Are your customer relationships an asset or an obstacle?

By Dave Kahle

Positive customer relationships are the basis of much B2B business, right?  Positive business relationships ensure us an audience with the customer, make every step of the selling process go easier, and even provide us with a competitive edge.  It’s not unusual for the business to come your way just because they like you the best.

But in today’s hyper-competitive economy, relying on your relationships is like trying to paddle through the storm in a leaky row boat – your effort will keep you afloat for a short time, but eventually you’ll find that you just don’t have enough resources to challenge the storm.  Relying on your relationships is a prescription for eventual failure.

Here’s why.  The world is full of B2B sales people who have built a solid business relationship with a segment of their customer base.  They then rely on those relationships to support them.

In doing that, they have missed the opportunity to develop their sales skills.  “I have great relationships with my customers,” they think.  “I don’t need to learn to sell well.”  And, for years, that was somewhat true.

Now, however, they are paying the price of that position.  Many of their customers are seeing their businesses decline.  The relationships that so many sales people counted on to support them are no longer as profitable as they once were.  And, since they never spent the time and effort to improve themselves, they find themselves woefully unequipped to gain new customers, to create demand for their new products, or to persuasively gain bigger chunks of their customer’s business.  Their boat is sinking, and they never gained the skills necessary to keep it afloat.  The vast majority of B2B sales people have never been trained in the principles, practices and processes that are the best way to do their jobs.

Not only are they paying the price of never developing their sales competencies, they now find themselves restricted by those very relationships that were, just a few years ago, their meal tickets.

Here’s how this works.  A sales person develops a set of relationships, and then settles into a routine of seeing those people on a regular basis.  Those customers come to rely on him, and their purchasing patterns revolve around those regular visits.  As long as they order in a sufficient quantity, life is good.

But now, those same customers aren’t filling the coffers like they used to.  And the sales people find themselves boxed in.  They have created expectations in their customers, and those expectations now prevent them from investing time in developing more lucrative relationships.  How can they call on someone else, when doing so would mean that they can’t see their buddies as often?  That would jeopardize their current relationships.  And, besides, they just aren’t comfortable cold calling on prospects because they haven’t done that in years.

So, their reliance on relationships has caused them to neglect the development of their own competency, and built the walls around their comfort zones so high as to be almost insurmountable.  Faced with the demands of the new economy, they find themselves woefully under equipped as sales people, and fearful of striking out of their comfort zones.  Unsure what to do as they see their boat steadily sinking, they default to bailing even faster, and hope the storm goes away.

What to do – if you are a sales person in this position

Recognize that your relationships are just as likely to be an obstacle as they are an asset.  The solution is for you to change.  Get some education in how to excel at B2B sales.  (Check my website for lots of resources, or The Sales Resource Center® for a selection of online classes)  Start working, right now, to improve your sales competencies.  There are better ways to make an appointment, manage a first call, create a customer, expand the business, sell a new product, etc.

Gain the skills to keep afloat

Take on the mind-set that you will need to forever improve in these basic sales competencies, and start the never-ending process of improving your sales proficiency right now.  Look at it as a never ending process, not an event, and start the process as soon as possible.

Then, do a cold-blooded analysis of the profitability and potential of your current relationships, and identify those who are dragging down your productivity.  You’ll have to say “No” to some low-potential accounts before you have the time to invest more strategically in higher potential accounts.

Create two lists:  One list of high-potential accounts in which you want to invest more selling time, and the other list of low-potential relationships that are currently slowing down your progress.  (See 11 Secrets of Time Management for Sales People for details on how to do this.)

Now, methodically work at those two lists, gradually finding a way to excuse yourself from those low-volume accounts that drain your energy and time, and invest more heavily in those higher-potential accounts.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick.  But, it will help you keep your boat afloat while you gain the potential to take more control of your destiny.

What to do – if you are sales manager, and recognize the plight of some of your sales people

The formula is very similar for you.  However, instead of just expecting your sales people to change their behavior on their own, you need to be actively involved in the process.

Identify those sales people who are at risk of allowing their relationships to lead to their ruin.  Have a heart-to-heart talk with them, and lay out a plan for their metamorphosis.  Don’t be afraid to describe specific bench marks and deadlines.

