Relationship selling has been taking a beating lately. Certainly buyers have changed and many of the sales models that were effective a short time ago are no longer relevant. New models must be applied.
In the book The Challenger Sale, the Relationship Builder salesperson (defined as one who advocates for the customer, is generous with time, and gets along with everyone) is the loser. This Challenger model is provocative but misleading. It has pushed Relationship Sellers into an artificial corner that has not been viable for 30 years.
Relationship Sellers aren’t an either or. Relationships with customers are built on more than being a nice guy or gal – they are built on bringing ideas to customers, solving business challenges, questioning the status quo, helping customers refine, redefine, and recognize needs, and drive business results. Yes, any salesperson can combine all these traits in a true relationship.
I was given the best and truest meaning of relationship as it applies to selling 26 years ago by Mr. Fisher, then President of Morgan Stanley. He gave me two directives for a sales program I was developing for him: First, don’t make it cookie-cutter because his people were special (and like him they were – all integrity and the kind of values we surely could use today) and second, call it Relationship Selling. When I questioned the title, he explained that, “A relationship is a series of sales built on trust and value.” His words stuck with me and helped shape Richardson. He captured perfectly what it takes to have a meaningful relationship in selling – bringing value in the form of solutions and ideas, producing results, establishing trust, and closing deal after deal.
“Relationship” without providing value is meaningless. If it is one or the other, value will trump relationship but it does not and should not be an either or. Don’t let anyone convince you that relationship is a minor thing in a sale. Even in a transactional sale — whether it is in person or on-line — the experience determines in big part if the customer buys or comes back. In a consultative sale in which you are needed for advice and/or implementation the relationship weighs even more heavily.
Without a doubt new tactics are required to succeed over the new sales terrain. Much of what you learned in the past must be unlearned. It is time to come to the table as an equal. Insightful questions, knowledge sharing, value and risk, economic impact, alternative ideas, and sales tools make up the new lexicon of selling But in this new world of selling the relationship is still the real deal. The relationship encompasses all that you bring to your customers so that they open up to you, listen to you, turn to you as their thought partner, and buy from you.