Relationship Selling and the Value of Intimacy

The number of people who wish to remove the relationship from sales doesn’t ever seem to decline. I attribute most of it to the Silicon Valley ethos. It resembles your Uncle Enrico’s get rich quick schemes by paying no taxes or the 8-Minute Abs programs he buys from late-night television advertisements to develop his beach muscles. There is nothing more human than wanting something without having to do the work, which is why so many find that success eludes them.

They believe they need only share their value proposition with their prospective client, and that should be enough to win the business. Why spend time developing a relationship with the client when your solution is all they need to get better results? Let’s describe this belief and the behaviors that follow it as “transactional,” recognizing that some businesses benefit from a transactional approach.

In this case, the beliefs and practices are in line with the nature of the sale. Transactional sales are “High Frequency – Low Significance” sales.

We’ll call the other side of this continuum “consultative,” where success means developing deep insights and leading your client in making a significant change, a complex sale, one with higher risks and more at stake. Many factors make something a complex sale, including the number of stakeholders going to weigh in on any decision. These sales tend to be “Low Frequency – High Significance.”

Those in consultative sales aspire to be trusted advisors, the kind of person their clients turn to for advice about improving their results. Only the dimmest of bulbs believes that their client will view them as trusted advisors when they treat the relationship as transactional when it is complicated for them. The first thing you need to know is that if the decision is complex for your client, it is complex for you.

Charlie Green wrote the book Trusted Advisor with David Maester. He also wrote Trust-based Selling and The Trusted Advisor Field Book, all of which you should read and study. His equation is immensely helpful in understanding the trust that underlies all relationships.

The equation is Credibility x Reliability x Intimacy / Self-Orientation. If you ask Charlie which of the first three factors is most important, he would tell you that intimacy over-indexes.

The Value of Intimacy

Those who have been in sales long enough to have the situational knowledge to recognize the common patterns they see when exploring change with their clients already know how to help their prospective clients achieve better results. In a complex sale, you might spend a couple of meetings with different contacts, all who wish to share their view of the challenge, what they need in the way of a solution, and how they would prefer the solution to work.

You may have heard it all before and know what to do, but a large part of the discovery process is for the client, who is trying to understand the decision they’re making, build consensus, and ensure they get the results they want. You win and lose deals in the early stage of the sales conversation, which means these conversations contribute to the preference to buy from you—or your competitor.

When you recognize a large part of creating a preference to buy from you comes from the time you spend helping people through this process, you realize that this is where you develop intimacy.

Charlie would tell you that intimacy means something like “you understand me,” “you understand what I need,” “you care enough to make sure this works for me.” You would do well to test yourself when leaving a meeting by asking yourself if you believe that your contacts believe these things about you.

What Relationships Are Not Only

The idea of what a relationship is in sales is important. The concept here can be a little difficult to follow, so you have to sit with this idea. The relationship that you are building is not only friendship, and it is not only based on whether your contacts like you personally. It also requires that you create value for them by helping them produce better business results.

At the same time, it is beneficial that people view you as a trusted friend and like you, in part, because you are the person they turn to when they need help with their business. Likable people do well in sales, while people who “need to be liked” fare poorly.

People who can help their clients make sense of their world and help them with significant decisions fare well in B2B sales, while those who know nothing and can’t provide the value that is better business results, tend to lose quickly and often.

Refusing False Dichotomies

One way to immediately improve your thinking and your results is to exercise a high degree of skepticism, refusing to accept false dichotomies. Here is an example: “You can either build relationships or share a value proposition that resonates with your client.” Here is another common false choice you find floating around on the social sites: “You can either have real insights or be likable.”

Whenever the thought experiment is to choose between two factors like these, see if you wouldn’t do better to remove the “or,” replacing it with the word “and.” Is it possible that a person might be able to build relationships and share a compelling value proposition? Would that person then have an advantage over competitors who only focused on one of the two?

Do you not already know that some of your competitors are not only likable, but they also have deep insights, business acumen, and situational knowledge?

It is a mistake to believe that relationships are unnecessary, an idea voided by the long history of human beings. Putting the relationship above the transaction by serving your clients throughout the sales conversation massively increases the preference to buy from you. Placing the purchase above the relationship by deciding that your value proposition should be enough to convince an objective, rational party while avoiding intimacy is a recipe for losing deals.

People will always prefer to work with people who care about them, which is why caring is a superpower in a world that is increasingly transactional.

Why on Earth would you ever want to sell the same person more than once if you could sell in such a way that your relationship provides you an absolute right to the next deal?

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