Then, help your sales people get an education in the best practices of their profession.  Remember, it is not an event, it is the beginning of a never-ending process (check our Kahle Way® B2B Selling System)

At the same time, work with each sales person to help him rate the potential of each account, regardless of the existing relationship, and to prioritize his time to focus more time on the high potential accounts, and less on those that drain his time and energy.

Realize that you are embarking on a journey to help that sales person change his/her behavior, and that change doesn’t happen overnight.  You should, however, see steady progress.

If you don’t see progress, then you may want to consider the long-term future of this sales person, and how it impacts the company’s ability to survive and prosper.

Copyright MMXV  By Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

Commence Helps Businesses Get a Handle on Sales

challenge-taking-control-of-sails |

One of the biggest challenges for small to mid-size businesses is recruiting, hiring, and maintaining high producing sales representatives. Once you have them on board you need to ensure that you provide them with the tools they need to guarantee their success. These tools include providing immediate access to customer and prospect data from within and outside the office; the ability to follow-up on new leads; management of the sales cycle from introduction to closure; and a way to nurture promising business opportunities not yet ready to close.

Commence Corporation, a leading provider of CRM software, has been assisting businesses in realizing a measurable impact in sales by using a combination of their top rated CRM software coupled with sales mentoring. The software provides the tools they need to develop a strategy for efficiently managing the sales process, and addressing key obstacles on the way to winning the sale. The mentoring ensures that the sales team understands how to use the software to schedule appointments, activities and to-do’s; record all interactions with customers and prospects; access complete account history; track each opportunity through the pipeline; and generate accurate monthly and quarterly sales forecast.

Even experienced sales professionals can lose focus when working on multiple opportunities simultaneously – but not if they have Commence as their partner. To learn more visit

Best Practices # 18: Using information about competitors

Waterstreet Coffee Bar Meeting | Startup Stock Photos

Best Practices # 18:  Has a systematic approach to collecting, processing, storing and using information about competitors.

By Dave Kahle

Here again is one of those best practices that mark the behavior of the superstars, the top five percent of the sales force. Most sales people never even consider this.

Every sales person has to compete for the business. In some cases, there can be dozens of competitors, and in other cases, only one. Regardless, the five percenter sales people understand that the more knowledge they have of the competitors, the more equipped they are to present their own offerings in a positive light, and, therefore, the more sales they will earn.

But knowledge of the competitor doesn’t come by osmosis, creeping into our heads during our sleeping hours without any effort on our parts. Like everything else in the sales professional’s job, it takes disciplined, methodical effort.

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To master this Best Practice, you must first decide that coming to know and understand your competitors, and thus being able to predict their actions and counter their assertions, is a good thing for you to do. If you don’t care, then read no further. But if you think it would give you an advantage, then you must first commit to collecting that information.

Once you decide to do it, the question is “What is the best way?”

I’ve found it helpful to create a folder for each competitor, both electronic and hardcopy. You will, in your day-to-day efforts, come across bits and pieces of information about your competitors. One customer will share a price with you; at another, you’ll see a sell sheet with a competitor’s business card stapled to it, etc. Every time you come across a small bit of information about the competitor, take note of it. Then save those notes in your competitor folders. Periodically review those collected notes. After a period of time, you’ll have enough notes to allow you to begin to gain an understanding of what the competitor is saying and doing.

And that will provide you a little bit of an edge, which will translate into sales that you may not have attained otherwise.

The key, as always, is methodical, disciplined effort.  Not every sales person has the discipline, nor the heart for this kind of subtlety.

That’s why this is a Best Practice of the best sales people.

If you’d like to dig deeper into this idea, consider Pod-14, “Differentiating Yourself from the Competition,” and Pod-41, “How to Deal with the Competition Like a Pro,” – two on-line lessons in The Sales Resource Center.


Sales Question and Answer #34 – Business Manners

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Q.   I’m new to sales and to business in general.  I don’t want to make a “manners” or “etiquette” mistake that could cause problems.  Are there any special rules for business etiquette that I should know about?

Business etiquette for sales professional

A.  That’s a question that I have rarely heard.  But, good question, nonetheless.  As new generations of sales people come into the profession, the culture changes somewhat, and some of the old rules pass on.  Every now and then, it’s a good idea to refresh some of the basic rules of business etiquette.

