Real Leaders

The 6 Secrets of Successful Salespeople With Serious Staying Power

Asian business woman

Deals are good, but relationships are better. By choosing to serve the client over chasing sales, you can play the long game — and succeed.

If you’re in sales, you know that closing deals is critical to your success. But deals, as fun and potentially life-altering as they can be, are fleeting. Consumable. Perishable. Non-recyclable.

All to say, deals don’t make a long-lasting, successful sales career. So what does? Relationships.

Client relationships, when genuinely developed and nurtured over time, are enduring. They are as self-sustaining as they are satisfying and rewarding. And they create successful sales careers with serious staying power. 

Moreover, sans relationships, selling is simply a series of transactions — just one short-lived deal after another. You may meet your quota and make a good living, but feel like a frantic Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”

Deal or No Deal

In my eight years in sales, I’ve spent too much time myopically focusing on my deal funnel.

Sure, I have consistently exceeded my quotas and earned plenty of recognition and rewards. But I’ve also paid a price. My chosen approach — deal first, relationship second — has been tiresome, a nerve-racking, never-ending cycle of chasing sales.

Recently, however, I have recognized this Sisyphean story and changed my ways. I’m now focusing my energy on the relationship cycle. In fact, as I write this article, one of my clients and I are approaching our 17th project in less than 11 months. And though these current projects may be smaller than some large “one and done” deals I’ve closed in the past, they’re giving me greater peace of mind: Instead of hunting for big game, I am planting and watering the seeds for a self-sustaining, flowering field of crops.

The Six Stages of Sales Relationships

In his “Little Teal Book of Trust,” renowned author and sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer talks about the six stages of sales relationships. Such a progression is important, as it’s a road map to cultivating meaningful, long-term relationships with clients. This not only improves your work but also increases your worth to any employer — present or future. After all, when your clients begin to value you over your company itself, you become a hot commodity.

Here’s my interpretation of Gitomer’s six stages, with a fast tip on how to progress from one stage to another.

1. Transactional Vendor

You may be closing deals, but you’re all push and no pull. To progress to the second stage, change your conversations from products to solutions, concentrating on outcomes that are timely and consequential to the client.

2. Likeable Vendor-Provider

You get the job done, always with great service and care. But in the sales world, that’s a dime a dozen. To progress to the third stage, go deeper, including advancing your active listening skills and demonstrating a real desire to do even more.

3. Valuable Provider

You are more than earning your keep, but this is no time to rest on your laurels. To progress to the fourth stage, you need to differentiate yourself, boosting both your value and credibility. One strategy is to become a subject matter expert, or SME, or to have access to appropriate SMEs within your company.

4. Impactful Expert

You are really upping your game, providing a crucial, differentiated expertise. To progress to the fifth stage, you must perform at this level every time — like clockwork. Also, take a pass on work that isn’t a best fit, ask illuminating questions, and focus on foundational areas to your client’s business.

5. Credible and Respected Expert

You are a star. To ascend to the rarified air of the sixth and final stage, however, you have to be a lifesaver to the client — helping them save or successfully transcend their career — and propel them beyond their own expectations. Additionally, it’s vital that you enjoy each other’s company and perhaps are even friends outside of the day-to-day. And you must be highly versatile, unfailingly selfless, and totally transparent.

6. Trusted Advisor

Congratulations! You, sir or madam, are a consummate sales professional. You’re continuing to make a game-changing difference in your client’s career, providing ongoing counsel, expertise, insights, and opinions. In fact, they probably think of you as an extension of themselves. You should be very proud to be here — at the pinnacle of your profession — as only a select few ever reach this perch in their entire career. It’s here that you can appreciate the quiet at the top while you sip piña coladas at President’s Club.

Also, it’s important to note that these final three stages aren’t fully in your control. They require you and your client to value business relationships to a similar extent. What’s more, forcing the issue may have negative consequences, such as a client potentially taking advantage of your time and resources. But worry not. Even making it to the third stage can be extremely positive and productive.

So, yes, deals are good, but relationships are better. By choosing to serve the client over chasing sales, you can — and will — create a successful sales career with serious staying power.

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