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Client Relationships Are the Holy Grail of Sales, but Are Yours as Strong as You Think?

Client Relationships Are the Holy Grail of Sales, but Are Yours as Strong as You Think?

In sales, client relationships are everything—the holy grail of success. Yet most salespeople test the strength of their relationships by merely their length or collegiality—an ill-fated idea since, as crucial indicators go, both can be perilously misleading, lulling sales pros into a false sense of security.

So if you want to know the real strength of your client relationships, battle-test them against this seven-step gauntlet.

Do They Get Back to You the First Time?

When you reach out to clients, do they get back to you on your first attempt—or do you have to try again? If you have at least a 75% success rate on your first attempts, consider it a positive sign.

But don’t rest easy yet. There’s more.

How many minutes, hours, or days do they take to respond? This one’s tricky because it’s generally based on a U-shaped curve. If they get back to you within 24 hours, that’s great. But if they take up to a week, that’s not so great. But if they take more time than that—say, 10 days or more—that’s also great, as it likely means they’re flagging your communications with an important reminder to get back to you.

Additionally, when they do get back to you, do they mirror your messages—or not? If their responses are notably terse or much shorter than your initial messages, then they’re probably not interested. And if they’re notably rambling or much longer, they could be just going through the motions and wasting your time.

And finally, how often do they re-initiate conversations with you on their own, without any nudges or reminders from you? If it’s at least 25% of the time, you’re good.

Do They Honor Their Commitments?

Sure, clients may respond to you with pleasantries and talk of moving forward. But that’s irrelevant if they bail when it comes time for the rubber to meet the road. So if they’re not “showing up” and taking action, don’t mistake what may just be politeness for a genuine commitment.

Do They Communicate with You on Multiple Platforms?

Generally, the more modes of communication that clients welcome, the better. But the question is, what’s their go-to or preferred mode with you? If it’s email, that’s fine. Yet, especially in an age of hyper-connectivity and instant gratification, texting and telephone (typically in that order) are greater indicators of a strong, high-priority relationship.

Do They Open up to You Personally?

What clients are willing to share with you matters even more than their preferred mode of communication. And when they branch off from the business at hand into more personal topics, it’s a positive sign, particularly if they start opening up to you emotionally. Moreover, if they’re not timid about speaking plainly and perhaps “colorfully” with you, they’re likely showing they’re ready for a more familiar relationship. Be sure, however, to let them take the lead here, deciding when and exactly how much they want to share.

Do They Act As a Testimonial or Reference for You?

There are many ways that clients can solidify your work together. For starters, they can agree to serve as a reference for you or provide a customer testimonial. But, to be sure, proactively referring new or prospective clients to you is an even more powerful sign. It shows that they genuinely believe in you and are a true advocate. It’s second only to No. 7 below—the pinnacle of client relationships.

Do They “Share” You with Their Higher-ups?

Solitary confinement isn’t only for convicted criminals. In sales, you need to avoid “isolation” by having clients become comfortable in introducing you to their higher-ups. This says that they consider you a valued and respected partner and, moreover, that you’re progressing through the six stages of successful sales relationships—advancing beyond being a “transactional vendor” to maybe someday becoming a “trusted adviser.”

Do They Actively Endorse You, Unprompted?

The coups de grâce in this seven-step gauntlet is a client’s continuing, unprompted endorsements. This could be providing votes of confidence with LinkedIn posts or actively promoting you at industry and category events, such as seminars, conferences, and business roundtables. The point being, when clients go out of their way to do your bidding, particularly when you’re not around, it says that your relationship is exceptionally strong—and that you, my friend, have reached the top.

So now that you better understand the crucial indicators of strong client relationships, you can regularly battle-test your new and existing relationships. And maybe someday, you’ll reach the “holiest” grail of success—and become a client’s trusted adviser.

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by Alex Dripchak // Alex Dripchak is a sales and career-readiness adviser based in New York City. A relationship manager at Mercer, a global HR consulting leader, he previously worked at Oracle, where he was the first person to be a sales manager and outside producer by the age of 25. He is the co-founder of Commence, a college-to-career academy, and the author of “100 Skills of the Successful Sales Professional” (Business Expert Press, June 2021).

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.