Great Ideas for Building Great Relationships

By Heather Baldwin

How many hundreds of times have you heard that selling is all about building relationships? You could work all day perfecting your PowerPoint slides, putting information into your CRM system or creating a great proposal, but the bottom line is that if you can’t connect with people you won’t be able to sell to them. “The strength of the relationship with your contacts has a direct bearing on your success in selling to them,” writes John Timperley in Connective Selling: The Secrets of Winning ‘Big Ticket’ Sales (Capstone Publishing, 2004). Timperley, who interviewed hundreds of senior sales professionals when writing his book, says he unearthed the following sure-fire relationship builders salespeople can use to forge strong bonds with clients and prospects.

1. Go beyond the thank-you note. Nader Anise, a lawyer and marketing consultant in the United States who Timperley interviewed for his book, believes the biggest missed opportunity for marketing and salespeople is the acknowledgment of a new work referral. He’s not talking about simple thank-you cards or phone calls. “Those are for novices,” says Anise. Instead, he’s talking about a gift that “makes the person want to go hunt down some more clients for you and deliver them to your door.” The gift should make an immediate impression and be memorable and long-lasting so the client is reminded of you often. Nader’s company sends high-end, full-color lawyer cartoons, personalized to the lawyer’s area of practice, to contacts who provide new work references. He also has done things such as send a wine-of-the-month gift or a magazine subscription so the contact thinks of him at least once a month. Referrals, especially those who turn into new business, are golden and the people who provide them deserve to be thanked in a gold-medal way.

2. Be a pen pal. One of Timperley’s former chairmen differentiated himself in the business world and built a huge network of contacts by sending out personal handwritten notes to a few clients and contacts every day. “The fact that he had a good copperplate handwriting using a fountain pen meant his letters were seen as personal and special,” says Timperley. In these days of email and typed letters, the chairman’s penned notes were memorable and great door openers. Develop your own signature style, be it with a fountain pen on a plain, high-quality note card or purple ink on stylistic paper – whatever best supports your brand – and your notes will open doors, too.

3. Brainstorm together. Executives at one advertising agency with whom Timperley spoke said they forge strong relationships by holding joint brainstorming sessions with potential clients. The sessions have multiple benefits: they allow the agency to better understand the prospect’s business, they demonstrate the agency’s knowledge and capabilities and they usually identify at least one way in which the agency can help the prospect. At the same time, say the executives, they build strong relationships and demonstrate the agency’s commitment to the prospect. To set yourself apart from your competition, figure out a way you can hold joint brainstorming sessions with your prospective clients. You’ll both walk away with valuable information – and you’ll be remembered for it.