Relationships are the foundations on which the most successful eCommerce businesses are built. It plays a vital role in increasing customer value, customer retention, and overall customer satisfaction. This is where relationship selling comes in.
Many online stores still base their business model on transactional selling methods. They focus on increasing the number of sales and shortening the sales cycle as much as possible.
But with 58% of customers cutting ties with a company forever because of poor customer experience, relationship management can be the perfect remedy that allows building lasting relationships and keeping customers coming back for more.
But what is relationship selling, anyway? And how can you develop a successful strategy?
Let’s answer these and other important questions below.
What is Relationship Selling?
Relationship selling is a sales method based on building lasting connections with your buyers instead of chasing quick sales that prioritize profits over excellent customer experience.
It’s a responsible business model that values human interaction, takes time to build trust, and continually reimagines the sales process to better cater to the audience’s needs to ensure that they walk away happy every time.
By forming longer-lasting connections with your buyers and consistently meeting their expectations, you can improve customer retention by building a loyal following that buys from you more frequently and for a more extended time period.
That means that you can expect a boost to your customer lifetime value since people will trust your brand and will want to do business with you not just because of your products but because of the excellent customer experience you provide.
And that will also have a ripple effect on how your brand is perceived. As your reputation becomes more known, you will attract customers that want the security and trust that working with your eCommerce store offers, expanding the benefits of relationship selling way beyond the initial sales that it can help you make.
Transactional Selling vs. Relationship Selling
In the eCommerce world, transactional selling is still the dominant method for making sales. The reason for that is that it’s easier, can generate more sales in the short-term, and requires less attention to your customers, which means fewer expenses on things like customer support.
Basically, transactional selling is used to make the most one-off sales in the shortest amount of time. Many eCommerce stores use discounts, clickbaity advertising, and exaggerated promises to entice the customer to make an impulse purchase, not worrying about what happens next.
And unfortunately, this approach can work in the short term. In fact, as long as an online store can bring in new leads, they can keep up this one-off sales cycle going for months or (on rarer occasions) even years. But eventually, as customers report their poor post-sale experiences, the bad reputation will catch up to a business, and its customers will start to avoid it.
90% of customers read online reviews before buying, which means that the days businesses could trick customers into buying are over. And that’s yet another reason why only stores using the relationship selling method can expect long-term success.
Relationship Selling Types
Even though relationship selling revolves around building a lasting connection with each customer, there are actually multiple ways you can use it. That’s because once you have a good relationship with your buyers, you can leverage it to make even more sales and attract new people who will already trust your store.
Let’s explore a few of the most effective relationship selling approaches below.
When people are happy with your services, they are more likely to recommend you to their friends and peers. And since 84% of shoppers trust recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues, that’s the perfect opportunity for growing your business.
After you make the sale and build a relationship with a customer, you can expect them to be willing to share their success with their friends, especially if you ask them.
The important thing is to time your request well to ensure that the experience is still fresh in their minds. If you want to incentivize it, you could offer a small discount or a special deal for those that take the time to bring you new business.
Affiliate marketing is similar to referrals because you are compensating people for bringing you new business. But the main difference is that while referrals are more personal and exclusive to customers, an affiliate program is more structured and can be used by anyone, not just people who have recently bought from you.
However, as you expand your referral program and build a reputation that values the relationships with its audience, you could use that reputation to set up an affiliate program.
Affiliates want to work with businesses that are trustworthy and follow through on their promises, so it will be much easier for your program to gain traction once you have a solid standing as a reputable online seller.
Influencer marketing is one of the hottest trends in the eCommerce world, and that’s not surprising considering how many powerful benefits it offers for businesses.
But while there’s almost no downside to using influencer marketing if you’re an eCommerce business, finding the right influencers isn’t always easy. Most prominent social media figures in your niche got to where they are by being picky about who they work with, so if you don’t have an excellent reputation, it’s much more challenging to find suitable partnerships.
But if you base your business on the relationship selling philosophy, you can be in a unique position to use influencer marketing to its full advantage.
Since your business has an excellent reputation, influencers will be more than happy to partner up with you, as they’ll know you will take care of the people they send your way, and working with you will actually benefit their credibility.
Finally, as you build a strong reputation in your market, you will notice that other businesses want to partner up with you to leverage the trust and authority you have created. And that can open up many partnership marketing opportunities that can propel your growth and help you reach audiences you didn’t have access to before.
