Early in my sales career, I prided myself on being the likable rep that everyone looked forward to meeting with. My clients were happy to see me. We would talk about family and the latest events in their lives. I’d share my run-of-the-mill series of updates. Then I’d pick up their order and leave.

I thought I had an amazing relationship with my customers and the job seemed fun – kind of like chatting with friends at a dinner party. The only problem was my competitors were getting an ever larger share of the business while my numbers went nowhere.

The products I had to sell were equal, if not better, than many competitor offerings, so why wasn’t I getting the big sale? Something was missing in my meetings, and it was keeping me from growing the business with the client.

“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.” – Unknown

When I began in field sales, I modeled my behavior on reps I had worked with when I was in my now-customer’s shoes. Not being satisfied with my results, I reflected on those experiences. I wanted to understand what made the great ones stand out, and why the rest were just okay. After considering both ends of the spectrum, I realized the reps who got the bulk of my business were the ones that I not only had a great connection with, but who went above and beyond to show they cared about my business and the issues I dealt with as a manager.

That’s when it hit me – I was taking the easy road. I hadn’t solved anyone’s problems – in fact, I didn’t even acknowledge they had problems. I was the nice rep that everyone was happy to see, and that was all. I had plenty of those in my former career, but the most successful reps I worked with were the ones that took time to understand our challenges. They would brainstorm ideas to help grow our business and delivered support that went beyond just taking an order. They reviewed the numbers with me and mapped out a plan to grow together as partners. They helped develop promotions and showed up to host events and trainings. Once they had firmly established their value, they took the next step: They asked for the sale.

Armed with this insight, I changed my focus. I shifted away from the nearly automated task of order-taking and adopted a solution-provider mindset. I began having deeper, more meaningful discussions with my clients. I asked questions about their business. We dove into revenue, challenges, and wins. As I understood more, I began to share ideas. We created joint campaigns, brought in a new level of education and training, and developed best-practices for working with their business.

“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” ~ Douglas Adams

I continue to have strong relationships with my clients, but the relationship goes deeper. Now, it’s not unusual for a business owner to ask my opinion on subjects like hiring, employee incentives, or marketing. We spend more time and focus on the big picture of helping them achieve success. As their businesses flourish, I’ve been blessed to see my success grow along with them. They see me as a partner, not just a vendor and there’s a higher level of trust in the relationship.

I noticed something else: When I was focused on being an order-taker, I was hesitant to ask for the client’s business. It didn’t feel ‘right’ to discuss money with someone I saw as a friend. Asking for a dollar commitment almost felt rude. It was as if I subconsciously couldn’t justify the ask. Maybe on some level I knew I hadn’t yet earned the client’s business.

Once I began to see my clients as partners and not just friends, I grew comfortable asking for their business. The shift from friend/order taker to business solution-provide made these conversations happen organically.

I genuinely care about my clients and their businesses, and now feel it’s completely appropriate to suggest ordering and stock levels. I’m not afraid to ask for a commitment because my clients know that the ask is in alignment with our mutual business goals.

One Caveat: Don’t take advantage of your client’s generosity. When you ask for the sale, come from a place of integrity. While loading a client up with tons of products and options they don’t need can provide a short-term boost to your numbers, it will cost you credibility in the long run. Give them what they need to succeed, and they will have faith in you. Do them wrong one time, and it will take years to regain their trust. Credibility and trust are the foundation of any relationship you build with your customers.

Reflect on your own sales interactions. If you regularly dash in and out of your customer’s office to pick up the monthly P.O., but offer nothing more, you could be relegating yourself to a career of sales mediocrity. Rethink your approach. It takes time and effort, and it isn’t always easy – but then again, nothing worth having is.

Bring value to your clients, become their partner in success, and help them grow. You will grow along with them.

~ This article was originally published on the Salesgirl Blog at kimlynne.com ~