Is Relationship Selling Really Dying?
March 12, 2015
I’ve done a lot of selling in my life; a good bit of intentional selling and some indirect “value selling.” At some level, everyone has sold something in their lives — they just might not realize it. Like it or not, we are ALL in sales. But I can’t help but wonder if relationship selling is really dying?
The word “sales” tends to carry a negative connotation when, if done well, it should not. I don’t know anyone who looks forward to dealing with the awkward door-to-door salesman. Or the used car dealer who won’t take “no” for an answer. But, who says you have to be that type of salesperson?
How many times have you had to sell yourself in an interview? Or to an existing client? How about a first date? Still don’t think you’re a salesperson?
“The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but LEGENDARY.” – Sam Walton
Consider this scenario:
A software developer works with a large client developing their mobile application. This client is on a tight timeline. And not only do they want it done quickly, but they want “all the things” in the app. The software developer, now acting as a strategist/salesperson, reasons with the client and offers useful alternatives to get them to their launch date without compromising the integrity of the app.
The client accepts these recommendations and, low and behold, the stakeholders are happy. Not only are they pleased that the software developer met her deadline, but they sign a long-term deal with her company for continued development and (ding ding ding), the software developer actually performed an integral sales role. Sometimes clients can’t see the forest through the trees. And, in this situation, a software developer, who isn’t technically a salesperson, is actually able to do some real selling, even if she didn’t even realize it. And the company just cemented itself as a partner who offered real value and a potential long-term relationship. From a business development perspective, it doesn’t get much better than that. Expanding an existing relationship is even better, in many cases, than a new piece of business.
In Keith Ferrazzi’s fantastic book, “Never Eat Alone,” he describes a concept that I have been practicing for years — connecting people to one another. And while I had been practicing connecting people in my network for years, I have never been as intentional about it as I am now. We all know a few people who seem to know everybody and whom everybody seems to know. And if you can tap into their circle, you can quite literally gain access to the mother-load of new business potential. Moreover, your own network will grow exponentially. Pew Research in 2012 found that the average American has 643 ties in their network — and, it’s no surprise, technology users have even bigger networks. Imagine all of the potential. It is virtually limitless when you expand your network and start connecting people.
From Keith’s book, “Connecting is a philosophy of life, a worldview. Its guiding principle is that people, all people, every person you meet, is an opportunity to help and be helped. Why do I place so much importance on mutual dependence? For starters, because, as a matter of necessity, we are all social beings. Our strength comes from what we do and know cumulatively. The fact is, no one gets ahead in this world without a lot of help.”
Ferrazzi is spot-on. He didn’t build one of the most powerful networks in the world by chance. He was intentional, motivated and driven. He didn’t have ulterior motives. Nor was he keeping score when he connected someone. You don’t connect people because you want something out of it. Instead, do it for the pure satisfaction of helping someone out.
Ferrazzi has also been incredibly helpful and empathetic. He listened to his colleagues, business partners, and mentors, but he also gave out directives. That is such a powerful piece of the relationship selling puzzle. Salespeople have to be willing to listen to the customer’s needs.
For instance, I keep a personal journal with all of our client’s information (and even high-level potential clients). Their likes and dislikes. A favorite bourbon. Their alma mater’s mascot. Kids’, dogs’ and cats’ names. It’s a genuine curiosity of mine to understand others. We all want to please people. It’s inherent. And I want to make sure I get the details right; it’s that important to me.
This connecting concept is all part of relationship selling. Recently though, the concept has taken a bit of a beating in the new, progressive startup-y sales approach. Due, in large part to Matthew Dixon’s book, “The Challenger Sale.” In Dixon’s book, he describes relationship-only sales reps as the worst sales performers. And while I grasp the concept, I would argue that relationship selling can be one of the best and most lucrative ways of selling. Obviously, a salesperson shouldn’t be exclusively focused on the relationship. That would be naive and short-sighted. But, if you’re looking for a long-term, predictable revenue stream, forging relationships is a HUGE piece of the puzzle. Just like relationships in life, it just makes sense.
A lot of selling, especially in the software industry, is much more complex. In mobile app development, consultancies are typically selling a turn-key solution. And this process is not an insignificant effort. Complex sales typically require some level of trust. And trust requires a relationship. This is where you, as a salesperson, need to segregate commodity sales from the intangible products and services that require trust. If you play the commodity game, it’s just a race to the end purely on price. If you fail to differentiate, then you really are just like everyone else. Cache can only get you so far.
Dixon’s book describes a salesperson as someone who first builds a trusting relationship by authentically demonstrating that they have the customer’s best interest at heart, not just their own. And this approach, in turn, helps their client better serve the market (their customers). This is, of course, relationship selling at its core.
By gaining this trust, the salesperson has earned the right to share insights rather than simply building credibility from a position of authority. She shares rather than hard sells and educates instead of tells. And she listens more than she debates.
“In this world of dramatically changing customer buying behavior and rapidly diverging sales talent, your sales approach must evolve or you will be left behind.”
Dixon is right. I feel their suggestions will result in more of the same salesperson focused tactics: cold-calling, scripts, robotic behavior, etc. Ironically, if you want to sell more you have to stop hard selling. Instead, a great salesperson should build trust, demonstrate competence, be dependable and always empathize with their client/customer. In the end, when selling a complex solution, a salesperson really should make sure they are building relationships, especially if you’re looking for long-term, predictable revenue.
So, is relationship selling dying?
Of course not. It has, like many other things, evolved over time. We have better ways to measure results these days. In the end, I truly believe putting the time and effort into getting to know your clients/customers will only yield a better, more predictable return for your company. This doesn’t mean you can’t still demand your salespeople have a process by which to measure their results. Of course, you want to make sure you are intentional about their approach while creating meaningful and attainable goals for them. Don’t hamstring them with silly hurdles by sending them into never-ending cul-de-sacs.
It is not easy. It takes a lot of time and a genuine effort. But, when it’s executed well, it only produces great results. I promise.