Relationship Selling: Definition, Techniques and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 26, 2021 | Published October 9, 2020

Updated February 26, 2021

Published October 9, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

One way to set your sales pitch apart from your competitors is to use relationship selling techniques. Implementing a relationship-based sales approach can improve your success rate with new customers and help you keep existing customers. To build relationships with your customers, look beyond what you are selling and instead focus on their interests and needs. In this article, we outline the relationship selling techniques you can use to connect with customers and enhance your sales interactions.

Related: 18 Excellent Sales Qualities for You To Develop

What is relationship selling?

Relationship selling is a technique that prioritizes building a connection with customers and potential buyers to close sales. Rather than solely using the price and other details to sell a product or service, the salesperson focuses on the interactions they have with their customers. Customers are more likely to foster loyalty toward a product or service when a salesperson establishes a personal relationship with them. This familiarity helps retain long-term customers and gain new ones because they feel valued by the company.

This technique works well when selling high-cost items or purchases that require a higher level of commitment because these customers usually need to put more thought and time into their decision. They want to make sure they are making the right choice, so you need to establish that they can trust you. Relationship selling helps you achieve that because you are taking the effort to learn about the customers and their needs, which allows you to provide personalized reasons why your product or service is the best fit for them.

Related: How To Develop And Maintain Positive Client Relationships

Techniques for relationship selling

You can improve your sales interactions by using the following relationship selling techniques:

Connect on a personal level

One of the most crucial steps to building a relationship with anyone is to get to know them on a personal level and find common ground—this also applies to customer relationships. You should move beyond small talk and learn about their interests or aspects of their life that are unrelated to the sale.

Some ways to connect with your customer include:

  • Find their social media profiles and bring up any similarities during your conversation. For example, you are alumni of the same college or support the same sports team.

  • Ask about where they live if it's different from your location. Try to mention any connections you have with the area or ask them if they have recommendations for a future visit.

  • Listen to the background during phone conversations and take note of the sounds you hear, such as children or pets. You can use personal insights like those to start a friendly chat by asking about them.

Be a good listener

During sales conversations, it can be easy to find yourself rambling about why someone should buy your product because of its impressive features or benefits. But you are more likely to make the sale if you connect with the client by talking less and listening more. Listening to the client helps you better understand them, which can help you tailor your sales pitch to their needs and challenges.

Some ways to implement active listening into your interactions include:

  • Paraphrase your customers' message back to them to show you clearly hear and understand what they are telling you.

  • Ask open-ended questions—meaning, they cannot answer with just "yes" or "no"— related to what they have already shared, allowing you to get more specific insights on their wants and needs.

  • Use positive non-verbal cues when possible, such as nodding your head, smiling and making sure to maintain eye contact.

Related: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Show your expertise

To establish yourself as a credible and trustworthy resource, display a strong understanding of your industry and your customers' industries. You should be able to answer customer questions about how your product or service compares to others in the industry, for example, because that can boost your sales pitch.

Further, you should be well aware of the trends and news in your customers' industry and how your company is adapting to changes or meeting new demands. Starting conversations about industry happenings will also benefit your relationship because it gives you the chance to show your interest in their business and prove your knowledge to them.

Add value to customers' lives

You can gain credibility and trust with your customers by adding value to their lives, even if it is unrelated to the product or service you are selling. Doing this can make customers feel like your conversations are worthwhile and they will be more interested in talking to you.

Some ways you could add value to your customer include:

  • If they mention a problem they have been having, find some helpful resources to email them.

  • Introduce them to someone valuable at your company, whether it is an individual who can resolve their needs or a member of management.

  • Offer something extra—for free— such as an upgrade, additional service or access to an event.

Be honest with customers

Dishonesty can damage relationships, but you can maintain your customers' respect by always telling them the truth. You should not mislead customers by providing false information or withholding details. They will appreciate the fact that you told them the truth rather than finding it out for themselves later.

Also, if you realize that your product or service is not the right fit for their needs, let them know—even if you lose the sale, they will likely admire your honesty and might refer your services to other potential buyers.

Show your authentic self

Being genuine in your customer interactions will go a long way in building a connection with them—if you are passionate about and believe in your product, then this should be easy for you. People realize that no one is perfect, so they will understand if you do not always have the answer immediately or make a mistake every once in a while. Showing that you are human makes you more relatable and will make the customers feel more comfortable during their interactions with you.

Prove that you are reliable

To retain trust and loyalty with your customers, you must follow through on the commitments—both big and small—that you make to them. Falling through on those commitments could damage your reputation and the relationship between you and your customer.

Another way to prove your reliability is to go beyond your customers' expectations as often as possible. You can do this by hitting your deadlines or over-delivering on promised products or solutions by adding something extra.

Be patient during the sales cycle

Being patient is especially important when selling high-ticket items, as these purchases usually require a lot of back-and-forth decision-making and follow-ups with the client. Remember that this may be a big decision for your customer and avoid rushing them or putting too much pressure on them.

Patience also helps when objections arise during the sales process. Allow your customers to explain their concerns without interjecting, then take the time to reassure them or look into the obstacles they raise.

Continue to provide value after the sale

Relationship selling does not end after the customer makes the purchase or signs the contract—you should continue to check in on them to maintain the relationship. By doing this, you are demonstrating to the customer that you see them as a valued member of your business, rather than just dollar signs. Try to reach out to your customers every few months to follow up on their feelings about your product and whether they have any questions or concerns.

You can also reach out to them on a more personal level:

  • If you find an article, podcast or other content about a topic that interests a specific customer, send them a link to it.

  • Follow their social media profiles and interact with them, including sending supportive messages about recent achievements or accomplishments.

  • If your company is hosting an event that is relevant to customers' business, provide an invitation to them.

Examples of relationship selling

Here are examples of how relationship selling techniques can benefit both business-to-business (B2B) sales and business-to-consumer sales:

Relationship selling for B2B sales

The relationship selling technique works well in a B2B sales environment, which often has a long sales cycle and high-cost products or services.

Example: Adam works for a company that sells cybersecurity learning solutions to companies and is currently discussing a potential $50,000 contract with a cybersecurity consulting firm. Before his call with the client, Adam reads up on the latest industry trends to prepare for questions about how his company is adapting to meet new demands.

During his first conversation with the client, Adam spent most of the call listening to their needs and answering questions. When he did not have the answer to all the questions during the call, he promised to find out and send a follow-up email by the following afternoon—which he did. He also took note of any personal information he gained about the client, including the fact that they lived in the Los Angeles area and had a child interested in computers.

During subsequent calls, Adam made sure to mention these personal details by asking whether they were affected by recent wildfires in the area. He also emailed the client information about a free beginner's computer safety course his company offered that might be of interest to the client's child.

After weeks of back and forth, the client signed the contract. Adam sent an appreciation note to the client, who replied that they appreciated Adam's effort and personalized service—including the recommendation for their child.

Relationship selling for consumer products:

While this sales technique typically applies to high-cost or high-value purchases, it also works with consumer products.

Example: Anna has been going to the same hairstylist for six years. She returns to this hairstylist because they do a great job on her hair, but the repeated visits over the years also created a significant relationship between the two. Their conversations during appointments include their interests and aspects of their personal lives, which makes the pair's relationship feel like a friendship rather than a business encounter.

Through these repeat visits, the hairstylist also gains knowledge of Anna's hair needs or preferences and can make personalized recommendations or provide advice. Anna now feels a strong sense of loyalty to her hairstylist and trusts that they are looking out for her best interest. As a result, Anna will continue seeing them because they offer specialized services that hairstylists who don't already know Anna cannot.

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