Small Town Relationship Selling:
What It Is And How To Do It

by Tom Egelhoff

One of the differences I have with the so called "marketing experts" is that they think their marketing theories will work anywhere. Although there are a few principles that transcend big cities and small towns for the most part they are entirely different. Todays topic is a perfect example. Selling and forming relationships in small towns is nothing like large cities. It all comes down to the numbers.

In large cites the sheer numbers of potential customers often makes the idea of developing relationships seem unnecessary for many business owners. In small towns however it is critical to develop and keep long term customers. Why? Because the smaller the town the more important it is to develop and keep good customers. The competitive environment is much tougher in a small town. And, the smaller the town the tougher it gets.

The largest chapter in my book, "How To Market, Advertise And Promote Your Business Or Service In A Small Town", deals with the sales process in great detail.

The Rejection Process

What makes sales so tough? One word... rejection. Although I have many years in the sales field when I first went out to show and sell my book to people here in Bozeman, Montana, I was very nervous. I had spent 30 years selling all types of products made by major companies but now I was selling my own personal product. Rejection somehow seemed personal not professional. You know you have a good product or service but when someone can't see it like you can it hurts. You've poured a portion of your life into this work only to have it dismissed by others.

In small towns there are two reasons for rejection that you won't find in larger cities. First, people in the town probably know you. They have a perceived idea of who and what you are. If you deviate from their perception then it's harder for the customer to take you seriously. It's like driving down a one-way street going the wrong way. People are going to let you know you are going a different way than they perceive you should.

Second, because they know you they may also have a problem connecting you with your product or service. Particularly if it's something new or different. How could you possibly know anything about this product or service? Unfair? You bet it is but that's one of the negatives of small towns. It's hard to change minds once that perception is present.

What we want to talk about today is a way to make this process more comfortable for you and improve your selling skills. Relationship selling is a great way to send everyone home happy. You make the sale and the customer has a great product or service for their money.

The Selling Process

Before we examine relationship selling let's first look at the sales process. Here are the points to take into consideration before ever contacting that first customer.

Product Knowledge - This may seem like a no-brainer. Of course you must know your product. But what you really need to know before you sell a product or service is how does your product or service benefit your customer. You must define the customer before you can define the important benefits.

Get to know your customer - Yes, you want to talk about the product but talk to the customer about other things while you're doing it. Learn something about them each time you speak to them.
Establish a fit between product and customer - One of the reasons to get to know people is to discover if your product fits the customers needs. If they don't have a need then you still have a friend but not necessarily a customer.

Closing the sale - This is the point where the customer makes the decision to purchase your product or service. This is where the relationship really begins. They are confident they can trust you with their hard earned money.

Follow-Up - This is the most critical part of the relationship sales process. Letting the customer know that you are concerned that everything you spoke about is true. The product or service is performing as advertised.
The relationship process

In order to really get to know the customer above and beyond the sales process you have to know what and how to ask questions. In order to fill our prospects needs we must have some information to work with. To discover information there are two kinds of questions we can ask.

Closed-Ended Questions - Closed ended questions can only be answered yes or no. There is no other information provided. These types of questions don't provide much information.

Open-Ended Questions - Open-ended questions are a much better way to get the information you need to make the sale. These questions can not be answered with a simple yes or no. You need to go back to the old time newspaper reporters who used, "who, what, when, where, why and how" questions to get the story. "Who will be using the product?" Yes or no? Doesn't make sense does it? You must develop some open-ended questions that will inspire your customers to give you the information you need to help them.

The Trust Process

We are much more likely to do business with those we know and trust. How do you build trust with customers? One way just mentioned above is the follow-up contact. This assures the customer that the sale doesn't just end with the delivery of the product.

Another way that I really like is the testimonial. Third parties that have used your product or service and were so satisfied that they took the time to write a brief note to let the business know.

But the most powerful way to build trust with customers is keeping your word. If you say you are going to do something for a particular customer then make sure that you follow through.

The Last Word On Relationship Selling

In small towns there are a limited amount of customers. In some cases you may need 50% of the town's population to buy from you in order to stay in business. In a large city, one quarter of one percent might do it. The point is every relationship you can establish will mean more and more sales on the long run.

Good customers become good customers because they like you, they trust you and they like your product or service. They don't have to like you to do business with you but they almost always have to trust you and like the product.

There are a certain number of customers you need each day, week, month or year to keep the doors open. The more solid relationships you can establish the stronger your business will be.

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