What Exactly Does “Build a Relationship” Mean?

Ask any established sales veteran what it takes to succeed, and they'll undoubtedly tell you that it requires strong relationships. Ask someone what their business plan is—especially someone who's brand new to selling in a professional service industry like real estate, personal finance, and accounting and you'll hear, "It's going to take time to build some relationships, so I'm doing a lot of networking."

I've heard that enough times now to know that means people are going to a lot of organized group meetings, shaking a lot of hands, and summarily starving for several months. Can your business sustain that kind of a ramp up timeline? Should it have to?

Somewhere along the line, salespeople have misunderstood what it takes to sell. Yes, relationships help, but where do they start? Do you just go to some weekly networking meeting and exist long enough for someone to recognize you without your name tag and realize you can help them? Ever wonder why the members of those groups tell you that "you have to find the right one" and that it normally takes a year or so before you get business? "But the real power is in the networks of the people who are in the group..."

I think that's the wrong approach, and I do have a better one.

Before you think I've gone off the rails, let me clarify. I think your weekly networking group is probably a very nice community of people who come together for a common purpose and genuinely support each other for the right reasons. That's a beautiful thing, and in a lot of ways, we need more of them.

It's also a terrible business plan when you're getting started because you don't know how to utilize that community. Even as a new B2B sales rep, simply calling on your customers to tell them about yourself is going to get you nowhere. At least it will get you there fast...

"But Jeff, how else am I supposed to develop a relationship with my customers?"

Great question. Thanks for asking.

Relationships don't make sales for you, and they don't just happen. There needs to be some sort of a catalyst to start one. If you think about every relationship you have to this day, there was a reason you spent time with that person before you were so close. Perhaps you lived next door and played outside together as kids... Maybe you worked on class projects together or were on the same little league team... You could have been wildly attracted to each other from across a crowded room... Whatever the case, there was mutual interest by both parties in making an investment in that relationship.

The terms for building a relationship with your prospects and customers are going to be no different. There needs to be a mutual interest, but remember, they're not looking for another friend. They need a reason to talk to you. They need to know you can help them. You're not the only one looking for their attention and investment.

You don't need to build relationships, you need to demonstrate expertise.

That's what's really going on in your networking group, right? After that first year or so, if you're in the right group, people will really start to like you and understand that you know a lot about what you're talking about.  

That insurance agent who's been doing this for 30 years? She's seen a lot of things and helped a lot of people. She's got a reputation for service, integrity, and expertise, and she's developed loyal relationships as a result.

Someone with expertise and no relationships will outsell someone with relationships and no expertise in the same group of people!

Alot of sales (particularly of the repeat or referral variety) come out of great relationships,andalot of relationships come out of great customer experiences. But this is not a"chicken or the egg" situation. It's clear to me that when there'sareally good reason for me to do business with you, the relationshipdoesn't even factor into the equation. One may developasaresult,and that's icing on the cake, but even you know you'd rather have more customers than friends.

Take your relationship builder hat off,and instead start showinganability to help people. I think you'll find that you'll build more relationships in the process. I guarantee you'll also make more sales.