Connections That Close Deals

Above and beyond superb sales skills, walking away with a purchase order will often depend on the personal ties you establish with your client

With the explosion in sales pitches coming at your customers from every direction, excellent sales skills are no longer enough to seal a deal. Prospective customers also want a personal connection that separates you from your competitors. Think of connections as a bridge that seasoned sales reps use to showcase their skills and close contracts.

The Art of Connecting: How to Overcome Differences, Build Rapport, and Communicate Effectively with Anyone by Claire Raines and Lara Ewing and Great Customer Connections: Simple Psychological Techniques That Guarantee Exceptional Service by Richard Gallagher are two new books on connecting. Given the highly competitive sales landscape today, they offer some essential strategies on how to build connections.

The Art of Connecting takes the Golden Rule to the next level. Raines and Ewing call their updated version the "Titanium Rule" and explain you should do unto others according to their druthers. I've quoted their book's five core principles and paired them with my thoughts on how to incorporate them into your sales routine.

1. "There's always a bridge."

No matter how different customers may appear when you first meet them, there is always something you have in common with them. The key is to assume you have a bridge of common experience. Then find it and use it during your time together.

If you know ahead of time that you're meeting Mr. or Ms. Big, do your research. Don't wait until you're on the hot seat in front of them to start searching for mutual interests. Research the prospects on the Internet and ask others in your company or industry about them. You'll probably find several shared interests or experiences you can use.

2. "Curiosity is key."

The best salespeople sell by asking good questions. Then they really listen to the answers. Don't assume you know what your prospects are going to say or the implications of their answers. To expand upon a connection, the authors recommend you use the phrase "Yes, and...." It shows basic agreement and then develops the exchange even further. For example, you could say, "Yes, that would solve your problem and then if you signed up for our monthly service, you would also receive...."

3. "What you assume is what you get."

If you go into a meeting with an assumption of what your customer wants or expects, you take a big risk. What if you guessed wrong? For example, if your customers don't say much during a meeting, you might assume they are aloof. They might instead be shy, distracted, or have just had major dental work. They might come from a culture where it is rude to ask questions in front of strangers.

A great way to use this principle, according to the book, is to ask the customers what they think success would look and feel like. Keep asking until you feel you really understand their criteria for success. This will build a great connection -- because your customers will feel heard and understood, and you will know exactly what to accomplish.

During your work, keep asking the customer for feedback. To illustrate this point, in the book, Hector Orci, the co-founder of communications firm La Agencia de Orci, is quoted saying, "Don't hold back. I'd rather be offended than fired." When a customer doesn't buy from you anymore, you are in effect fired.

4." Every individual is a culture."

This principle reminds you that not all senior citizens or Norwegians or disabled customers think and act alike. Since everyone is a combination of a variety of influencing factors, take the time to find out more about that person than the first characteristic you notice. Learn what kind of art and movies they like, their educational background, or where they've traveled. You don't like to be categorized by one characteristic and your customers don't either.

5. "No strings attached."

This is another version of that old networking rule: Give without expectations. Be generous, especially with things that don't cost you much time or money. Introductions, information, and insight are all valuable assets you can give away in unlimited amounts.

Most of the above principles are great for connecting with your customers before you make your first sale. The examples from the second book, which are listed below, are intended for when things go wrong, which they certainly can during a long sales cycle or relationship. These principles can also be used when customers can't have everything on their wish list, which often happens too. After all, most customers would like to have products and services of the highest quality, the latest design, the best reliability, and at the lowest price.

Here are two basic principles from "Great Customer Connections" paired with my comments, that you can use in situations where you have to say no but don't want to lose the sale.

1. "Understand -- and speak to -- the customer's own perspective."

Gallagher suggests you use key phrases from the customer's own words when responding to his objection or complaint. For instance, if he wants a product to be delivered by his daughter's birthday, then make sure "your daughter's birthday" is somewhere in your response.

Also, speak to your customers with respect. Recall the last time you couldn't get what you wanted -- maybe it was out of your price range or just didn't exist. The delivery of disappointing news makes a big difference in how the receiver feels.

2. "Use positive responses to difficult situations."

Gallagher calls this the "can-can." He suggests you focus on what you can do instead of what you can't. We've all had salespeople tell us "that's not our policy" and "it's your fault, not ours." Instead, try something like this: "That sounds really frustrating. Don't worry, you have some options. Would you like me to review them with you?"

He also recommends that if you have to deliver bad news, remember to set the stage beforehand. For example, if a customer brings a clock to you to be repaired and your service department accidentally breaks it, don't just blurt that out. Rather, start with, "We had a situation with your clock. I'm going to try to break down what happened. I'm terribly sorry and we are going to do everything possible to make this situation right."

It's said that the shortest distance between two people is a connection. I hope the principles from these two new books have added some arrows to your quiver of ways to build -- and profit from -- connections with your customers. Happy selling!

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