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Building Customer Relationships Is a Critical Part of Selling

I surveyed sales professionals at a national sales meeting about their experience in developing and maintaining relationships with customers. Here is a compiled and edited summary of their responses.

What are the benefits of having a productive business relationship with the customer?

What do you do to help build strong relationships with your customers?

What have you found you need to avoid in maintaining good relationships?

Building strong customer relationships helps build loyalty. Building relationships allows you to partner with and be integrated into the customer's company. You're not considered just another salesperson pushing product. You and your customer can have a sense of trust about your relationship. Never take the relationship for granted—as soon as you do, you'll start to lose the trust that you worked so hard to gain.

Marriott International is a leader. Its salespeople are recognized as being among the best in the hospitality industry. How do they do it? John Marriott, executive vice president of lodging for Marriott International (which includes sales and marketing), said, "At Marriott, our salespeople are highly regarded because they are knowledgeable about their customers and spend as much time listening as they do selling. They welcome feedback and always follow up on concerns and issues."

When asked what advice he would pass along to new and experienced salespeople who wanted to truly be successful, he responded as follows:

To be successful in sales, you must spend time building relationships with your customers and learning as much about them and their business as possible. This is best accomplished by getting out of the office and meeting the customer face to face, not sitting back waiting for the phone to ring. From the junior salesperson to the CEO, it is critical that every salesperson establish solid relationships and true understanding of the wants and needs of his or her customers. Use every interaction as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship.

Effective salespeople are also highly confident. They know what they are talking about. I recommend that any salesperson going after a piece of business spend time learning about their customer's company and looking for ways to provide service and value that is relevant to their needs. Your knowledge, understanding, and interest will be highly appreciated and will play a key role in your ability to complete a sale. As you learn about your customer's business and develop relationships within the organization, you'll be viewed as an active partner and someone who is helping the company succeed.

For the more experienced salesperson, John concluded by stressing the importance of staying close to customers: "Don't take them for granted. This is just what your competition is waiting for—an opportunity to call on a customer that you have failed to visit or contact. It is also important to stay current. Their business will grow and change along with what they expect from you. By constantly staying focused on your customer's wants and needs, you will earn their trust and respect and establish a solid relationship that will be profitable for everyone."

It's clear from John Marriott's comments and from all of the other points discussed in this section that maintaining a business relationship is a critical priority. The following three recommendations can help you make it work.

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