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Relationship Selling Is More Than Meets the Eye

Frustration tends to be the impetus for many of our articles.  In this case, the fact that so many managers, all the way up to CEOs, believe the number one sales strategy should be relationship selling…


…meaning that an individual makes sales, because he or she knows someone. 


There’s no doubt that forming relationships is important.  But too many people think too narrow-mindedly about the concept.  Relationship selling is more than the product of networking and being chummy.  And limiting your thinking to these two is cheating your firm out of an immeasurable amount of cash each year.


Relationship selling is the result of how every aspect of your business touches current and potential buyers.  You have to include the big picture…your firm’s entirety…as elements of the sales process.  This is true relationship selling.

Not sure what we mean?  How many people in insurance or law do you know?  Maybe two people? Maybe five?  Do you do business with all of them?  You know them, don’t you?  Then if you have a relationship, why don’t you give all of them a share of your business?


The reason is simple.  Relationships open doors and possibilities.  They might give you a jump over competition.  But they’re no guarantee you’ll close a sale.  Let’s take it a step further.


Do you have a relationship with your grocery store?

Do you have a relationship with your furniture supplier?

Do you have a relationship with Amazon or Dell?

Do you have a relationship with Staples or Office Max?

Do you have a relationship with your lawn care company?

Do you have a relationship with your phone company, internet provider, gas and electric company or cable company?

Do you have a relationship with your car dealership? 


Most likely to many of the above you don’t.  You buy from those that can supply you with what you need or want.  If they can’t, you then purchase somewhere else.  If the firm discontinues a SKU or product, you shift to a company still carries what you want, and you make new relationships. 


It’s funny how quickly a company wants to make a relationship with you when you call to offer them business. Relationships help and they can in a big way if done right.


We buy Chevy for no particular reason except that 20 years ago, we needed a truck for the snowy winters in Syracuse, and we ended up with a Blazer.  Then another, then another--13 in all. Even today we have a Suburban.  During the two decades, we’ve had “relationships” with Ford people, and yet we still purchase Chevrolets.  We haven’t had relationships with GM people, however.  Hmm.  So maybe the product, the timing, the availability of goods…and a lot of other factors had something to do with our buying decisions.


So that’s an individual personal purchase.  What about corporate? No difference.


On a larger scale, look at the battle between Boeing and Airbus to capture Korean Air’s most recent purchase.  For years, John Leahy has been the “super-salesperson” behind the Airbus lead over Boeing in the air plane industry.  In 2005, the battle was waged between Leahy’s Airbus A350 and CEO Alan Mulally’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner.


Although for two decades, Airbus has won numerous sales, relationships weren’t enough to close the Korean Air deal.  In the end, Boeing won the sale; it came down to whose technical team did a better job explaining why their planes were superior. (Perhaps it also had something to do with Boeing’s agreement to buy parts from the Koreans.)  Korean Air purchased ten 787s: a deal Airbus thought was “in the bag. 


According to an April 13th article in the Chicago Tribune, Northwest, too, is looking to return back to Boeing.  Yes, Leahy’s done a bang up job in the area of relationships.  And yes, in the airline industry, everyone knows everyone.  But the rumor is that Northwest likes the upfront financing deal posed by Boeing better than it likes its “relationship” with Leahy.


For management who puts a lot of weight on relationship selling, this example should make you think.  Is the relationship or the deliverable and all that’s associated with the deliverable the force behind the sale? 


Gaining a bigger picture will strengthen your sales potential.  So, ask yourself one question: What would it take to build a model to capture sales?


Answer the question based on a Sales-101 premise: provide what the buyer wants and/or needs.  If you’re really stuck on building relationships, understand that the model built on this premise will, in turn, be the basis for sales relationships…but the RELATIONSHIP DOES NOT COME FIRST.

This means.


  1. Focus on your deliverables.  Again, people (as individuals or corporate buyers) buy what they perceive they need or want.  Your job is to deliver just that product.  Boeing and Airbus are 10 years behind the curve on developing regional jets, compared to Brazilian Embraer, who’s been picking up orders from firms like Jet Blue and has 10 years worth of orders in house.(In this instance, it would not matter what your relationship was if you only sold jumbo jets.)
  2. Focus on your buyer.  You’ve got to direct your sales people to those who wish to purchase or you need to bring in customers that want your products.  A combination of a good database-mining strategy, along with solid marketing programs, enhances relationships, because the buyer says to himself, “I need to purchase this product, you’ve got it, so let’s become friends to get the best deal.”
  3. Focus on order efficiency.  Regardless of the product—clothing, furniture, computer parts, laundry cleaning services or sophisticated multi bullion dollar utility repair services—everyone wants their transactions to go smoothly. Management’s priority should be to supply front-end sales personnel with everything they need to perform their jobs well and be professional. We were just in NYC with our family and visited Planet Hollywood.  The waitress had just started working there that day (although, you could tell she had prior experience waiting tables).  Our wait for food was exceptionally long.  Patrons who arrived after us were served their food and were nearly finished eating.  The manager stopped at our table to tell us that a technological problem occurred. When the waitress, and then the manager checked on our order, it didn’t exist in the kitchen’s system.  That’s because the waitress’ master order card was not input into the overall system properly.  Therefore, her orders were not being accepted in the kitchen.  The product was okay.  The staffing was okay.  But the efficiency of the system was flawed.    
  4. Focus on delivery. Sales management has to see the larger picture all the time.  Once an order is taken, you are responsible for insuring that it gets processed correctly from start to finish. You’ve probably selected a firm to do repair work and had a mechanic do a poor job of fixing a piece of equipment.  You’ve probably been on the phone reviewing a phone bill when something’s gone wrong.  In all cases, no matter how good the “relationship” is, poor delivery puts the buy-sell relationship in jeopardy.
  5. Focus on follow up.  If there’s one mistake businesses make, it’s not keeping in contact with customers/clients beyond the sale.  Even though you might consider follow up to be a marketing responsibility, the sales model that incorporates follow up into the process will keep buyers coming back.  This means collecting emails and physical addresses to develop a process that continuously puts your name in front of the client, too.  Then when the customer is ready to buy again, they’re more likely to buy from your firm.


A last thought. Kelly Lafferman, Vice President of  Marketing for Tavistock Group, a private investment company with holding in real estate to restaurants, commented to me recently that she often looks forward to new relationships.  The reason, she’s courted differently as the new vendor does not take the business for granted.  A lesson for those selling and buying. 


Now you can look beyond the myopic idea that a relationship is a product of networking. You know how everything, from the efficiency of an order process to the accuracy of a billing method, forms a relationship. You have some tools to be able to build a concrete, solid model for the sales process.  And in doing so, you improve your position in the marketplace and increase your firm’s ability to secure more business.  Go make a ton of money.

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31.07.2019 (343 days ago)
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