During a recent conference, I noticed that instead of using the downtime between speakers to network, many of the newer people to the industry were instead distracted by their devices. As a sales executive with over 20 years in the business, it had me thinking about the impact of modern communication on the sales industry.
Many young professionals over-rely on their mobile phones to interact with associates and friends — they chat over Whatsapp, Insta their meals, and socialize on Snapchat. These modes of communication are convenient and certainly have a place; however, it's also important to remember that the sales business is all about building personal relationships. In a world of endless options, close client relationships matter now more than ever.
As the vice president of regional sales for New York Interconnect (NYI) — a joint venture of Altice, Charter, and Comcast — I'm often busy executing media strategies and working hard to meet clients' sales goals. But, first and foremost, I build relationships with my clients. Our interactions are founded on conversations, eye contact, handshakes, and real-time connections, in addition to the latest technology. There is no substitute for actual face time.
So, if you're a young sales executive who wants to learn the keys to building long-term client relationships, here are 10 tips I've learned along my journey (and yes, I realize how old this makes me sound):
1. Listen: People love to talk — especially about themselves — so let them. Ask them questions, hear what they're really saying, and learn about their interests. Look around their office and take mental notes about what's important to them. Do they have pictures of their travels? Their family? Their alma mater? Prioritize listening over talking.
2. Know your audience: Do they have a spouse or young children? Are they single? Learn to relate to them and pivot the conversation for each situation. Remember the fun facts, too. Whether they're hooked on Starbucks macchiatos, their child's laser tag birthday party is on Saturday, or their spouse is running in next week's marathon, those are details worth remembering. It will personalize the relationship. (I often add these fun facts to a client's contact card, so I remember the next time I see them.)
3. Find a connection: Know what motivates them and what they are trying to accomplish, both professionally and personally. Do they want that corner office? To climb Mount Everest? Go golfing at Pebble Beach? This gives you greater insight into the person as an individual. (Plus, who knows where it will lead? I found myself hitting a Phish concert with a client just last week.)
4. Find a role: If you can't golf with them, then drive the cart. Not up for hiking the Earth's highest mountain? That's OK. Instead, tell them where they can find cheap flights to get there. If there's not an obvious role for you, create it. (Also, everyone should learn how to golf.)
5. Be wise when you socialize: When inviting clients out, always let them take the lead. Don't order first. Drink what they drink (at least until you know them better). When appropriate, invite their spouse (if they like you, then you're in!) Don't overdo it either. Remember, this is your client, not an acquaintance or a friend; you need to put in the time to earn that status.
6. Show up in person: Be there for your clients. There's still no connection quite like face-to-face — and clients are less likely to say "no" when you're standing there in front of them. While you're at it, bring them iced coffee in the summer, hot chocolate in the winter, and cupcakes all year 'round (unless they're lactose intolerant, see Tip 2). Don't forget the support staff, too. They're the gatekeepers and often the best avenue to your client. Plus, learn to read the room. Whether making a presentation to the entire company or having a quiet one-on-one lunch, there's a time and a place for a sales pitch, a good joke, or polite niceties. Know the differences.
7. Deliver bad news in person: If a deal falls through or ROI falls short, the conversation needs to be in person. Facetime is not equivalent and don't do it over email or by phone. It's your job to lighten stressful days for your client. You want them to want to be around you in times of trouble. They need to feel your confidence.
8. Keep politics and religion out of it: You're both die-hard liberals who celebrate Chanukah, so it's OK to talk about it, right? Wrong. You will find somethingyou disagree on, so do yourself a favor and don't bother finding out what it is.
9. Establish trust: Your client must trust you. One foolish mistake can ruin a great relationship that takes years to build. Always, always,do the right thing. If you do make a mistake, own up to it. Don't hide behind double-talk, which will only worsen the situation. Be honest. Trust is essential and everyone can appreciate a good person making a bad mistake.
10. Your reputation is everything: At the end of the day, all you have is your reputation. Make sure it's a good one. Those you meet in your industry today will be the people you continue to cross paths with throughout your career. Make sure your stellar reputation precedes you. People often talk about building their brand. In the sales industry, your reputation is your brand. Make sure it's one that instills trust and confidence in both clients and colleagues.
Technology is always evolving, and new forms of communication will continue to emerge. However, regardless of the ever-changing landscape, these 10 insights remain timeless. The tried-and-true ways of building personal relationships with clients are still (and will always be) the keys to success in sales.
Remember, dedicate yourself to your clients and they'll dedicate their business to you, which will pave the way for a long and successful career in the sales industry.
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