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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terrence A. Hockenhull

OVER THE LAST two months, I have bought two wristwatches from a well-known Internet site. One has been delivered (and I am delighted with it); the other has yet to arrive but delivery is scheduled for the end of the month. Neither was cheap; they are certainly not throwaway items purchased for a couple of hundred pesos! And both of the watches are for me. I am not buying them as a gift or to meet someone’s specific order or requirements. Further, before I saw the watches online, I had given little or no thought to adding to the dozen or so quality timepieces in my home.

One of the most popular sales topics I come across is the ability to build strong relationships; establish strong rapport and engage clients. What got me thinking about this was my recent purchase. Buying from a Web site meant I didn’t have to deal with a salesperson. Did I miss this interaction? Certainly not! The information needed to make this purchase was readily available. The watch brand is highly trusted; they have a strong reputation for quality and durability. Lastly, the “online offer” was almost too good to be true. A check of the recommended retail price against the sale price made the purchase highly attractive.

Why is it that so much importance is ascribed to building relationships with clients? Is it really so important? Do we have to make friends with every customer simply to transact business? Having lived in the Philippines for many years, I am more than aware of the importance of relationships. A bad relationship will almost certainly have an impact on the client’s buying decision even if the purchase actually makes sense. A good friend of mine has recently switched brands because he feels no empathy with the old salesperson.

That being said, I believe the issue of relationships is overstated. We know that all things being equal, people do business with those they like and trust. But let’s be honest; things are rarely equal. Availability, price, terms, quality, appearance, user-friendliness, etc. all put bumps in the playing field.

I agree that building rapport with a customer is useful; I just don’t believe it is achieved by trying to turn the customer into your best friend. Do a professional job selling your products or services. Represent both your company and your client truthfully, faithfully, fairly and honorably. Focus on the client’s needs and requirements. Show interest in the client’s situation, position and business. All of this will allow a professional relationship to develop.

That being said, is it possible to make a friend of your customer? Well, here’s my take on this. Corporations are increasingly aware of the need to focus on business integrity and honesty. Systems are in place to ensure business dealings achieve the best possible deal for the company. Issue a purchase order to a friend, no matter how well the product competes with those of other suppliers, and someone in the organization may just start asking questions. If a customer socializes with the salesperson on a regular basis or accepts lavish entertainment, it will be of no surprise if the buying decision comes under close scrutiny.

Accepting that the professional sale is the way to go, these are a few pointers to building a professional relationship. The first tip is to try to level the sales interaction from a positional point of view. The blabbering junior salesperson trying to work his way through a long presentation to a CEO is not going to have a lot of success. Field older, experienced personnel to sell to senior people. Very often, this mismatch between salesperson and customer is created by the salesperson. Quit using “sir” in every sentence. Find out what you have in common with the client. Within the bounds of respect, treat them as your equal. Feel confident of your abilities to see the sale from your client’s perspective.

Eye contact is important. Focus on the person you are talking to. If you are in a group presentation setting, scan every face in the room. Visually engage with those who appear to be most interested in parts of your presentation. If you are discussing performance of a machine, focus on the plant operations manager or the production department head. Engage maintenance when talking about servicing, spare parts and warranties. Prices terms and conditions should be addressed to finance and accounting personnel. But as I say, continue to maintain visual contact with everyone else in the room.

Lastly, show enthusiasm and interest. When the customer relates a success, acknowledge it with enthusiasm. Don’t show impatience even when it takes the client considerable time to give information you need. However, beware of being insincere. I love the Spanish word “simpático.” It describes someone who is congenial, like-minded and likable. What I find particularly interesting about this definition is that it is a two way street. Congeniality, openness, friendliness can all be traits of one person. The other person must find him likeable.

Your customer doesn’t have to be your best friend. Making the effort to be the one who the customer is tolerant of spending time with is a worthy goal. Acting professionally, showing confidence, respecting yourself and your client will go a long way to achieving a good relationship. Let the customer find you simpático and you will have achieved your goal.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.