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Today’s knowledge-hungry consumers often know as much about a product as the people trying to sell it. So what’s your sales edge? Learning to build stronger relationships with your clients.

I was reading some great information recently on social selling and how social media has changed the sales process. The power now is in the hands of socially savvy buyers who come to the table armed with as much—or even more—information than the sales professional. These days, the consumer’s sales journey can be 90 percent complete before they even think about interacting with a salesperson.

So what’s a traditionally trained sales professional to do?

Research has shown that sales professionals who use social media to network and build relationships outsell their peers who don’t. And let’s face it: Sales is all about building relationships.

Integrity-Based Relationship Building

But how exactly do they do it? Kevin Thomas Tully, a sales professional and a principal of Toronto-based social selling training company Sales for Life, credits the three Cs of social selling—content, conversation and conversion—as pillars of the sales process, and he’s right. But he also notes that the linchpin to the whole engine is the ability to build integrity-based relationships. And that is truly the key.

Building integrity-based relationships means making a human connection without trying to sell and nurturing your connections from a human fellowship perspective, not a sales or brand-side perspective. From initial connection through conversation and even conversion, when you forge relationships the right way, better sales results come naturally.

When it comes to relationship building, Callie Schweitzer, editorial director of audience strategy for Time magazine and Time Inc. and one of Business Insider’s “30 Most Important Women in Tech Under 30” in 2013, stresses the power of being genuine in your networking efforts, being well read on industry’s trends (for sharing purposes) and following up. Schweitzer uses social as a never-ending feedback loop to constantly learn and interact with people. Again, her methods are integrity-based, and while she’s not directly involved in sales, the same skills apply.

In short, anyone can benefit from honing their human skills to build good relationships. The trick is to:

  • Listen.
  • Be genuine.
  • Get excited about finding solutions for people.
  • Be proactive in both reaching out and following up.

Trust and Your Reputation

And these tips aren’t just for salespeople—they’re for business leaders, too. After all, your business revolves around connecting with people and forging strong, productive, one-on-one relationships.

It all comes down to trust. The trust that others put in you goes beyond any form of measurement. Trust is closely tied to integrity, and brings with it boundless opportunities and possibilities, and it’s contagious! Every person who trusts you will spread the word of that trust to at least a few others. And remember: A brand is what a business does, but a reputation is what people remember and share.

So instead of thinking in terms of quotas, sales figures and bottom line when you’re talking to people, think in terms of how you can weave integrity into how you connect and converse with them. Think about how you can add value to their lives at every touch point. Trust me, the conversion will take care of itself.

Read more articles on sales.

Photo: Getty Images

Originally posted DECEMBER 8th, 2014 American Express OPEN Forum blog

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