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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Does your sales team prioritize people or business transactions?

Here’s how to humanize the funnel conversion rate and win at relationship building.

Whether you are a seasoned business owner or just starting out in the market, it’s important to realize that if you want your company to grow and have relevant longevity, you need to put the needs of potential and current customers first.

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It’s not always about making a quick buck on the next sale or convincing your current clients to sign up for add-on products and services in the rush of the moment. Sometimes it’s more appropriate to sit back and continue to get to know them even better. Figure out how best to find a solution that is the right fit for the client and not all about promoting how much your company can do for them.

To help you begin an alternative approach to doing business and become more successful at retaining customers who may be willing to provide positive bonus referrals, 15 Fast Company Executive Board members chime in to share their best practices.

1. WORK ON UNDERSTANDING THE CUSTOMER.

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Leaders need to align sales with marketing. The sales process is about relationship building and understanding customer needs. A marketing team can research trends, build personas, and pinpoint a customer’s spot in the buying cycle. Creepy? A little. But it beats the handshakes and donuts model of selling. Prove that you’re truly getting to know your customer and they’ll be more likely to buy. Often, you won’t even have to ask; just be present. – Misty Dykema, Simantel

2. ADOPT A PARTNERSHIP MINDSET.

Our business lives or dies on multi-year relationships. A quick transaction is not nearly as valuable as a longer-term partnership. We encourage everyone in our company to adopt a “partnership” mindset. – Kevin Shtofman, NavigatorCRE

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3. SHARE YOUR RESOURCES WITH CLIENTS.

Focus on relationships and what’s actually best for your customer. For example, if you know that a different agency would be a better fit, offer to make an intro. If your product or service can’t deliver a next-level experience on every dimension important to the customer, introduce them to additional options that could fill the gaps. This concept isn’t new, but it delivers in the long run. – Beau Oyler, Enlisted Design

4. BE EMPATHETIC AND PATIENT.

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Humanization of the sales process is crucial to success. You have to listen, empathize with their pain points, and drive them towards a solution. This requires more than a pushy salesperson on the phone. Almost like having a conversation with your BFF, you need to do the same here, and move away from the closing-only mindset. Instead, give the sale time and don’t be pushy, because people hate that. – Candice  Georgiadis, Digital Agency, Inc

5. CREATE HIGH-VALUE SOLUTIONS.

Be clear that the objective you want to achieve is value for a prospect. Impact. When you create impact, your clients will transact. And, underscore the converse: no impact, no transaction. Then build a strategy and repeatable process that can be refined around surfacing the pain points your prospects have, and discussing how you can credibly solve them. Thus, you create high value for them. – Joseph Zito, (X) from Coaching & Consulting

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6. MAKE SURE IT’S A GOOD MATCH.

In finding a new client, it is imperative to find a fit. Like dating, you would never jump straight to a marriage proposal only to have a nasty divorce. Begin with open and honest discussions to understand the clients’ problems. If the ask or timing is off, clients never forget those who gave them valuable advice. Send informative blog posts and industry news to stay top of mind. – John  Bernero, M3 Design

7. PROVIDE AN ACCOUNT BUSINESS MARKETING APPROACH.

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First, provide examples of how relationship selling builds long-term business opportunities, so the sales team is bought in. Second, build the infrastructure to support them in this effort with an account business marketing approach focused on intelligence services and staff that feeds sales team data and news. Third, reduce the pressure on short-term quota goals and build in an MBO encouraging teams to focus on the big picture needs of their accounts. – Lisa Bichsel, Bichsel Medical Marketing Group

8. MAINTAIN RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE PROSPECTS.

New clients are slow decision-makers when it comes to purchasing services; while existing clients require far less effort to sell additional services. Train your team to maintain ongoing relationships with prospects and treat them as if they were already clients. Somewhere along the way, those prospects will come to view themselves as clients. Once that happens the sale will come about naturally. – Ryan Blanch, Repute PR + Law

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9. ESTABLISH LONG-TERM GOALS AND INCENTIVES.

Transactional sales only work in transactional industries. In most B2B settings, companies don’t last long if they have a short-term approach to sales. Ultimately, the onus is on top management to establish the goals and incentives that encourage long-term thinking and consultative sales. If you manage by month or quarter, expect transactional sales. – Brian McCann, Intergalactic

10. START A DRIP CAMPAIGN.

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When it comes to items like fashion and style, people often need to see things several times before they will act on their impulse to buy. By using drip campaigns, you can slowly warm the audience up to the new styles. The same concept of a drip campaign can be applied to websites and social media and other marketing channels. – Laura Kerbyson, Laura Kerbyson Design Company

11. GIVE THEM A PURPOSE.

Disney teaches purpose vs. task. Too many organizations today are just interested in checking the box, which leads to the “transaction now” mentality. Give them a common purpose, a common goal, and a North Star, and allow them to leave with purpose. – Shawn Nason, MOFI

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12. DEVELOP RAVING FANS TO BREED NEW BUSINESS REFERRALS.

The “relationship” part of the customer journey is critical and a key element to building a robust sales pipeline. Rather than focus on a one-off transaction, focus on creating raving fans from your customers. Not only does that ensure greater longevity and loyalty but it also breeds its own referral program as customers tell others about you, and that can pay big dividends. – Glo Gordon, MATRIXX Software

13. FOCUS ON A YEARLY (AND QUARTERLY) GOAL.

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We have a yearly goal for our sales teams and they know what it is at any given time. They also know that sales cycles are long and need to keep a number of balls in the air at the same time. Having a yearly goal on top of the quarterly one helps our sales team get out of the transaction now mentality.  – Guy Benjamin, Healthee

14. HELP YOUR CUSTOMER WIN.

Great salespeople don’t think about the transaction. They have a mindset of mutuality and bring that to networking and are helpful throughout the sales funnel. Additionally, it’s understood that the win is for the customer, and the sooner it’s understood what that win looks like, the agenda can be shaped to enable delivering that. – Michelle Hayward, Bluedog

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15. INCENTIVIZE NON-TRANSACTION DRIVING ACTIVITIES. 

Sounds crazy, but we implemented a 20-touchpoint system before putting forward a pitch. Our sales team loves it! Everyone has a punch card and is incentivized to just stay in touch with their book of business. – Meagan Bowman, STOPWATCH

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