The Coming Flight to Relationships

You’ve heard that relationship selling is dead. It isn’t. And because we are human beings, relationships aren’t going anywhere, even if that doesn’t mean that our business relationships aren’t going to include some economic value creating component.

By my count, we’ve spent the past couple decades trying to turn our relationships as buyers and sellers into something transactional—all the while bemoaning the repercussions of that choice, like commoditization, disintermediation, low margins, and high customer churn rates. Clients have relentlessly complained about poor service, poor results, and a lack of caring.

We’ve chased the bottom for too long. And this is where it’s gotten us.

We are on the front end of a flight to value. And we are on the front end of a flight to relationships. We want relationships back—with all of the benefits that come with them.

We Want to Be More Than a Transaction

We want the people and companies we buy from to know us. We want them to know our names.

We want to know people. We want them to know what we like and what we don’t like. We want them to look out for us, to make sure that what we buy is really going to serve our needs.

We want the people and companies we buy from to go the extra mile because we have a relationship. We want them to anticipate our needs, to give us a heads-up when something that they know we would love comes available.

We want to trust them. We want to know that they will always do right by us, even when doing right might cost them a few bucks.

We want the people and companies we buy from to be worth paying more to obtain. We want them to deliver additional value, and we want them to capture some of that value.

We Want Our Clients to Be Loyal, Raving Fans

We want our clients and customers to love us. We want them to be loyal customers. We don’t want them to buy from anyone else, especially not to save a few pennies. We want them to rave to the people they know to buy from us, too.

We want our clients to know us. We want them to trust us. We want them to look at us as part of their team, their trusted advisors. We want them to treat us like consultative salespeople, not transactional salespeople.

We want deep relationships with our clients. We want the kind of relationships where we aren’t treated like a transaction and where we aren’t expected to behave like a transaction.

We want them to give us a 100% of their wallet share. We want them to pay us more than they’d pay the other guys, and we want them to let us capture some of the value we create. And we want them to let us help them invest enough to get the results that they really need.

We want the chance to do the work that makes all of this possible, especially creating the deep, trusted relationships that make our business more human, more value creating, and less transactional.

The flight to relationships is coming. For some of us, it’s already here.


How important are relationships to how you sell?

How important to you are relationships when you are making a major, strategic purchase?

How do your relationships add value to a deal?

Why are people more and more willing to pay more for the results they need?

Why are people more willing to invest in relationships, even if costs a bit more?



  • Rose

    People with Alzheimer’s and a caregiver, whether family, friend, or professional, will be a large percentage of the clientele of the near future, so connect with both, and all will be well in our economy.

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  • Greg Marcus

    I hope you are right, because for this to take place, there will need to be a shift in the values of a company. It takes time to invest in relationships on the sales side, and time to invest in product development in the back office. Often I have been part of product launches where the “product” was ready, but it was launched too early because there wasn’t sufficient time for support to be trained, which led to poor customer experiences. But it had to be out to make revenue for the quarter, which ended up costing money in the long run.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I think we have to trade efficiency for effectiveness when it comes to pursuing our goals. You can’t trade the short term results for what you really want long term. Relationships require an investment of time, and you can’t blow them up over a quarter, although we see this repeatedly, don’t we?

  • Leanne HoaglandSmith

    Poor planning will always be present because leadership acquiesced to outside demands knowing even if they would not admit the desired results would not be attainable. As relationships grow and are developed, there will be more business. By looking to those businesses and individuals that are forward thinking with high business ethics is one strategy to embrace. Anthony is correct relationship selling is not dead because people still buy from people and sales people who fall into the transactional path are doomed in the long term even though they make secure some short term sales.

  • Amber King

    What businesses need are loyal customers. And the only way to get one is by building deep relationship with them. Although it takes a lot of time, a loyal customer is an asset to the company. Not only will they buy from you, they can help you market as well.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Amber. I think you are correct. If we want loyal customers, we have to deserve loyal customers.

  • L Fredrick

    Great piece! As a professional I believe in building the relationship first. As a consumer, It’s been increasingly obvious to me that the move away from relationship building has hurt many business’s than they obviously realize. Many of the big box stores and business’s are of the attitude that if I’m not happy with their service, well there’s a thousand other suckers out there who will give them business. I believe in being an excellent customer and want a business to appreciate my business, so I’m willing to pay a bit more for the relationship at the local hardware store than the cheaper price at the big box store due to their attitude. So if I go out of my way for the little things in life, you should be rest assured I will do so for the bigger things, like my banking, my insurance needs, etc.

  • Rob

    Although I agree with the premise, the way in which buyers want to build relationships is changing drastically. Buyers are less interested in going to play golf and going out to dinner and lunches. They are not as interested in the “schmoozing” that is from years past. The relationship that they desire is one of transparency and trust that only comes from doing many little things just the way you said you would. That is what buyers are looking for more than ever and that is when you start to develop real relationships that go beyond the superficial that has been the core of Relationship Building sales in the past.
    Buyers also want sales people that will educate them and challenge them. The buyers we really seek are no different than us. They want to learn, grow, achieve and succeed. They don’t need a lunch to do that. I think the folks that are calling for the end of Relationship Selling are really focused on killing the way in which we build relationships, not the idea of building relationships. Because we all know that relationships are key to winning any deal.

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