How to Build Relationships in Sales to Increase Customer Loyalty

UPDATED: August 10, 2023
PUBLISHED: August 28, 2008
man building loyalty in sales relationship by adding value

Many of us have likely heard that it’s not what you know but rather who you know that determines your success. But when it comes to building sales relationships, what really counts is “who is glad they know you?”

Ask yourself, when you come through the door or place a call to your customers and prospects, do you look like good news to them? Do they look forward to their contact with you? The more you can bring value to everyone you meet, the more they will open their doors and wallets to you.

For 13 years I had been a client of Dave Scott’s, yet for about three years all of my contact with him had been by mail and email, plus a couple of short phone calls. He was my insurance agent and had earned my loyalty through good service and good products. But one day I saw an advertisement from a competitor of Scott’s that looked really appealing. At my wife’s urging, I called Scott before contacting the other company and he offered to drop by and review our portfolio with us.

The moment he walked through our front door, I remembered how much I liked him. His smile filled the room and he made both of us feel good just by being there. As we reviewed our coverage he suggested we eliminate some of our older insurance coverage and add new, more up-to-date coverage in other areas. The net effect of this review was that we purchased even more insurance! And we felt good about it, too. We were confident that we had chosen the right amount and type of coverage, and so we happily placed even more business with Scott.

The importance of building relationships in sales

People do business with others they know and trust. You may know a thousand people and they may even recognize you, too. But you truly develop a relationship with them when some value is exchanged. When you offer value to another person, then they have a reason to care about staying connected with you. If a waitress at a restaurant you frequent always treats you as if you were her best customer, then you may develop a preference for dealing with her. As this grows over time, you may even insist on dealing with her, even when other servers are available.

The ability to maintain relationships and employ them effectively to achieve your desired outcomes is called relationship intelligence. Your sales career is also a series of relationships. Some of them may contribute directly to your desired outcomes, while others may not. 

Here is the formula for relationship intelligence: understanding plus performance over desired outcome.

Understanding is what you know, performance is what you do and desired outcome is what you want.

Maintaining relationships by creating value

The purpose of each relationship is determined by the desired outcomes. In selling, this is about providing a service or product at a profit. Without giving value to the customer, there is no payoff that encourages them to stay connected with you, and without the profit there is no justification in your staying connected with them. You can increase your success by increasing either your understanding or your performance in three areas: self, others and situations. The better you understand yourself, the more fully you understand others—and the greater your ability to adapt to changing situations and needs, the greater your success.

This is not just about people skills; it’s about intentionally and consciously creating many high-value relationships with positive potential. This is the intelligent orchestration of your life’s relationships to get you closer to your desired outcomes.

Relationship intelligence is taking an intelligent approach to the selection, cultivation and maintenance of your connections with others. Treat relationships as assets. Look at your business contacts, social circle, familial relationships and other key connections with an eye toward your desired outcomes (goals). If a relationship contributes to your advancement or enhances your life, you preserve it. If it doesn’t, then change it or eliminate it. It is being conscious and intentional about your connections with others.

In its simplest form for selling, this means identifying the prospects and customers with the highest likelihood of generating profitable sales for you and spending most of your time and resources cultivating those relationships. It is about the intelligent and practical use of your energies. Call on people who can buy—common sense, but not necessarily common practice.

Cultivating high-value relationships in sales

The more clearly you can define what you want, the more valuable your relationships can become. Your achievements may include the involvement of others, and the more people you have helping you, the more likely you are to succeed. But they cannot help until they know what you want.

A high-value relationship is one in which both participants receive substantial benefits. This could be profits, mutual support, friendship, business referrals, revenue, sales, intellectual stimulation, spiritual inspiration or any number of other benefits.

The one defining feature of a high-value relationship is that there is always an increasing level of trust. As Warren Buffett said, “Trust is like the air we breathe—when it’s present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody notices.”

There are three essential qualities in every high-value relationship:

  1. Both parties are committed to the success of the relationship.
  2. There must be enough trust for the truth to flow freely.
  3. You need clear agreements. Both of you need to understand what you can expect from the other person.

Building customer loyalty

In sales, you should be the first to commit to the relationship, as a form of “paying it forward” and betting on a good outcome. One way to assure that a relationship has high value is to give high value to it. If you want to be seen as important to the other person, then they need to see the benefits that come from staying connected with you. You can almost guarantee increased customer loyalty in your business when you practice this way. Even if they never buy from you again, they may at least speak well of you and be impressed by your dedication to them as a customer.

When you help your customer or client achieve their desired outcomes, then they will value your relationship more. This causes them to commit to keeping you in their world. They become glad to know you.

Treat every person with dignity and respect, regardless of how much or little power they possess. Who knows? The clerk who serves you today may be the son of the business executive who gives you the sale of a lifetime tomorrow. I’ve now moved 150 miles away from Scott’s office, yet I’m still his client. We could have transferred to a local agent, but we are glad we know Scott, and we feel safer and better cared for with him. How can you create this same feeling with your customers? You can do it by increasing your relationship intelligence.

This article was updated August 2023. Photo by DuxX/Shutterstock