You could work with other businesses that share the same values as you, running joint promotions on various sales channels, partnering on product lines, or even creating collaborative content that helps drive home the value of working with you.
How to Develop a Relationship Selling Strategy
Relationship selling not only has many direct advantages but can also help you expand your marketing efforts and grow your business both directly and indirectly. But to actually take advantage of what it offers, you need to implement relationship selling on multiple levels within your company.
Let’s delve deeper into some of the most important steps below.
Create a Likable Brand
Every company owner believes their brand is charming and appealing. But only a fraction actually align their brand to the needs and expectations of their audience, and that creates a disconnect that can harm sales.
Having a brand is even more critical for relationship selling because the first step of any successful relationship is the trust and appeal that draws a customer to a company in the first place.
You need to have a brand that creates a connection and aligns with the values important to your target audience, as that will be the basis for the relationship you want to establish and nurture.
If the brand does not appeal to the people you are trying to attract, you’ll end up working against yourself in the sales process instead of simply building on the already positive initial reaction, which is much easier and more effective.
Identify the Core Needs of Your Ideal Buyers
A big part of relationship selling (and relationship marketing) is being able to anticipate your buyers’ needs. Usually, the people you’re selling to won’t spell out exactly what they want, and often they won’t even know exactly what they want themselves.
Smart eCommerce brands emphasize learning more about their audience and the most successful interactions in the past.
So, you should start with your current customers and try to get as much information as possible about what they liked and didn’t like about working with you. You can use surveys, polls, or even in-person interviews to get more context about their experience, drawing valuable customer insights that you can use when making business decisions.
Sometimes, finding the core needs will require analysing the competition and looking for areas that are neglected. By tapping into a core need of your audience that’s unmet in the market, you can distinguish your brand from others and grow your reputation as a brand that cares about building relationships that last.
Focus on Stellar Customer Support
Relationship selling is simply impossible without outstanding customer support. In fact, they go hand in hand and build off one another to create either positive or negative outcomes for your business.
Since relationship selling is about putting the relationships with your customers above sales and anything else, you must have a reliable method for addressing any concerns, questions, or needs your customers might have.
That means that you can’t expect your customers to wait for days to receive a response or have to struggle to even find a way to reach out.
Luckily, if you don’t have the resources to provide high-quality omnichannel support, there are services you can use that can take over the entire process for you.
By hiring a customer support outsourcing service, you can pass over the responsibility of handling customer messages to seasoned professionals who will be available 24/7 and ensure consistent support on multiple channels.
Sure, a service is an additional expense, but keeping your customers happy and building a solid reputation is an investment any strategic eCommerce business can get behind.
Seek Out Personal Interactions with Your Audience
Forming emotional connections with your audience is one of the best ways to nurture lasting relationships. But that doesn’t happen on its own.
If you want to move beyond transactional selling, you will need to actively seek out opportunities for personal interaction with your customers. That may not always be easy, but the rewards you get for showing the human side of your business are always worth it.
But how can you create personal interactions in eCommerce? After all, the very nature of buying in online stores is largely transactional and usually devoid of personal interactions.
Luckily, if you build a strong online presence, you still have plenty of opportunities to connect with your customers both before and after the sale. For instance, you can encourage people to share their experiences on your social media feeds, showcasing their success stories and responding to questions with a distinct brand voice.
You could even set up tracking for brand mentions outside of your social media pages so that you can participate in positive experiences and mitigate negative ones.
Relationship selling is a strategy that’s made up of many parts. But if they had to be summed up, it would come down to two words – being honest.
Relationships in business (and anywhere else) are built on trust, and trust is only possible when your customers can trust you to tell them the truth without withholding any crucial details or trying to manipulate them.
Sure, it may be tempting to stretch the truth when you’re trying to drive sales, but while it can be effective in the short term, it will have an impact on your reputation eventually.
But by being honest, you won’t have to use shady strategies and can feel proud of the business you are running. And when something does go wrong, you can come clean about what happened, own your mistake, and learn from the experience while becoming even more appreciated by your buyers.
Building a successful eCommerce business depends on your ability to make sales consistently. But while there are ways to drum up sales quickly, you should always evaluate how they will impact the relationships you want to nurture with your audience.
That’s because even though relationship selling does take a lot of effort, it will allow you to separate yourself from the competition and build a sustainable business that doesn’t have to rely on pushy promotions to make consistent sales.