Store owner serving customers

Times are tough right now, aren’t they? This coronavirus situation has given me a chance to reflect on many aspects of my life and reevaluate my priorities. How many of you are doing the same?

One of the things I’m thinking about these days as stores, restaurants, and office buildings open back up for business is the way that many businesses are run. I’m talking, specifically, about the way companies handle their customers. Many put a high priority on hitting sales goals and making the numbers each month. And that’s okay. That works for many businesses. But what would happen if these businesses shifted their priorities and put their attention on building long-term relationships with their customers instead?

I’m talking about relationship versus transactional selling here. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Transactional selling is used in many companies. This is where the customer walks in, states their needs, chooses the product or service that fits those needs, makes the purchase, and walks out again. It’s often a one-shot deal. The salesperson offers little to no interaction unless perhaps they answer a few questions during the selection process. 

Transactional selling works well in several business settings. Fast food restaurants are a good example. If you’re hungry and don’t have a lot of time, you may stop at the nearest McDonald’s to grab a bite. You place your order, get your food, eat it, and leave. You’d probably consider this a successful visit. You were hungry. McDonald’s satisfied that need. It doesn’t much matter whether the employee was rude or not, because the next time you’re hungry, McDonald’s may not be the closest option and you’ll go elsewhere. Or – fast food being what it is – if you do return to that same McDonald’s, the likelihood that the same person will wait on you is slim.

Relationship selling, on the other hand, is quite different. Relationship selling is all about the long term. It’s all about…well…building relationships rather than just making a sale. Relationship selling is the way to go if you want customers to come back time and again and refer others to you.

Think about going to the dentist or the barber. You probably go to them because they’ve made the effort to get to know a little about you. You have a relationship with them. Your barber knows exactly how you like your hair cut, but he also probably knows where you work, what your spouse’s name is, and how many kids you have. Your dentist sees you every six months and may know some of the same information about you. Same with your chiropractor. These people know that the long-term success of their business is dependent upon you returning to them every time you need what they’re selling. And your referrals of friends and neighbors also help. You’re more than just another transaction to them. In some cases, you border on being a friend.

Relationship selling is beneficial in virtually any industry. Auto repair shops, massage therapists, restaurants, roofing companies…even fast food places could benefit from this sales approach. It all depends on where your priorities are. Are you focused on running a successful business for the long term? Or are you just focused on putting sales numbers on the board?

Of course, relationship selling only works if it’s genuine. You have to have a real desire to get to know your customers and help solve their needs. People know a fake when they see one. Transaction selling satisfies an immediate need, but relationship selling makes people feel good. There’s a difference.

Take some time to reflect on how you’re running your business. Which approach do you tend to favor? Both can be successful when it comes to the bottom line, but if you want your clients to keep coming back, try asking how their kids are doing. Learn the name of their dog. Treat them like a friend. You may be surprised at the long-term results!