The fundamental rule is to think about the customer, and put yourself in his shoes.  How would you want to be treated?  Here are some specific applications:

1.  If you don’t have an appointment and you want to intrude on a customer or colleague’s time, ask permission first.  Say, “Is this a good time to talk?” or “May I have a moment of your time?”

2.  If you walk into a customer’s office during inclement weather, hang your coat up and put your boots in the designated place instead of wearing them in to the office.

3.  Be careful about immediately using someone’s first name.  North America is the only culture where this is acceptable.  If your customer has another ethnicity in his/her background, or is older or more established than you, or is more educated, he may view your use of his first name as an insult.

4.  If you don’t know how to pronounce a person’s name, ask them to pronounce it for you.  This shows respect for the other person.

5. When you enter another person’s work space, stand until he/she sits down.  Never be the first person to sit down.

6.  Ask permission to put your materials on the customer’s desk or table.  Don’t just assume that you may do so.

7.  If you are going to go over the allotted time, ask the customer’s permission to continue.  Estimate how much more time you expect to need, and ask for permission.

8.  Be courteous to everyone, from the person washing the windows on the office entryway to the CEO.

9.  If you are going to take the customers’ time, be sure that you have something that you believe they will consider of value to discuss with them.  Be mindful and respectful of the customer’s time.


11.  If you must take a cell phone call, and are within close proximity to anyone else, move to a more secluded area to have your conversation.  Irresponsible cell phone users are some of the most irritating and rude people around.  Don’t be one.

12.  If you must have a cell phone conversation within close proximity of other people, speak softly.  You don’t have to shout.  See the above.

13.  Never discuss the details of a sales call with a colleague when you are within the customer’s building.  You never know who the other people in the waiting room or on the elevator really are who can hear your conversation.

That’s a good list to get started.  Good luck.

Would you like to comment on this article?  Visit our blog.

By the way, you’ll find this kind of insight into dozens of sales issues in our Sales Resource Center. It houses 435 training programs to help everyone live more successfully and sell better.  All delivered over the internet, 24/7, for one low monthly fee.

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.  Sign up for his free weekly Ezine, His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.”  Check out his latest book, The Heart of a Christian Sales Person.”

Thinking about sales – Just Listen!

Actionable Listening
This is a Sales Best Practices article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator. Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle.

By Dave Kahle

I recently came across some research that confirmed what many of us in the profession of educating sales people have known for years: That purchasers would be “much more likely” to buy from a sales person if that sales person would just “listen” to the customer. (1) The survey found that some of the worst offenders were experienced sales people.

Listening is one of the four fundamental competencies of a professional sales person, and yet, the profession is, in general, so poor at it that most customers remark on our inability to do it well.

Wow! If there is anyone I wouldn’t want thinking I was a poor listener, my customers would be towards the top of the list.

Why is listening such a powerful sales competency?

In my book Question Your Way to Sales Success, I describe a number of reasons. Here are a few.

First, it is our primary way of digging beneath the surface of a customer’s needs and uncovering deeper and more powerful needs and motivations. That makes it a primary tool – of which the skillful use separates the master sales people from the mediocre. For example, it doesn’t take any skill whatsoever to pick up an RFQ, a set of blueprints, or to write down a list of what the customer says he needs. You don’t have to be a master listener to do that. But to dig deeper and uncover deeper issues, that takes the ability to listen.

Here’s an example. In a routine sales call with a regular customer, the customer says, “We’re thinking of going to X product. What’s your price?”

Lots of sales people would look up the price and provide it. There. Job done.

The master would hear the words “Thinking of going…” and dig a little deeper.

“What makes you interested in that?” he says.

The customer replies: “Well, we’re looking for a solution for a problem with our widget production line, and one of the key operators mentioned it as a possibility.”

“I see. What sort of problem are you having in that production line?”

“An abnormally high reject rate.”

“I may have some other solutions. Can I talk to your production manager?”

I don’t have to take this scenario much further to make the point. A visit with the production supervisor could very well result in a deeper understanding of the problem and the development of an alternative solution with a whole lot more gross margin to it. The master sales person, exercising excellent listening skills, hears opportunities where many sales people don’t. Listening is the primary tool for digging deeper and uncovering deeper and more significant issues in our customers.

