You Have To Build a Relationship Before You Go All the Way...In Sales

Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode where Jerry strikes up a friendship with former baseball great Keith Hernandez? Hernandez calls Jerry up to ask him to help him move out of his apartment, and Jerry completely freaks out, because, as the comedian puts it, "I mean, I hardly know the guy. That's a big step in a relationship. The biggest. That's like going all the way!" 

Human relationships, like Seinfeld, are funny. There are invisible lines you're not supposed to cross until you've reached certain levels of familiarity with a person. And that's not just true with friends and dates—it's also true with business.

Case in point: a new study in the Harvard Business Review revealed that, by the time a customer actually engages a salesperson, that buyer's mind is already made up 60% of the time. In other words, when you start pursuing a prospect at the moment that they're ready to buy something you sell, you're oftentimes already too late. They know who they're going to buy from—and chances aren't great it's going to be you.   

Why? Because as Seinfeld will tell you, it's way too soon to go all the way with somebody they hardly know.  

That's why the best salespeople don't drop everything and jump after a customer who has an immediate demand, if they don't already have a relationship with that customer. Instead, they either work to shape demand or cultivate relationships with leads who are likely to develop demand.  

That approach puts the salesperson at the beginning of the customer's buying process, rather than at the end of it. Yes, you're there when there's very little chance of any immediate payoff, but you're actually doing the most important work of all when it comes to sales; creating a relationship. By the time that the customer is ready to "go all the way," they're comfortable doing it with you, because they know you and trust you. You're not perceived as some hustler trying to swoop in at the last minute to make a quick buck.

To look at this concept from another perspective, it's long been established that follow-up marketing is all-important to creating an eventual sale. Statistics from the National Sales Executive Association show that only 2% of sales are made on the first contact, while 80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact. What's rarely mentioned, however, is why follow-up marketing works; the reason is that it's essential to building the kind of successful relationship with the customer that creates the conditions for a sale.

It's not just about meeting a customer's needs; it's about being trusted to meet a customer's needs. Trust is something that takes time to earn. Just ask Jerry Seinfeld.  In that same episode, Kramer can't believe Jerry actually agreed to help Hernandez move. He yells at him, "You said 'YES!?' Don't you have any pride or self respect? I mean what are you going to do next? You're going to start driving him to the airport?"

To which Jerry angrily replies, "I'm NOT driving him to the airport!" 

If you want to make the sale—or just get a ride to the airport—make sure you've got the relationship established enough to allow that to happen. Be there at the beginning, and you won't get left out at the end.

JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling authors who consult for small- and medium-sized businesses on how to build their business through personality driven marketing, personal brand positioning, guaranteed media, and mining hidden business assets. They offer free articles, white papers, and case studies at celebritybrandingagency.com

[Image: Flickr user Andy Logan]

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1 Comments

  • Cathlyn Park

    This is correct. I won’t do any business or buy something without really knowing about the product or person selling it. That is why most of the time, I find myself reviewing or researching the product really. Indeed, relationships are crucial for businesses. More about this here: http://smallbusiness.printplac... . But the key thing is the initial courtship period at the start. We have to make a good impression to start the relationship, and that is where many people really find a hard time, especially if there are a lot of other rival companies out there.