handshake header Relationships and the Art of Selling

By David Capece, Managing Partner

Today, selling skills are increasingly important for everyone and can provide an advantage in finding jobs, partnering, and even in dating. Have you ever stopped to wonder what makes a good sales person? Is it the good looks and charisma? Superior golf skills? The confidence to convince others? The ability to extract extra dollars through intense negotiations? Yes, all of these attributes are helpful in selling. But there’s more to selling than just good looks, golf, and confidence.

The process of selling has some similarities to farming: the initial stage of planting is followed by nurturing, and ultimately leads to a crop that can be harvested (see our commentary on business harvesting). Likewise in sales, there is a period of cultivation (relationship development) followed by harvesting (closing).

Rapport and trust are key aspects of relationship development. First, identify the decision makers as well as the key influencers. Your job up-front is to build rapport–as first impressions do make a big difference. Ideally you are able to do some research up-front to find common ground (i.e. you both went to the same school, have kids, or are a fan of the same football team). Bring positive energy, confidence and a smile, but don’t go over the top. You want to make sure that your decision maker has a chance to shine in your conversation.

At this point they like you, but do they trust you? Trust is a lot harder to gain as it is based on credibility and earned over time. You can establish a base level of trust by offering your perspective on issues and sharing stories of your other work. If you aren’t asked, you’ll have to figure out a clever way to weave it into the discussion. If you have a savvy buyer, you’ll want to avoid generic empty claims such as “we are so much better than our competition.” If this is true, use facts and stats such as we have 100 clients and they have 50, or we’ve won an award. Your savvy buyer can’t argue with facts and stats, but they may dismiss empty claims.

Once you have built rapport and trust, the next step is to close the deal. Hopefully you have been closing little-by-little along the way by getting them excited about a future that includes you (you really can help them and it will be a positive experience for everyone!). Ultimately, to close the deal, you need to move into discussion about deal specifics such as deliverables, money, and timing. If you haven’t done so, you should take a negotiations class (it might pay for itself the next time you negotiate a house or car). The biggest lessons learned in negotiations is that it is actually ok to propose a deal as you get to anchor the conversation (this may be less true in job searches). When you begin the negotiation, you should already have your parameters in mind so that you understand your negotiating window. Ultimately, you will need to determine the long-term opportunity and how much, if any, you want to leave on the table.

Let me share a story that illustrates how important it is to consider the long-term opportunity. I recently interviewed a job candidate and when I asked him what his primary goal was, he said, “to get paid as much as possible in this job.” First off, that isn’t a great answer in a job interview, especially in this case for a young 20-something candidate who would be making less than $50k. I then asked, “Isn’t it more important that you set yourself up on the best career path with long-term earnings?” To which he responded, “If I make more now, I’ll make more later.” While this may be true, it’s not the best approach, especially for someone just starting off. In this candidate’s shoes, I would suggest getting the best experience to build skills, credibility, and relationships. The reasoning…in his future, there’s going to be another sale when he goes for his next job.

In order to make that sale, he’s going to need to start by developing relationships and his current job could potentially give him a head start. Then he’s going to need to build rapport, credibility, and trust–all of which can be bolstered by a great experience today. While I appreciate the importance of money in today’s society, use this as inspiration to focus on developing relationships and gaining great experiences. When the time is right, and the opportunity to harvest presents itself, move in for the close.

Photo by Rob Owen-Wahl from Stock.Xchng