Your Life

To Build Lasting Client Relationships, Put Service Before the Sale

Young adult businesswomen

Sales positions are not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re talking about, working as a salesperson is hard. That’s why it’s so important to focus on being an advisor and building client relationships rather than focusing on a transaction or checkbook.

Advisors bring value to their clients — and those who do it best have the biggest impact and earn the most rewards.

I learned this lesson from one of my mentors, Don Brown, who has trained scores of high-performing salespeople over the years. I’ve carried his insights with me through my own career. And they’re worth sharing.

Service before the sale is how you bring value to the relationship between advisor and client. Some believe just the opposite, that you can just tell a client what you’ll do as their advisor. They may ask, “Why in the world would you want to provide service without getting paid?”

The answer is simple. The best way to grow relationships and reap a bountiful harvest is to plant seeds, work hard, and watch them blossom over time.

Service before the sale feeds success, but it’s your clients and prospects who decide whether what you’re doing is valuable. Check in with them. Are they using resources you gave them? What did these resources mean to them? You are working to earn the opportunity to earn their business. Positive client reactions to what you’ve done help bolster your spirit and give motivation to provide even more service.

As this cycle repeats, your vision of success becomes real. But, as you envision that success, keep the dollar signs out of your eyes. The harder you push a prospect, the more they resist. You need to get the incumbent agent out of the frame to get yourself hired, but it can be a difficult and abstract process. So, let’s tie it to real life!

Nurturing a business relationship is a lot like courting and deciding on a future spouse. Consider this: I’m standing in line at the McDonald’s counter where I see Arman (my real-life husband) in the other line. He smiles at me. Do I immediately propose because he gave me a “buying” signal? Of course not!

Compare this to when a prospect says, “Sure, you can give me a quote at renewal.” This is just about as deep as the McDonald’s counter smile. New agents often come back with statements like, “We really hit it off, we’re starting to connect.” It is important you don’t confuse polite responses with buying signals.

Let’s keep the analogy going. Now, I’m at the front of the McDonald’s counter and Arman is at the other register. He asked the employee for BBQ sauce and chicken McNuggets, and I notice they forget to give him his sauce. So, I ask for some as I’m completing my own transaction, and then take it to where Arman is sitting. I simply say, “They forgot to give you your BBQ sauce, I thought I would bring it to you.”

Do I drop to one knee and ask him to marry me now? The answer is still no.

In the world of insurance, I share useful information on important topics with prospective clients. And still, I don’t ask them to fire their agent and hire me.

Back at McDonald’s, Arman asks me if I would like to join him since we’re both alone. This still isn’t a buying signal, and we’re not on a path to marriage. We both decide to get a McFlurry, and we agree Butterfinger flavor is great. We also agree we’re glad to have met each other.

So, when do you close for the sale?

You close when you know what the answer will be. (This, of course, is how most people propose marriage as well.) Relationship building must come first because it helps you know when you should ask for their business. Not only will they return your calls, but they’ll reach out on their own for your assistance. They’ll tell you how great the work you’ve done for them has been.

How long will it take? There’s no single right answer.

Some people are engaged for months, get married, and then divorce. Each situation is unique. You know when they will say yes by the way they treat you and how they use the tools you give them. If they aren’t using the tools, you don’t have a relationship. Giving stuff doesn’t equal service.

How many types of service do you provide before a potential client commits? It depends on the size of their need, sophistication, and their relationship with the incumbent advisor. Just like in life, a solid relationship based on mutual trust and appreciation is hard to miss.

When you know, you know.