The Lie That Relationships Don’t Matter in Sales

What I write here will be unpopular with some. Maybe even many, and maybe a majority in some circles. When everything is conflated to bits and bytes and atoms, the idea that we humans are something more, something special, is an idea considered quaint.

All Commercial Relationships

The idea that relationships no longer matter in sales—or commercial relationships, more generally—has captured the imagination of business leaders and entrepreneurs. They look at Bezos and recognize the value of a transactional approach, one that scales without the messy, expensive, massively variable performance of human beings and one that relies on technology and the promise of consistency. Revenue and profit are generated by and through transactions, and more transactions is better than fewer, and faster is better than slower.

Consumers, we are told, want what they want, when they want, and how they want it. They want a reduction in friction and expect to have it by clicking a link. Or, simply walking into a store, filling your cart, and walking out without being bothered to swipe their credit card. The transaction is the relationship, because the purchase is transactional, requiring no greater value than what is generated when the product is the value proposition.

It is a mistake to apply this model to all commercial interactions, especially when the decision is strategic, requires significant investments, comes with risk, and where their area different approaches, different choices, and the potential for huge variations in results. Optimizing for efficiency through technology is the exact opposite of what is necessary to be effective and successful.

Consultative Relationships

Why are relationships crucial to these types of decisions? There is an advantage created for both the salesperson and their prospective client that is created through intimacy. There is a trust that is created when a person is other-oriented and really knows and understand their prospective client. That trust is generated, in part, by the salesperson understanding the context of the decision, the company’s goals, their strategy, and what they need to do to succeed. Trust is also the byproduct of knowing the individuals who are making and executing decisions and how they operate together.

As a salesperson, if your prospective client (or client) thinks of you as an insider, as one of us, you hold a commanding share of their mind share—and are more than likely to hold a commanding share of their spending in your category. In all things human, trying to be efficient is contra to effectiveness. Faster isn’t better than better. Relationships require an investment of time and energy, making them expensive to create and maintain. That said, they are still not as expensive as not having the relationship, poorly serving your prospective clients, and losing to others who are willing to make investments you avoid.

Credibility is important, but intimacy creates a preference. Refuse ideas that ignore the many factors that compel change and preference.

If what you sell is a something that should be a transaction, by all means, transact, and do so with great haste. But if what you sell should be a consultative sale, develop the relationships that allow you to be consultative, to occupy the role of trusted advisor (even though you should never describe yourself as such). Investing in the idea that you should seek transactional efficiency and that relationships don’t matter is a mistake of the first order.

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