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Relationship selling: Understanding courtship and the use of social media

I blame the guarded attitude of many folks towards the sales process in business solidly on the shoulders of Willy Loman, the hapless salesman, and feature character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman ...
BMO Financial Group, social networking, Less than one-third of Canadian businesses use social media: BMO

I blame the guarded attitude of many folks towards the sales process in business solidly on the shoulders of Willy Loman, the hapless salesman, and feature character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. This 1949 classic was mandatory reading for most Canadians of my generation. And its lasting effects reached far beyond our impressionable years of English 11. While it addressed the loss of identity and one man’s inability to accept changes within society, it cemented in our minds forever that to work in sales meant you were an angry, obsessive and mediocre character, chasing but never achieving that monumental deal.

Thankfully the sales process has changed. And as many of us later realized, as we entered the world of business, to be in sales could offer up limitless financial reward, unprecedented freedom, and a feeling of accomplishment that you didn’t just make a sale, you had made a customer happy or improved their life.

At the heart of sales these days is the importance of relationships. Let’s call it relationship selling. Traditional selling tends to focus on transactions, but relationship selling is about earning customer trust, and the assumption that they will buy from you when the time is right. In many ways relationship selling is based on old-fashioned courtship, where a series of interactions build familiarity and trust. This process of dating leads both parties through a series of mini-commitments that hopefully lead to a longer-term commitment and loyalty.

Social media, blogging and e-newsletters can play a pivotal role in relationship selling. Sharing content on these platforms can educate potential buyers, and gradually earn their trust.

Here are some ways to achieve a series of mini-commitments in the process of building a more substantial relationship.

1. Posting helpful content to your potential customers online through your blog or e-newsletter. Think of your blog and e-newsletter as your anchors. They are platforms you own, and they help position you as an expert. When folks engage with you about your content or share through their social media channels, always engage back with gratitude. And here’s the key - ask a thoughtful question. Continuing the conversation makes you more personable and human. The trust factor continues to go up. Remember you’re building mini-commitments with relationship selling, and it takes time.

2. Sharing useful content from other sites. By demonstrating you are part of a community that wants to help other businesses, and not just serving up knowledge through your own content, you are demonstrating authenticity to those your serve. If you curate content strategically to your highly targeted audience, in addition to your own, you quickly become known as a thought leader in that area. It’s about positioning and gaining trust.

3. Using social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube to share content. These are your outposts. They’re broadcast media you don’t own. Be strategic and know which platforms serve your audience best and focus your efforts there. Pick a couple and dump the rest. Remember why people share: It’s not about you; it’s about them. What will make them look smart, insightful, funny or connected to an inner circle? If you make it about them, and not about you, the chances of it being shared with their contacts goes up exponentially. And when your content is shared, be sure to engage those who helped. Ask thoughtful questions, and continue the conversation. You might then begin to tag those folks in future conversations that you know will be of interest to them. That action will continue to provoke online conversations, mini-commitments and trust.

Ultimately, you want online and social to convert to something more personable on the phone or in person. If you’ve been courting for a while, this will be a natural transition. Frankly nothing will ever beat genuine engagement in person and that should be your end goal.

Few folks enjoy the anxiety of a blind date. The same holds true for sales. We buy from those we know, like and trust. That’s relationship selling and it’s based on good old-fashioned courtship. Once a small sale has been earned, it is then all about further nurturing the relationship, finding out how you can help on an even deeper level and continuing the process to solidify loyalty.

Mary Charleson, MBA is a marketing educator, speaker and writer. For more marketing insights, check out her blog: follow her on Twitter, or sign up for her weekly e-newsletter at