Tuesday, Dec 01, 2015

The Death of Relationship Selling?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

-Charles Darwin 

Try selling snake oil to someone today. Selling features and functions will be just as silly.


I love this Darwin Quote, I think it proves that anyone is capable of learning new tricks. We all want to survive, especially when it comes to our job, but we also want to outperform. Its comforting to know that to survive you don’t need to be the strongest or most intelligent. All you have to do is adapt to this change. In this tough economic environment, organizations have been coming down hard on sales management for top-line performance. While the stress from occupational pressures are at seemingly all-time highs, this keen focus on the sale is leading to a heightened analysis of the sale and selling process. Here is a relavant issue when deciding how to handle or form relationships with your prospects.

Photo by tommm

Relationship Selling Is Dead

When I think of relationship selling I think of Girl Scout Cookies and Little League Tickets. So when I heard relationship selling was dead at first I was confused. Certainly companies have grown distant to the days of cozying up to prospects at sporting events and the wining and dining, but do they still value  “relationship builders”? Intelligent readers are already addressing concerns about classifying someone as strictly a relationship builder. I will be reading The Challenger Sale this week to see what all the fuss is about. Professional and social relationships are an interesting dynamic, just as complex as the sale.  The idea that you don’t have to create a friendship before you can make a sale is an obvious concept, but what should your relationship with a prospect look like? That relationship must demonstrate value first and foremost. Being likeable isn’t going to get you a sale, but likeability can break one. If you can demonstrate business value to a prospect and you are likeable, it’s a winning combination. 

So if you look in the mirror and see a relationship builder, don’t worry. Several studies have dismissed the idea you are incapable of adapting. Even Darwin recognized that! Sales managers care more about your performance than your personality. If your personality was that bad they wouldn’t have hired you!

Cause or Effect?

I’m not going to discount the relationship at all, since we would all agree, it exists at some level. So instead of saying it dead, we should all agree it has at least changed. Let’s look at a possible reason why so called “relationship builders” are considered the least successful amongst high performers, as classified by The Challenger Sale. Being good at something should never create a disadvantage, so what’s going on? You must start relationships at the right level in an organization. It is likely positive relationship effort is just being wasted at the wrong level anyways. Sales people in general often make the mistake of engaging a prospect at the middle-manager level. Even if you are challenging your prospect and presenting a sound business reason why they should buy, if your relationship stays at this level, chances are, if they buy, they will buy based solely on price. This is where you can leverage your relationship building skills to speak with executives without hurting your middle manager’s feelings. Is focusing on relationships the cause of poor performance, or is the poor performance the effect of developing relationships at the wrong level? If it were black and white I would say poor performance is the result of creating relationships at the wrong level. If you want to be a good relationship builder going forward, you need to know how to form relationships at an executive level. This requires you to think like an executive.

You must present a business problem and then solve it with executive sponsorship

The top sales performers are good relationship builders. The difference is they have already figured out the kind of relationships that executive like. They know it’s important to establish credibility by challenging current operations with thought out solutions.  This means that executives expect you to know enough about their company before you try to sell them something. You can have a positive experience with executives by challenging them to prove or disprove your prediction of value. You can only claim to know so much about a company, especially private ones, so this is a great way to establish trust. Tell them your prediction is based on value you have provided to similar customers, but you would like to learn more about the company to come up with a number that an executive agrees with.  Including them in the discovery process and explaining why you need an executive involved in the sale is crucial. You need an executive involved because you are solving a companywide problem and they need to admit it is a problem. Once they admit it is a problem, an executive will have a hard time walking away from it.  If you help me solve a problem, we are starting our relationship out in a good way. You aren’t going to get caught up talking features and functions with your executive like you are used to with the direct users.

Focus on the economics of decision making and sell in a way that does. Focus on deals that you know you can win. That’s how executives structure their decisions to survive in a world of change.

If you are interested in joining the discussion about types of sales reps and the death of relationship selling as documented in The Challenger Sale, there will be a webinar this Thursday March 8th from 12-1pm Eastern with the authors.



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