01/22/2013 10:12 am ET Updated Mar 21, 2013

The One Thing All Successful Sales People Do Well

"Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust." Zig Ziglar

In a recent Harvard Business Review post, Steve W. Martin named the "Top 10 Sales Trends for 2013" after studying some of the world's best sales organizations. Reading through it, you'll notice words like behavior, human nature, linguistics, interaction, psychology and persuasion as the cornerstones of the top trends. As we study sales behavior to better understand lessons learned, we often see 'relationships' and 'politics' used to describe the reasons for sales wins and losses. Those are hardly the reasons management wants to see to drive sale growth and behavior - but they should.

A sales-driven organization is always looking for ways to grow and improve. But in a world that's become overwhelmed with sales analytics, market studies, revenue forecast spreadsheets and dashboards, most businesses make the mistake of ignoring the reason behind successful selling: establishing relationships based on mutual trust and benefit.

We often review sales force analysis where a salesperson identifies "relationship" as the reason for winning a deal. Conversely, the reasons noted for a sales loss is very rarely about relationships. Often the cited reason for losing to competition is a missing feature, higher price or politics. But in many cases we can translate this as: we didn't establish a sound relationship with the prospect. In other words, we failed to build trust.

Most mature sales organizations care about and study sales win/loss performance for continuous improvement. Management is looking for concrete reasons for sales success, and failure, in order to capitalize on the strength and/or eliminate the weakness, respectively. In the case of selling success, they're looking for a specific feature or product line that is better than the competition, or an advertising campaign that caught the attention of the now new customer--the 'silver bullet'. These are desired reasons for winning as they represent something tangible that can be easily replicated and scaled to quickly grow revenue. When the reason for winning is simply categorized as 'relationship', there's nothing concrete to build on - no technology, product, feature or advertising campaign that can be leveraged.

In a highly competitive marketplace, competition will always have certain features or products that are missing from your portfolio. No matter how many engineers you have on staff, or how quickly you churn out new products, you cannot build everything. When the reason for losing is simply categorized as 'political', there were no missing features or products, yet you still lost. Why? You failed to build a trusting relationship.

The solution to growing your sales is building better trusting relationships. This is not the proverbial 'silver bullet' for short term gain, but rather the 'golden bullet' for creating a customer for life. If you can increase your revenue with a strategy to simply build trusting relationships, why not do it? Maybe the real question is, how do you do it?

Trust and interest begins the moment two parties have something in common. This can be as simple as rooting for the same football team, frequenting the same restaurant, or having the same hobbies. In that first sales meeting, do nothing else but search for something you and your prospect have in common! Once a commonality is identified, the 'trust seed' has been planted. Now comes the harder part: cultivating more trust through inspiration, not manipulation.

How do you inspire a prospect to do business with you when you might not have all the features, the best price or a recognizable brand? It's not what you do, it's your ability to establish trust through common beliefs. To inspire trust, we have to communicate why we do, what we do. How do you translate this into building relationships and winning new customers? You can't just ask for trust, you have to earn it. To earn trust, you have to inspire your customers and prospects to build upon the ethos of mutual benefit.

Asking someone how they inspire is like asking them how they breathe; you either do it or you don't. However, there are 7 important factors you can follow to I.N.S.P.I.R.E and build a trusting relationship:

  • Intelligence - Albert Einstein once said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with the problems longer." Invest the time in sharing your insight and experiences.
  • Nurture - Give your time without expecting or asking for anything in return.
  • Sincerity - Say what you believe, and believe what you say. This is the basis for authenticity, on which trust and loyal relationships are founded.
  • Personalize - Be humble, share funny or heartwarming stories about yourself.
  • Interest - Find a common interest or belief. Passion will automatically exude from you - again, authenticity.
  • Relevant - If content is king, then context is God. Context will help your acquaintance rationalize their feeling of trusting you.
  • Engage - When speaking with someone, always look the person in the eye. This sounds minor but will reinforce your sincerity, interest and 100% commitment to building trust.

"Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision." ― Peter F. Drucker

The Harvard Business Review post noted above concluded by stating: "regardless of the sales technique, your most competitive weapon is your mouth." So if you're a sales rep, sharpen your relationship building skills as your primary sales weapon and develop the courage to inspire. Sales managers, encourage and embrace your sales force to build better relationships and inspire them to do so. A trusting relationship is the 'golden bullet' in sales.

This post was co-authored by Dan Dulac, vice president of solutions engineering at Enterasys Networks.