The Dos & Don'ts of Client Relationships
The art of getting personal to close the deal.
Succeeding in sales often comes down to relationships. People do business with those that they like and customers may be hesitant to spend money if they don’t feel a connection.
“They aren’t going to buy from you if they don’t trust you,” says Stephanie Chung, owner of Stephanie Chung and Associates, a sales training, executive coaching, and small business service company in Dallas.
While getting to know your customers can pay off in the long run, there is a thin line sales professionals must walk when knowing what personal details to share and what to withhold. Below are a few “dos and don’ts” for offering the personal touch while maintaining business boundaries.
Don’t talk controversial topics. Chung was at a business dinner when a prospect asked who she was voting for. She knew to deflect the question. Fast. “Right now I’m weighing all the facts and waiting to make a decision,” Chung told the prospective client. Crisis averted.
Even if you find out that your potential customers share the same opinions on highly charged topics such as race, religion, and politics, you should still refrain from gabbing about them. “They could have a new stance the next week and now they disagree with you,” Chung says.
If you mistakenly go down the road of discussing taboo topics, redirect the conversation to the reason for the meeting: your client’s needs.
Do talk hobbies and interests. Relationships get stronger when people have something in common. Conversations about local sports teams, vacations, colleges, and the weather allow you to bond and build trust with the sales lead. “If I’m going to share anything with clients, it’s on the positive,” Chung says. However, don’t feel compelled to bring up private details such as spouses and children unless it comes up naturally. “Building rapport with a client is different than building a friendship,” Chung says.
Don’t venture outside of the brand. The place where salespeople meet for business should align with the company brand or reflect the company’s values. Not every place may be the conventional office park, golf course, or steakhouse. You may be required to hit a nightclub, for instance, if you own a hip-hop-oriented business in Atlanta. However, if it’s a public place and it’s the standard for your business, then it’s acceptable.
Do look beyond 9 to 5. Be clear, there is no such thing as “after hours” in sales. “You are always on and you are always the brand ambassador for the company,” Chung says. You may be able to get a client to feel more comfortable with you over dinner or at a weekend sporting event than on a sales call, so be willing to take client meetings outside of regular work hours and outside of the workplace setting.
Don’t be too social on social media. Chung believes in the separation of church and state when it comes to social media — one profile for work and one that is personal. “What you talk to your friends and family about may not be appropriate for clients,” Chung says.
While you can post personal pictures on your professional account, make sure they show you in a positive light, suggests Max Altschuler, sales expert and CEO of San Francisco-based training company Sales Hacker. Think photos of your family at a pizza restaurant. “Share whatever you would share with strangers,” Altschuler says.
Do engage with potential customers online. Using social media can be a good way to crowdsource information about your target customer and build a personal connection with your consumers. However, be strategic. If you sell SUVs, for instance, and your preferred customers are single moms, use social media to ask your followers about the best day care centers and pay attention to the comments, Altschuler says. You can find great leads that way.
Learning how to leverage the personal touch properly is mandatory for business survival. Just make sure you respect your clients’ — and your own — personal boundaries.
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