If you want to forge a long-term relationship with a client, what is the most important skill you can have? If you say something like “deep expertise in my field,” I disagree.

The way to build the trust that leads to lasting relationships is to truly understand the your clients’ needs. That means your most important sales skills have to do with asking and listening, not showing off how much you know. If you are shopping for sales training programsor expert sales coaching, run away—far away—from any that proceed as if your mouth is more important than your ears.

The key to winning and keeping clients for the long haul is a simple but profound secret. It’s not about how well you talk. It’s about how well you listen.

Sales training courses based on the Action Selling system teach that before a customer will buy your product, your service, or your company, the customer first must decide to buy you. This truth shows up dramatically in the professional-services sector. When customers choose among financial advisors, consultants, accountants, or attorneys, what are they really deciding to buy? It’s rarely a product or a company, as such. They’re usually buying a person—an advisor they feel they can trust.

What’s the opposite of a commodity?

Most products and services today are commodities, easily swapped for newer or cheaper versions. A trusted advisor is the polar opposite. Once a client regards you as a trusted advisor—a partner—the client stops shopping for alternatives. Are there cheaper alternatives on the market? Probably, but who cares? The relationship is far too valuable to give up in order to save a few bucks.

The question becomes, how do you earn a client’s trust? Certainly the client must believe you have some baseline level of expertise in your field. But given that, the way to differentiate yourself is to show that you understand the client’s particular needs, that you will always take the trouble to find out what those needs are, and that you see it as your job to find solutions for the client’s needs—not just to peddle your company’s wares.

You can’t do any of that by talking or with so-called sales skills that rely on “the gift of gab.” You can only do it by asking great questions, and listening carefully to the answers, and then asking more questions until you and the client both agree that you thoroughly understand the client’s needs. If a sales training program or a sales coaching initiative isn’t hammering that idea home to your reps, then you are wasting your money.

Once you do understand this fundamental principle, you can demonstrate your expertise in the only way that matters—by recommending a solution to a problem the client really cares about. If you can do that, you’re a trusted advisor. And clients who find you will not give you up without a fight.

For information about how to improve sales skills and make sales training pay huge dividends, contact Action Selling at (800) 232-3485

Duane Sparks

About Duane Sparks

Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling.  He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations.  Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).

Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).