand, many people have become so wrapped up in digital technology as the means of marketing and selling their products and services, they neglect the most crucial component of success in business— the ability to build and sustain personal relationships.

Technology cannot replace relationships

There appears to be a growing belief among some people that you can create short cuts to business success exclusively through the use of digital technology. Case in point—email “blasting.” There is no shortage of individuals who believe that if they can get a hold of your email address and consistently bury you under an avalanche of appeals for you to buy their services, they stand a chance of winning you as a client or customer.

In a similar vein, the proliferation of “pop up ads,” that suddenly appear and block your view of valued information is yet another obnoxious Internet phenomenon. In many cases, those that employ these arrange for them to do battle with you by having them reappear time and again after you’ve closed them. I regard these as the equivalent of attempting to establish a business relationship with someone by walking up to them and smacking them in the face.

In many cases, approaches such as these reduce the likelihood of people wanting to do business with those that employ them. Why? Because they communicate insensitivity to the needs and interests of potential buyers. They may create name recognition and product awareness, but strictly in the negative sense. I can’t imagine choosing to do business with individuals who I don’t know just because they continually flood my inbox with emails I don’t want, or generate “pop up ads” that interfere with my access to information that I do want. Sooner or later (preferably sooner), I want to know the person with whom I might (or might not) want to do business.

This is why effective networking is so essential to success— it provides opportunities for the kind of face to face interaction that it takes for people to come to know and understand who you are in a personal sense. The digital age fosters certain forms of seclusion, some of which are destructive to old fashioned, down home “getting to know people.” 

Establishing emotional connections

If you want to build successful business relationships with people, you’ve got to express at least two things in dealing with them: (1) a genuine respect for them as persons; and (2) authentic concerns for what their wants and needs are. These are things that are best done in person, and done in authentic and genuine ways. As simple and obvious as this may seem to some of us, many people do fail to understand these realities. 

Skipping these two crucial steps and proceeding directly to a sales pitch communicates arrogance as well as a complete lack of concern for the party to whom you are trying to sell. And yet many people continue to apply such arcane tactics, to the detriment of their own success.

The first thing that potential clients buy is you

A lot of people view business-to-business sales as a domain in which logic and rationality are the preeminent forces. What is chronically underemphasized is the importance of emotional connections. Before any potential clients or customers will seriously consider purchasing your product or service, they must first want to interact with you. This means that first impressions are crucial, and these are developed very quickly and on the basis of minimal information

A common mistake that many sales people make is attempting to maneuver their prospects into a buy without establishing the proper relationship. They immediately tout the virtues of their product or service, and begin to list rationales for why a prospect should want to buy. Their failure to understand why this approach rarely works speaks volumes regarding their lack of “emotional intelligence.”

The truth is that there is a buying-selling process that underlies business-to-business sales and makes them work. It starts however, not with dollars and cents, but with an emotional connection between the persons involved. What follows is an overview of this process. Although it can be acquired through learning, it does not come automatically for most people. Generally, its mastery requires time, training, and coaching. Some people never come to understand it, for whatever reasons.

The buying-selling process

The reason for its name is that the emphasis is on the potential buyer, or prospect. It is the prospect’s interests that are the focus at all times, so it is really about being of service. What makes it a process is that it is an identifiable sequence of interchanges that takes place over time. If adhered to, it yields a higher rate of successful sales closings because the buyer’s interests are considered at all times.

Carefully implementing the following sequence will lead to more business through the cultivation of personal relationships that focus on the needs and interests of the buyer. Any benefits to the seller are a by-product of this process, which is as it should be. Note however, that what follows is only an overview. There are nuances and subtleties that can only be mastered with the help on an experienced trainer or coach. That said, here’s the sequence:

Introduction: Initial contact— your only chance to make a first impression. You must be interesting and appealing to talk to. Also, keep in mind that most decision makers are strapped for time and work under stress, so you need to be seen as a potential antidote for those two unpleasant circumstances, not an additional irritant.

Gaining favorable attention: OK, so you’re interesting, refreshing, and worth talking to. You’ve earned a little of your prospect’s time. Now you need to build on that favorable first impression and establish that you are trustworthy, credible, and the kind of person with whom they wouldn’t mind discussing the issues and challenges facing their business. At this point, inquire whether or not it’s ok for you to share a little bit about yourself. If you do get a “green light,” keep it brief and make it relevant to the kinds of things that are likely to concern them.  Remember, it’s still all about them, not you.

Fact finding/determining wants and needs: If things are going well (e.g., they’re not withholding their smile), ask permission to inquire about to their business. Decision makers love to talk about their businesses, but only to the right people. If they are willing, that means that they see you as trustworthy and potentially helpful. At this point, effective questioning and empathic listening are crucial— these are acquired skills that take practice and coaching to develop. At all times the questions should focus on their goals, means by which they might accomplish them, and possible obstacles to their attainment. Listen far more than you talk.

Discussion of the fit between their issues and your offerings: Note how late in the interchange this comes up. By now you can sense whether or not there is a match between their needs and what you have to sell. If there is, you can convey this by reference back to the things they’ve already defined as relevant to their concerns. Don’t be surprised if you encounter objections at this phase— they are a common occurrence, even in successful sales. In fact, these are often a sign that of serious consideration and might very well indicate an interest in knowing more about your product or service.

Closing/getting commitment: At some point you’ve got to ask for the business, and how you do so does need to be carefully considered. There is no “cookie cutter” method for doing this, but it must be done strictly in regard to solving their issues— as they (not you) see them.

Sticking to the process

Many people under-produce or even fail altogether because violate the buying-selling process that places the prospective client’s interests ahead of those of the seller.  Relationship based approaches to sales avoid reinforcing the negative stereotypes that so many people associate with poorly trained and unprofessional sales people. 

Of course, the sequence I’ve discussed here assumes that you’ve got a product or service that has intrinsic value. The merit of your offerings is an entirely different matter.  My point is that business is and will continue to be based on the all-important ability to develop and maintain genuine positive relationships with people. 

Following up

By the way, it’s always prudent to maintain some type of contact with those to whom you have “helped to buy.” One reason is that if you’ve really established a relationship, you’ve made a friend. The sales process that successful professionals use is not “hit and run”— it’s driven by a genuine a genuine love of people and desire to be of service. 

Other reasons revolve around inquiring about customer satisfaction, as well as exploring the possibilities of repeat and referral business.

Personal growth as a vehicle for business development

As a business consultant and coach, I find that all businesses improvement requires personal growth. People who continue to do things as they always have will never improve the results they get, and yet many refuse to make the changes required to achieve more success. 

The knowledge and the techniques for individuals to implement and improve themselves and their lot exist and are available. What is in short supply is the will to take the steps required. On the other hand, what we’re talking about here is the age-old problem of “The Road Less Traveled.” which by definition, is not for the majority.