The Relationship Building Competency and Selling Consultatively

The Relationship Building Competency and Selling Consultatively

By Joe DiDonato | Chief of Staff | Baker Communications, Inc.

In a July 2020 blog post, I told you a story about a hardware store sales associate who was struggling with the transition from a transactional sales rep to a consultative seller.  It was a simple story about a customer who came in to buy a shovel.  The store’s floor associate had memorized the location of most of the tools and hardware in the store.  He could take you to what you needed very quickly, had more daily transactions than anyone in the store, but his commissions were very small in comparison to many of the other more senior associates.

When you read that story, you’ll see how he handled his approach and conversation with customers before and after the store owner pulled him aside to give him some coaching.  His sales skyrocketed after that intervention and his conversion to a consultative seller happened rapidly after that.

What happened?

Without really telling him, the store owner was helping him build relationships quickly because that was how he would be able to show that customer more ‘value.’  Learning to do it quickly is vital in a retail operation because you weren’t going to have much time with the customer.  As it turned out, the “secret sauce” was just adopting a very sincere questioning method that would allow him to really “help” the customer even more than simply showing him where the shovel was located.  And I would define ‘sincere’ as “not scripted.”  That’s an immediate turn-off if you’ve ever suffered through that kind of a challenge or interrogation.

In the story, the associate simply started to build the relationship by asking the customer what kind of project he was doing.  He found out that the customer was putting in a fence around a small garden area that he was building for his wife.  Once he knew what the shovel was for, the sales associate asked if the customer had ever seen a post-hole digging tool.  He hadn’t.  The associate explained that he wouldn’t need a long-handled shovel, nor would he have to make the holes as wide.  The post-hole digger could remove the dirt down to the depth he was looking to dig in a much smaller circumference hole, thereby cutting the digging time in half.

Next, the associate inquired about the type of fence that he and his wife had chosen.  The answer was a stockade fence so that animals couldn’t get in and eat the plants and food.  The customer really didn’t like that solution because they wanted to see the plants as they grew.  That led the associate to remember about rabbit fencing that could be attached to a cheaper split-rail fence, which would then allow a better view of the garden.  As that relationship began to grow in a matter of about 15 to 20 minutes, the customer saw that he could trust the sales rep because of both his expertise and his willingness to help him achieve an even better outcome than he wanted, with less money and less time.

That was the start of a great relationship.  The store associate became a trusted advisor, and the customer asked for him every time he came into the store from that point on.

The point of going over that story again was for a reason.  When most of us think about building a relationship with a client, we sometimes get it in our head that a good relationship takes a lot of time, a lot of socializing, and of course a lot of lunches that would have to be bought.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that is the preferred way of building a long and lasting relationship, but more often than not these days, we don’t have an opportunity to do it that way.  The COVID-19 pandemic shifted that behavior overnight.  The “wining and dining” method isn’t always the only path to build a great relationship.  If you doubt that, think about how it felt to show your kid how to ride a bike for the first time.  Or maybe how to play a sport. Those are the memories that last a lifetime child, and not all of the expensive toys that you bought.

So, that was a long way around describing how to become better at building a relationship.  Some of the other things you have to do to really build a solid relationship is first, to believe that relationship-building is a key factor in winning business.  Take a look at your most successful peers.  You’ll see this competency high on their list of skills.

Building strong relationships over time can contribute even more business, as it did with the customer who kept coming back to ask for the same sales associate in the hardware store.  In some disciplines, like real estate, stockbrokers, mortgage brokers, personal care professionals, and even in the world of software and business services, someone who is good at building relationships will find their customers following them as they move to new companies.

When we analyze the data on an individual’s ability to build a relationship, we look for several things:

  • Can they build a level of rapport quickly?
  • Do they really believe that relationship building is a key factor in winning business?
  • Do they believe that strong relationships generate more business?
  • Do they stay in touch with their customers over time?
  • Do they bring a “book of business contacts” with them when they move from company to company?

Obviously, we look at many more attributes to see if that competency is part of their DNA.  Are they an extrovert or an introvert is another bell-weather?  Do they believe making friends is their strong suit?  And more.

Getting a real handle on an individual’s mode of operation can take years of observation.  But just as a doctor relies on lab work, X-Rays, MRI’s, CT Scans and many of today’s diagnostic tools, we too believe in finding out about that revealing data using assessment tools. After that, we teach sales managers how to watch a person in action by using the disciplines we set in place with our sales management system: one-on-one forecast meetings; one-on-one pipeline meetings; doing a ride-along/call along; and one-on-one sales meetings.  These are all opportunities to ask questions about their relationship with their customers, as well as offer coaching and mentoring to help them get even better at it.  A good manager can grow their team’s performance when they know what competencies to look for.

If you would like to learn more about using data to drive your hiring, training, and coaching efforts, we invite you to watch a recent webinar: How To Implement Data-Driven Sales Enablement. View the webinar for free here: