Growth is easy in the early days of your sales career. You have unlimited potential, and simply learning the technology, methods, and sales strategies that work will help you move up quickly. But this only works to a point.
Eventually, you hit a ceiling. Simply getting better at your job isn’t enough. You plateau. And your bright future suddenly looks a little dimmer.
So what do you do? Instead of chasing buzzwords or zigzagging all over the place, the secret to sales career success is simple: building long-term relationships.
Sales reps today are more empowered than ever with technology that allows us to connect with prospects, build relationships, and close sales. But for some reason, the more connected and productive we are, the less real, long-term relationships we build.
We get stuck focusing on quantity over quality. On jumping from prospect to prospect. And forget to ask: How can I maximize the relationships I’m building every day?
In many ways your network is your career. Sales don’t happen in a vacuum. And neither does your career progression. Everything is a human interaction. A relationship. And the more you build them early on, the bigger returns you’ll see in the long term.
I’ve seen this work firsthand.
Twelve years ago when I first arrived in Silicon Valley, I knew no one and had nothing to my name. But I met a bunch of other people in the exact same position—big dreams, but little to no experience or expertise—and I invested in my relationship with them.
More than a decade later, these people are VCs, professors at major universities, New York Times best-selling authors, and founders of billion-dollar companies. They’re also my network—and they’ve been a tremendous resource when I needed help growing my company and my career.
The sooner you start building these relationships, the larger return you’re going to get on your investment.
The issue is that at the start of your sales career, it’s hard, if not impossible to see the results of long-term relationship building. You feel the need to prove yourself constantly, which usually means closing more deals, calling more prospects, and chasing quantity. Not quality.
But no matter where you are in your sales career, there’s only one thing you’ll get from short-term thinking. Short-term results. To really grow, you need to get out of that mindset and start building quality, long-term relationships.
The first thing you need to do is change the way you think about your prospects and customers.
Short-term thinking sees these people as just qualified leads or a $50-a-month account. Whereas long-term thinking sees them as investments not only for the company you’re working for now, but for your career growth.
This means thinking about each relationship on a longer time scale. What would, or could, this relationship look like in 10, 20, or 30 years?
Every person you talk to has the potential to be your next employer, investor, employee, or even a valued friend. If you invest in your relationship with that person, you’ll see continued benefits. You can learn from them. You can work with or for this person. You can do business with this person again and again.
A customer is more than a closed deal. They’re an opportunity for a meaningful and valuable relationship. And while not every person you talk to will become a long-term relationship, thinking this way will change the way you talk to them, act around them, and look for opportunities to help them.
Start small. Pick one person a week who you see potential in either their talent and career trajectory or shares the same values as you, and invest in building a relationship with them.
Sure, you might have just closed them on one deal. But if they’re on a great career trajectory, their buying power is only going to increase with time. By building a relationship now, developing trust and delivering them value, you’re essentially investing in your own future as well as theirs. When it comes time for them to buy again, you’re the first person they’ll come to.
Long-term relationships aren’t just built by emails or calls alone (although they can be). It might sound old school, but if you have the ability to, nothing beats meeting in person. Once in a while, reach out to a few of your top customers and invite them out for dinner or drinks. We at Close do this on a company-level with our customer meetups.
Make it an event about connecting like-minded people. Not closing more deals. By investing in them when you don’t need something, they’ll be more likely to help you when you do.
There’s no easier way to maintain a relationship than to send a quick message asking someone how things are going. Reach out every few months and just say:
“Hey, I know you’re doing marketing at X company. Is there anything I can help with?”
With our inside sales CRM, you can manually set up follow-up reminders, or write an email and schedule it to be sent out on a future date, or even set up workflows that automatically reach out to the prospects of your choice every couple of months to keep building the relationship.
Ask how you can help them and continue to be a part of their lives. Sales is all about timing, and by checking in more often, you have a better chance of connecting with the right person at the right time.
Show these connections that you’re thinking about them and care about them. This can be as simple as a personalized note for their birthday or after a promotion. Don’t just send a LinkedIn message or being the 100th person to say “Happy Birthday” on Facebook, send a video message, or a small gift card, or something else to acknowledge the relationship.
You can also send something you think would help them, like a business book you read and enjoyed or a relevant blog post. It might sound outdated, but this kind of outreach is timeless.
As you’re building a relationship, don’t forget to take as well as give. It might seem selfish to talk about yourself, but no true relationship is solely one-sided.
Instead, tell them how things are going for you. Keep them in your life by giving them regular updates and telling them how their advice has helped you. Think of them as a mentor. To make them truly care about you, they need to be a part of your journey.
Five to ten years from now might sound like forever. But trust me, it will pass by quickly. And the best thing you can do to ensure your sales career keeps growing over that time is to start building real, long-term relationships today.
Relationship building might sound like an overly simple thing to do (and less sexy than all the “growth hacks” out there). But I guarantee that if you look at the people you interact with every day with a long-term approach, you might not win immediately, but you’ll make major strides every year.
In 3–4 years of building relationships, instead of just converting prospects to customers for this month or quarter, you’re going to be ahead of the pack. And 5+ years on, your network will be so strong that you’ll be unstoppable.
Your customers are high-value stocks. And the earlier you invest in them, the bigger return you’re going to get.
Want to learn even more ways to scale your sales career? Sign up for my free, 30-day Startup Sales Success course.
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