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How a Relationship-Based Sales Approach Can Elevate the Customer Experience


Minyang Jiang

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Salespeople are not mystical creatures. We don’t have some amazing, unique skill-set that separates us from everybody else. People assume that you need the gift of gab to be in sales — but there’s so much more to communication than talking.

Being a successful salesperson depends on stopping the chatter and doing more of the listening. It means treating a customer like a human being, and finding ways to connect, bond, and develop trust. Once you build those things, you can start to understand how that person ticks.

What Do Customers Really Need?

The first thing a salesperson should determine is whether or not there’s a need for the product or service that’s being offered. A lot of salespeople push forward even if their customers don’t actually need what they’re selling, and to me, that’s what gives salespeople a bad name.

Once you’ve identified a need, the next step is involving the prospect of developing the solution. I’ll say, “Okay, the problem that I heard is this…now what do you think is the best way to solve that?”

Restating what you’ve heard is important; it demonstrates that you’re listening, which shows that you care. And if you can involve the customer in the decision-making process, you’ll build trust and eliminate objections.

Ideally, a salesperson should ask effective questions that allow the customer to do 80% of the talking. That way, you can open your ears and hear all of the clues that the person is giving you. What keeps your customers up at night?

That’s a sales question I love to ask: “Jim, a lot of the small business owners I talk to have so many things that keep them up at night. What are some of the things that are on your brain, day in and day out, as you try to run your business?” Then shut up and listen to what they have to say.

Tapping Into Emotion

Providing working capital to small businesses essentially means we’re selling money — which sounds like a very impersonal transaction. So how can we turn money into something personal? People make so many of their decisions based on emotions. Identifying the emotions that drive our customers is crucial to what our sales team does.

If one of the things keeping a restaurant owner up at night is the fact that his oven went down, or it’s on its last legs, we can identify what’s important to him. Money isn’t keeping him up at night. The oven is keeping him up at night — and he doesn’t have 45 days to wait for a bank to get him the money he needs.

I would ask that business owner, “When do you want to be able to purchase the oven?” I want to provide the restaurant owner with the oven, not necessarily all the ancillary things he needs in order to get the oven. That’s how you make an impersonal process into a personal one.

Building a Relationship

I’ve been in big banking my whole career, and banks all offer the same product. They’re like brands of soap. Maybe they have slightly different smells or textures, but they all serve the same purpose; they get you clean.

For the most part, all of Credibly’s competitors are offering the same service. Maybe some are offering a slightly lower price or a slightly longer term, but there aren’t many big differences.

However, when you look at customer surveys from people who use financial services, people always say that the most important thing to them is the relationship. It’s not cost, although cost will obviously be on their mind.

You want to be treated like a person. You want the lender to know your business and your goals. You want to feel special. Getting to know customers is the only way they’ll want to buy from you — because people hate being sold to.

The experience of working with us is the most important differentiator in our market, far more so than price. We want customers to work with us because of the relationship value — the personal touch. When you can build trust and respect in a banking environment, it’s the best differentiator of all.

Thinking Like a Business Owner

Every salesperson has their own style, but if success is coming at the expense of long-term relationship building, you’re doing nothing more than commoditizing yourself. You’re only selling for a single transaction.

If a salesperson uses an aggressive, high-pressure approach, he or she might close a sale, but when the deal is done, that customer is not going to want to do business with them again, because they didn’t like the feeling of working with that person.

They’ll never get referral business, or renewal business. Instead, the customer will run from that salesperson and work with someone in the future who might actually have their best interest in mind, and who’s a little more understanding about what they’re looking for.

That’s why I always tell my team, “If you want to be effective, don’t view yourself as a salesperson. View yourself as a small business owner.” Because that’s really what our salespeople are. They’re out there building their own brand. They work in our office and we provide them the tools, but at the end of the day, they’re all running their own business.

So if you’re a small business owner, how are you going to treat your potential customers? You’re not going to behave in a way that makes customers buy from you once but never again. You want them coming back over and over again, and telling their friends about you.

Many of the companies in our space are not as relationship-based, and it can reflect negatively on the entire industry. To succeed with customers, we have to bring full value to the market — not just with our money, but also with the way we treat people.


Gary Bailey is the Vice President of Direct Sales at Credibly. Gary is an innovative and results-oriented executive leader with a continuous record of success in building and leading organizations. Over the last 20 years he has mainly focused on inside sales and call center operations within the banking industry. Before joining Credibly, Gary was the SVP of the Commercial and Business Banking Call Center for Cleveland-based KeyCorp.

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