Relationships and Sales

January is a hard time to be in sales. Overly exuberant spending during the holidays can lead to financial restraint in the New Year.

It’s not just consumer retrenchment that’s causing problems for salespeople right now. Their reputation isn’t so good either; given the number of people who have been “spammed” over the Internet, telemarketed during dinner or having waded through stacks of junk mail just to find the hydro bill.

But all this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to sell right now. It appears that people who sell, promote or market successfully for a living are adept at relationship-based selling. They work hard to build long-term relationships, hone their empathy skills, maintain an appreciative attitude, take care of themselves and others and stay true to their values.

Relationship-based selling relies on creating emotional bonds with the public, highlighting the buyer’s needs over the seller’s and listening well.

There are three principles key to successful relationship-based selling: Be curious and caring. Be values-based. Be self aware.

o Be Curious and Caring
Find out about a person’s business, concerns, goals and dreams. Greg Kettner, Customer Sales Manager at the Vancouver Canucks, is one of the team’s top-performing sales reps. He exemplifies the relationship-oriented salesperson – someone curious and caring.

“I like to build a relationship with people so that I can go back and ask about how their business is doing, where they’re trying to grow and what their goals are,” said Kettner, who’s been in his position for two years. “I find out if I can help out, if the tickets I have may meet their goals.”

He said what drives him is his interest in people. “I sell myself, not the Vancouver Canucks”, he said, adding anyone can buy seasons’ tickets, but when people buy them from him they get a great relationship. As a result, Kettner thrives on referrals.

Building a relationship that lasts, regardless of scoring a sale in the short term, is what it’s all about. While it may be difficult to think about a two-year time line, when the January doldrums hit, building relationships that may net a sale down the road is key to long-term success.

Keeping in contact with clients through voice mail, sending interesting information useful to their business, or mailing a thank-you for their time, all aid in making salespeople accessible and helpful.

o Be Values Based
It is important to enjoy what you do and believe in what you are offering the public. If a salesperson doesn’t feel right about his or her product or service – or the type of customer- it may attract, the chance of success is minimal. Kettner left a position selling high-interest loans to people living paycheque to paycheque because the job clashed with his personal values.

Valuing collaboration with others is helpful especially when working with other salespeople. Rather than viewing others as competitors, collaboratively oriented sales staff often find themselves referring business to colleagues when there appears to be a good fit. Kettner finds this approach works well since other salespeople will hand out his business card and he hands out theirs.

Treating other people well is a hallmark of the relationship- based philosophy, as is endeavouring to be as helpful as possible. Being honest and committing to being the best you can be takes discipline and courage, but pays off in the long term. Being authentic means being open with others. People can tell when a salesperson is genuinely interested in being helpful and when he or she’s more interested in nabbing the sale.

Seeing the situation as your customers see it is important. They want to know how things will work to their benefit. That’s where business empathy is useful. By walking a mile in your customer’s shoes, you can discover the best way to be helpful.

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, co-author of “The Frog and Prince: Secrets of Positive Networking”, a book about networking for business people, observes that people do business with those they know and trust. Hallgren-Rezac advises sales people to “work on being good at relationships, use old- fashioned social skills (thank-you notes, being polite and caring), and love your customers or clients.”

o Be Self Aware
Effective relationship-based salespeople monitor their emotional state. They tend to know what they are feeling and how it is influencing their work. For example, a rejection can take a toll even when a sales rep is intent on not taking the “no” personally-“It’s the product they’re rejecting, not me”, is a common sales mantra.

But when a call gets you down and it’s hard to feel great about what you are doing, there are ways to deal with the emotions. Reflecting on past successes, looking at feedback from delighted clients, taking a quick break or going for a walk and counting blessings helps. And, “if you’re having a really bad day; go home– I’ve done that several times”, advises Kettner.

If a salesperson is feeling under the weather physically or emotionally, continuing to make contact with potential customers could be frustrating and ineffective. But knowing how you are feeling and taking steps to manage negative emotions aid in the sales process. So, being relationship-based also means caring about how you treat yourself too.

If you find yourself spinning your wheels, forcing yourself to be enthusiastic, it may be time to seek support. Consider talking to a psychologist, counsellor, coach or mentor about your career options.

Kettner observed that when his various attempts at Internet marketing, retail and ad sales and being a waiter, didn’t pay off he became frustrated. He went to a psychologist for career counselling and discovered a career in sales was the place to be, but he wasn’t selling the right thing.

Kettner’s desire to be a hockey player, truly impossible as he describes himself as too old, too out of shape and without skill, translated into selling hockey instead.

It turns out the “trick” to effective selling, especially when people don’t want to buy right away, is that there isn’t a trick- it’s about building and maintaining long-term relationships based on caring and commitment, being your self, being passionate and remaining true to your values.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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