I teach agricultural sales at the local university using the textbook, “Selling Today, Partnering to Create Value.” The book’s authors fully understand the changing demands of a sales career with the advent of the internet. The book identifies four groups with whom successful salespeople need to develop good relationships during sales transactions, which applies to any dealership — and any business.

The first group, obviously, is the customer. Customers have more power than they’ve ever had, due to the vast amount of information available to them online. In fact, a growing number of business professionals believe that the customer has supplanted the product as the driving force in sales today. Therefore, building strong relationships with customers has never been more important.

Creating Partnerships

Here’s a quote from the book that is interesting, “A growing number of salespeople recognize that the quality of the partnerships they create is as important as the quality of the products they sell.” In other words, you don’t have to be selling the best product. If you build a lasting customer relationship, you will be successful. Finally, “A good relationship causes customers to feel that if a problem arises, they will receive a fair and just solution.”

Looking past the customer, the second group that salespeople need to focus on is secondary decision makers. This group trips up a lot of people. If a husband and wife are shopping for a compact tractor, the salesperson needs to target the relationship building to both parties. In my experience, if both spouses are shopping for a rural lifestyle-type product, they’re both involved in the selection process.

I’ve observed male salespeople directing all of the communication about the product to the male customer, while ignoring the female. When she asks a question, the salesman realizes he’s just snubbed a decision maker and has to refocus to answer. I also recommend honoring any children present during the interaction. They’re probably not part of the decision making, especially if they are younger, but a good salesperson will reach out to them and acknowledge their presence. I used to keep some Halloween candy around in a bowl and offered it to the kids (after getting approval from parents). Their parents always seemed to appreciate them being recognized and treated with dignity, which may give you a leg up on a competitor.

Recognizing Support Staff

The third group is your company support staff. If you’re a salesperson and you’re constantly fighting with the service department about deliveries, this could be a group you’re missing. Some salespeople feel that the service department should be overwhelmed with joy when a new tractor is sold and drop everything and deliver it. After all, that’s what pays the bills. In reality, service personnel often view their customers as the folks who need repairs and the sales department as a distraction that prevents them from serving their target audience.

If salespeople promise a tractor prep-and-delivery without first consulting the service department, they’re setting themselves up for failure. A better plan would be to go to them and ask when a delivery can be made before telling the customer. The absolute best plan would be to introduce the customer to the shop manager, brag on the great abilities of the service department and try to start a relationship between the two, so future “product issue” calls go directly to them rather than the salesperson.

Once the service department has agreed on a reasonable delivery time, their feet can be held to the fire to get it there. Without that step of the process, scheduling deliveries may cause a lot of friction between departments, while the customer will be caught in the middle.

Communicating with Management

The last group is management personnel. It’s always good to keep management in the loop about sales and customers. “Lone wolf” salespeople seem to lose management commitment over time. When starting a new job or working for a new manager, salespeople need to devote effort to ascertaining the amount of information required by management. You don’t want to spend hours telling minute details of every sale to your boss, but you don’t want them wondering if you’re actually doing your job. The goal is a free flow of needed communication and immediate notification if a problem arises. Bosses don’t appreciate big customer surprises.

Salespeople committed to building good relationships with customers, decision makers, support staff and management, will sell greater volumes and have less stress doing so.