Relationships May Not Be What You Think. You Still Have to Sell.

All things being equal, relationships win. All things being unequal, relationships still win. But this doesn’t mean that a relationship is the only thing you need in order to win.

Relationships are enablers. You still have to sell, and you still have to deliver the goods.

Not Just Friends, Not Just Liking Each Other

It isn’t enough that your client likes you as a person. It isn’t enough that you are friends and share your personal lives. While that may be nice, a personal affinity for you isn’t going to be enough for you to win opportunities with your dream client. This isn’t what relationship selling means.

Your relationship has to be built on a much stronger foundation. A personal friendship and a relationship that is missing this foundation isn’t a recipe for success in sales.

Trust and Value Creation

Your relationship has to be built on a foundation of trust and value creation.

You have to be trusted as someone with the business acumen to know how to help your dream client get the business results that they seek. You also have to be trusted as someone that is going to own the outcome that they sell, and who is going to be there to ensure that the results promised are the results achieved.

Your relationship has to be built on the value you create for your dream client.

It doesn’t hurt that you are personally liked. In fact, the personal relationships do a great deal to help you work together on the challenging issues. But if you can’t deliver the goods, your relationships aren’t going to allow you win or succeed.

Relationships are enablers of effective selling, not a replacement for effective selling.

Relationships As Enablers, Not a Replacement

The fact that you have a relationship doesn’t entitle you to win your dream client opportunity. A relationship isn’t the end in itself; you still have to sell. But, the relationships can help you to sell more effectively.

The relationships that you develop are going to allow you access to information. You still have to know what information you need and to ask for and obtain those commitments. Access is easier if you are known and trusted, if you have a relationship.

The relationships you develop are going to allow you access to key members of your dream client’s team, and that access is going to help you develop a greater understanding of how to produce the results your dream clients need. You still have to ask for access, and you still have to invest your time working to build your understanding and their vision of the right solution. Relationships are what pave the way for this access.

The relationships you develop are going to provide you an opportunity to run your proposal up the flagpole before giving a final presentation. You are still going to have to ask for and obtain the time to give a pre-proposal proposal. Then you are going to have to ask for the opportunity to make adjustments. Your relationships are going to enable you to work together with your dream client to get your solution just right.

You price might be a little higher. Your solutions may be a little different. Your relationships are going to enable you to have the conversations about how your higher price translates to a lower cost. But your relationship doesn’t mean you don’t have to be proactive in making this case.

All told, if you have the choice to develop the relationships before there is a contest or go into that contest without the relationships, you are fool to go without the relationships.

All things being equal, relationships win. But the last thing in the world you want is for all things to be equal. You want to stack the deck as heavily in your favor as possible. Relationships are the key to stacking that deck.


Does relationship selling mean only that you have warm, friendly relationships?

What is the foundation of all relationships, including the relationships we make in sales?

Sometimes these relationships alone are enough to win, but most of the time you need more. What do relationships enable?

What advantages do you gain by having relationships? How do you leverage the relationship to create advantages?

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  • Brian Williamson

    Anthony, I appreciate this blog. It’s even more important these days to develop strong relationships and trust so we can gain access to decision-makers and uncover the REAL issues and implications. That being said, the implications of our decisions are greater due to the state of the economy. 

    This means we’ve got to execute on what we’ve promised.

    Those who deliver and execute will generate exponential results. Those who don’t deliver on their promises will damage and lose those critical relationships.Brian Williamson / Execution Unlimited LLC

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brian! 

  • Mike Kunkle

    One of the best posts on this subject that I have seen. Great delineations. It’s how we define “relationship” that matters, isn’t? And aside from the personal connection, the real magic sauce is in the trust, info sharing, and value creation, further fueled and enabled by the relationship. Which, I guess, becomes part of the fabric of the relationship itself. Phenomenal, Anthony.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Mike. I was thinking about your previous comments and the sales rep that you liked but dismissed from the competition. I would now argue that he didn’t have the relationship he needed to have (or you would have given him a second bite at the apple), and he didn’t leverage the relationship he had early enough (he shouldn’t have shown up with something that didn’t already meet your vision–if he could have helped it).


  • N Terese Ting

    I think warm, friendly relationships make it even harder to sell. You are right – the basic and most important foundation of a business relationship is trust, nothing else can make somebody buy your products over the competitors.

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