“Did you ever close a deal on email?” That’s what a VP of sales at a software company asked her sales reps, knowing few (if any) of them had. She understood the power of personal relationships to connect with prospects and generate referral leads, but her team was only communicating through product demos, social media, and email. And they were getting nowhere.
We all love a good shortcut. We live in microwave time—tapping our fingers because 15 or 30 seconds is just too slow. That’s why digital communication is so appealing. It’s quick and easy. But while there’s much to be said for efficiency, there are no shortcuts when it comes to building relationships. And without strong relationships, you can forget about getting referral leads.
Sure, we can begin conversations on social media. We can make those connections even stronger by learning about people, sharing content, and recognizing birthdays and business anniversaries. But to turn connections into relationships, we must really get to know people. That means picking up the phone and having real conversations.
Think of it this way. Most of us don’t decide to date someone seriously before speaking with that person and actually meeting face to face. It’s the same in business. The only thing better than meeting a potential client in person is doing so with a referral introduction. Then you get to skip that awkward first date. You already have a natural conversation-starter—how you both know the person who introduced you—and you’re a trusted resource from the get-go.
You Can’t Automate Relationships
Customers don’t buy your technology, your service, or your products. They buy because of the impact your people have on their businesses. People do business with people, not with technology. But too many reps forget it’s the quality of relationships, and not the quantity of connections, that really count.
The problem is that our society is getting so comfortable hiding behind screens that many sales reps forget how to have real conversations. Technology dependence has begun to shift our values and our beliefs away from what really makes us human. We think technology is a panacea. We want to automate almost everything.
Salespeople think the more we automate selling, the better, easier, and more effective their jobs will be. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Text messages with truncated words or 140-character Twitter posts are not the kind of meaningful, effective dialogue that increases sales conversions or gets referral leads.
The art of conversation is your team’s competitive advantage. Conversation is the key to problem-solving and relationship-building, which are critical in sales. These have also become unique skill sets in the digital world. Salespeople who master them stand out among competitors who are still hiding behind the technology curtain.
5 Ways to Turn Your Sales Reps into Relationship Builders What seals the deal today is the same thing that sealed the deal back in the days of the three-martini lunch—making personal connections with prospects, understanding what buyers want, and delivering results. Rather than giving your team lists of names to cold call, or letting them spend their days spamming people on LinkedIn, teach them how to pick up the damn phone, engage with buyers, find out what they really need, deliver it, and then ask for referrals.
Here are five simple ways to help your sales team nurture their networks and earn those referral leads:
- Don’t let them eat lunch at their desks. Lunch is the perfect time for reps to meet with clients or referral sources, catch up, and find out how they can be of service. And while they’re at it, they can ask for referrals. In fact, one of my clients asks his team to schedule five lunches and four breakfasts every week. His reps might not always meet that lofty goal, but why not aim high?
- Encourage them to join professional networking groups, or at the very least, to attend in-person networking functions on a regular basis.
- Create valuable assets for them to share. Enlist help from marketing to create thought leadership content that salespeople can pass along to their clients. This content shouldn’t be promotional in nature. Instead, it should share industry insights or helpful tips that engage customers.
- Ensure they know how to use social networks. Social sites are places to begin conversations and begin relationships. They are not appropriate platforms to “sell” or pitch products. Reps must know when it’s time to take online conversations offline and make connections that count.
- Teach them how to earn referrals. Don’t just tell your reps to ask for referrals. For your team to make referrals happen, they need a structured referral program—with skills-building, coaching, metrics, and accountability for results.
Top salespeople know existing clients are their best source of referrals to new clients. So they put in the time to nurture those relationships and stay “in the know” about what’s happening with their customers—both personally and professionally. Clients will always take calls from these sales reps, because they provide insights and guidance. They make themselves valuable, trusted business resources. In doing so, they get bigger deals from repeat customers—and they get referral leads.
Never forget that technology is only a tool and that salespeople’s greatest sales asset is—and always will be—themselves.