Outperforming in sales isn’t just about using leads and your CRM to hit target through one-off transactions. It’s about forming long-term relationships.

The relationship you have with family and friends – you’re not a number but an individual; you’re unique and they treat you that way – is what customers now expect from organisations. This isn’t because they’re fussy, or they expect the impossible. It’s because some businesses are already providing that customer experience, proving it can be done.

Those businesses are personalising every interaction, and providing information and service tailored to the individual rather than their overall demographic.

When I’m identifying high-performing salespeople, I don’t look only at their achievement against targets. I look at the relationships they are building, their understanding of their customers and prospects. I know that what looks like a ‘bad’ month or quarter on paper could well be a period spent gaining deep understanding of customers and prospects, forming the relationships that will make a brilliant next month.

Customers are looking for personal relationships with companies. They’re serious about it, too – we’ve found that two-thirds are likely to switch brands if they feel they’re being treated like a number.

What does this tell us about how to be a brilliant salesperson – a true trailblazer? The ones I’ve seen treat customers the way we treat good friends. And there are a few traits of a solid friendship that translate into key characteristics of a sales trailblazer.

Anticipate needs


I see customers and companies who want salespeople to stop selling to them and start advising them. They expect me and my team to be advisers, partners, not suppliers.

To satisfy these customers, we need to empower our teams to be consultative and thoughtful, and arm them with long-term engagement plans.

Before interacting with the customer, a salesperson should have gathered insights and formed a plan. The day of broad conversations has passed – every customer wants an intimate conversation about their own needs, vision and objective.

We do this with the intelligent use of data. Technology allows salespeople to do that quickly and accurately, meaning the first experience is the basis of a long-term relationship rather than a short-term, tactical engagement – a single transaction.

Maintain relationships


As the sales role has shifted from selling to advising, the salesperson must take the customer on a journey, with a frequency of communication led by the unique needs of the customer.

I advise my team to be on top of the latest thinking and trends in their specific industry – to know what their customers’ challenges are and what solutions they are already considering. I want to see them make that knowledge relevant to the customer and share it, whether there is an immediate return in doing so or not, because this builds and maintains a relationship.

Be consistent to build trust


The best salespeople I see regularly seek feedback from their own customers, so I ask my team to do this. At the beginning of the relationship, we explain that we prioritise constant improvement. We frame it as a continuous journey that the customer has a role in, and let them know we will seek feedback on how we’re performing and what we can do better.

This shows the customer that we want to be as useful to them as possible – that we care about the service they receive, and that we trust their opinion. And when they see that we make changes based on their feedback, it helps to build that trust – the fundamental currency in any relationship.

Alongside training, education, coaching and mentoring, this system also means we actually do improve and we really are sure we’re adding value. And we need to make sure that customers are happy with the service they receive, because we know that 66% of customers are likely to leave for another business if they receive inconsistent service.

And on that consistency, the best salespeople are the ones who are genuine – they’re just themselves, so they present the same persona every time they communicate with the customer.

Collaborate well


Collaboration is also key to consistency. While everyone is just being genuinely  themselves, the consistent point is that everyone is on the same page about helping the customer overcome challenges – of finding solutions to them.

Think of yourself as a customer. What consistency of engagement would you like to have with a business? Should it feel any different if you’re speaking with somebody in finance, marketing or sales? Selling has to be a team sport to truly give the customer the benefit of the full experience of the organisation’s best and brightest.

I know what I would want, and customers have told me what they want. But the answer is also clear from our research – 63% of high-performing marketing teams are excellent at working with other business units, compared to only 4% of underperformers.

To enable collaboration and offer a consistent experience, we encourage a single customer view across the entire organisation. In fact, those high-performing marketing teams are 13.7 times more likely than underperformers to strongly agree that they’ve integrated business systems to create a single customer view.

To really connect with our customers, we need to present a cohesive identity – everybody must fully align before engaging with the customer.

Be there when needed


Again, think of a company you deal with. Are you likely to be happy waiting for responses? In my experience and my team’s, and from the research, it’s pretty clear that real-time responses are essential.

High-performing sales teams spend their time thoughtfully, ensuring they’re connecting at a relevant time and place for the customer. This means your best reps should be on the road, getting to know those customers. Keeping reps productive on the road requires apps that provide vital information anywhere with a fast, feed-first design.

There is a gain for everybody when such tools are used. Salespeople can take immediate action, the company benefits through productivity gain and the customer is served (by their trusted adviser) whenever and wherever necessary.

The sales trailblazers I see don’t just exhibit great competency in their roles – hitting their targets and even exceeding them. They’re also out there developing long-term relationships and making long-term plans. They constantly self-improve. They use technology to create alignment across businesses, and they build communities that offer their customers access to and engagement with the right people. In other words, they create the ultimate customer experience.

We surveyed more than 3100 sales trailblazers from around the world for the latest State of Sales report. Download it now to find out what they’re thinking.

Eileen O’Mara is Senior Vice President, Sales at Salesforce. She tweets at @eileenomaraRead more from Eileen.