I6HL Huffaker1I’ve come to the conclusion most salespeople are lazy.  I’m not so sure they intend to be lazy, I just think that is all they know.  

In fact, many salespeople may truly believe they are doing all they can possibly do in their efforts to persuade people to purchase their products and services.  There is so much more they could be doing if they only knew what to do.  Becoming a partner with your customer is one of the most significant things a salesperson can do to increase their effectiveness.

Think of the partner relationship as you would the relationship you have with your very best friend, relative or even a spouse.  This kind of interaction doesn’t happen over night and generally matures over time and events.  Years ago when I was a rookie salesperson in the steel industry, I discovered, by accident, the power of this type of relationship.  The company was National Steel Corporation headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The customer was Joe, the manager of iron ore, coal and transportation.  At first, I was like most any other salesperson who called on Joe.  We all had similar products at similar prices and transportation requirements.  As I dealt with Joe, I was just another iron ore peddler.  I was working hard at what I did, but didn’t really know what to do to better position myself and my products with him.  I called on him regularly and asked about his current and future needs.  I would follow up with any specific information he requested and let him know that I was always there to help.

One day as I evaluated my potential sales opportunities I decided that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did about my prospects and determined to learn my industry through the needs of my potential customers.  I decided that I would begin with National Steel and Joe.  First of all, I spent time, both in person and on the phone, learning all I could about Joe, his job responsibilities, successes, goals, objectives, pet projects, problems, challenges, and what made him look good in the eyes of his superiors, etc.  I learned about his hobbies, interests, what he like to eat, his favorite restaurants, children and spouse.  I believe over time I learned more about Joe than any other salesperson in my industry.  We became business friends.

I began to present solutions to Joe’s problems, not just trying to sell him something.  I understood his pain and tried to relieve his stress.  I presented solutions, not products.  I made him look good in the eyes of his superiors.  We worked together to achieve his goals and corporate aspirations.  I spent the time to truly understand his operational challenges, his raw material requirements, stockpile constraints, transportation nuances, and personnel matters.  I believe in some respects that I knew Joe and his world of steel making almost as well as he did.  Over time I was able to help him in ways my competition could never comprehend.  I became Joe’s partner in achieving his goals and objectives.  There were no challenges he faced in his job that the two of us couldn’t solve.  When he was promoted to Vice-President I almost felt as though I had been promoted.  Many of the people at the corporate office thought I was an employee of National Steel.  I can truly say that my success as a salesperson in the steel industry came as a result of learning how to become a partner with my customers.

Vendor, preferred vendor and partner are three levels of relationships salespeople have with their customers.  Unfortunately, most sales people have a “vendor” relationship.  This means when the customer needs something, the salesperson will more than likely submit a bid.  The preferred vendor will already be on the bidding list and will receive an invitation to bid.  The partner will make a recommendation to the buyer and because of the trust that exists in their relationship will supply the product or service without it ever going to bid.  Which type of relationship do you want with your customers and prospects?

In addition to the examples used in my story about becoming a partner with Joe and National Steel, let me share five rules to becoming a partner with your customers and prospects.

  1. Build Rapport – Customers buy from people they believe, like and trust.  You should be working on the relationship long before you become aware of their needs.  Salespeople who just show up, like vultures, when they see a specific sales opportunity will never build a relationship necessary to gain the trust of the buyer.

  2. Learn their Business – The better you understand the total scope of the customer or prospect’s business, the better position you will be in to make accurate recommendations.  When they know you know their business you will gain their trust.

  3. Know their Needs – Ask probing questions to learn their needs.  Be specific.  Your objective should be to know more about their needs than they do.  When you understand the situation, you can solve their problems with authority and certainty.

  4. Offer Suggestions – Anticipate the customer’s or prospect’s needs.  Through your experience working with similar customers, help them meet needs and solve problems before they even surface.  Your knowledge, wisdom and experience will become a sought after tool in their daily work activities.

  5. Be There – Make yourself available to help.  See them on a regular basis.  Talk with them and consult with them about all aspects of their job.  Listen, consult, recommend, and supply.  Become a part of the decision making process.