But that’s not all. When we listen, we send a powerful message that we care about the other person. Conversely, when we don’t listen, we send the message that our agenda is far more important than the customer’s trivial ideas and issues. That makes effective listening one of the all time great relationship-building devices.

Listening requires us to take in information, ideas and opinions that are outside our comforts zones. It is, therefore, one of the primary tools we use to grow intellectually, to broaden our views, and ultimately, to become wiser and more knowledgeable. If we never listen to someone with a different perspective, we never consider the possibility that we might be wrong.

From a sales person’s perspective, the more we listen, the more different positions, motivations, opinions and nuances we are able to understand and accommodate. The wiser and more capable we become. Since we are able to understand an ever-growing panoply of positions and opinions, we are able to feel a rapport with more and more customers, and move closer to a consensus position with them.

Listening positions us as a consultant, not a peddler, in the eyes of the customer. Ultimately, listening provides us our competitive edge.

So, how do we do it better?

Here are two specific techniques to help you improve your listening effectiveness.

Listen constructively.

My wife is a crisis counselor. She talks about “listening empathetically.” That means she listens in order to understand what a person is feeling. That is very appropriate for that type of work. However, we are sales people. It is more important that we listen “constructively.” Think of “constructively – construction – building.” We need to listen for things upon which to build. Listen for opportunities, problems, opinions, etc. on which we can build our solutions.

One way to do this is to plant a couple of questions into our mind before every sales call. These are questions for which we want to gain the answer. You could, for example, say to yourself before a sales call: “What is the one thing that is this customer’s most pressing challenge today?” And, you could ask yourself, “On what basis will this customer make the decision to buy or not?”

By planting those questions into your mind, you sharpen your sensitivity to what the customer says, enabling you to listen more constructively to the customer’s conversation.

Discipline yourself to build the habit of responding to your customer’s comments.

Here’s how we think the sales interview should go.

  1. We ask a question.
  2. The customer answers.
  3. We ask another question.

When you exercise the habit of responding, you change the format. Now, it goes like this:

  1. We ask a question.
  2. The customer answers.
  3. We respond to the answer.
  4. We now ask another question.

Notice that we have intervened in the process with something we call a “response.” A response is a verbal or non-verbal signal that we send to the customer that we are listening, and accepting what the customer says. It flatters the customer, makes him/her feel good about answering, and encourages him/her to answer in more depth and detail.

Here are two powerful responses:

1. Select one or two words out of the customer’s conversation, and repeat them back to the customer, nodding your head.

Here’s an example. You ask the question, “Which of these challenges are most pressing for you?”

The customer responds by talking for a few moments about his challenges. When he pauses, you say, “back orders” and nod your head. “Back orders” was one of the issues he talked about. You just repeated it, and nodded your head.

That’s a powerful response because it shows the customer that you have listened to the point that you have captured and repeated one of his main thoughts. That feels good to the customer and conditions him to answer the next question with even more depth and detail. Just as importantly, since you were focused on finding a key word or two to repeat, you had to listen to the customer’s conversation! This technique forced you to listen more effectively, and made the customer feel good in the process.

2. Summarize and rephrase what the customer has said, and repeat it back to him.

This is similar to the one or two word techniques discussed above, more intense. When the customer has finished answering your question, you say something like this: “Let me see if I understand you correctly. In other words, what you are saying is…………………………” Paraphrase and give him back your understanding of what he just said.

Like the prior technique, this is a powerful tool because it forces you to listen, it engages the customer, and it seeks agreement. Using this a couple of times in the sales interview will make the customer feel good about you, ensure that you understand him, and create an atmosphere of agreement.

Ultimately, your ability to listen more effectively evolves out of your discipline to apply some of these techniques regularly and methodically. If you are going to listen more effectively, you must first make the commitment to expend the effort to do so.

By the way, you’ll find this kind of insight into dozens of sales issues in our Sales Resource Center. It houses 435 training programs to help every one live more successfully and sell better. All delivered over the internet, 24/7, for one low monthly fee.


(1) Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, August, 2005

Image “Actionable Listening” by Beth Kanter on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales educators. He’s written nine books, presented in 47 states and eight countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. A great source of specific tools to help you close is Dave’s book, Question Your Way to Sales Success.

Copyright MMXII by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved.