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Building Loyal Relationships in a
Disloyal World

Relationship selling is the bedrock for successful selling in the new millennium. However, most salespeople conduct themselves as if they were in a quaint Norman Rockwell painting, building relationships on a smile and a firm handshake, on friendship, on shared mutual interests, common background, charisma, personality and frequency of contact. This quaint, traditional and old school way of thinking is archaic and grossly ineffective.

Not enough sales organizations are questioning if this style of relationship selling works anymore. Prospects simply don’t have the time, inclination, the patience or the freedom from accountability to create surface-level relationships anymore.

Did you ever meet a great glad-handing salesperson from the 70s and 80s? They had a winning and magnetic personality, a can-do personality, they were always upbeat and optimistic and they built friendly relationships instead of sincere business relationships. A psychologist would more than likely define their sales approach as self-absorbed, egocentric, narcissistic and center of the universe. The irony is that salespeople increasingly complain that their prospects are the same way. No wonder prospects sometimes act that way. Salespeople are so self-absorbed they don’t let their prospects get their own needs met.

A recent movie, “Good Company“, perfectly typifies this type of personality seller. In one scene a rising star sales manager admonishes an aging and soon to be irrelevant Dennis Quaid about salespeople being dinosaurs if they don’t change their skill sets. Dennis Quaid responds by saying that can’t be all that bad since they ruled for millions of years. And the tragedy is, he’s somewhat right. A personality seller can survive in certain sales situations and certainly in commodity sales, where being likeable will carry the day. Unfortunately, these positions are becoming more and more scarce in the global information economy where that type of salesperson brings little value to prospects. Sales managers are constantly reminded of this sales strategy when they are doing a pipeline review of their salesperson’s prospects and the #1 criteria for a positive forecast is “they like me”.

Personality sellers too often get caught in the vanity trap. They put too much emphasis on their own charm and persuasiveness. The focus is on them, not their prospect. And what do we know about prospects and who they rightfully only care about? You guessed it… themselves. Salespeople need to leave their magnetic charm in the reception room. Sellers who rely solely on their personality are limited to sell to others with similar personality traits and interests. True relationship sellers can connect to anyone because of the universal appeal of always putting the emphasis and focus on the other person. Personality sellers generally glorify themselves and their solutions and lack empathy and flexibility. They also seek to control the prospect. Relationship sellers let the prospect feel they are in control by empowering them to make informed and educated decisions independent of the salesperson’s own agenda. They honor the prospect. Unwittingly, what personality sellers work so hard to prevent, they actually create. They are ultimately perceived as impersonal and uncaring and their strategy to appeal to prospects to like them is quickly becoming obsolete and irrelevant.

Too often salespeople are so intent on people liking them, they end up building meaningless long-term relationships with prospects who are at the wrong level, don’t have authority and can’t make “yes” decisions. Their need for approval and to get people to like them supersedes their desire to make a sale. What they don’t realize is that one comes to harmony and connection with others not through approval or a need to please, but through authenticity. You build respect and long-term relationships when you have the courage to speak the truth and not sugarcoat everything. Prospects ultimately buy from you because they respect you. Personality sellers end up being the best player in a game that is no longer being played.

Leo Durocher once said “Nice guys finish last.” In sales, it can be a real problem if one is aggressively friendly. Forsake being the most accommodating, most agreeable and the friendliest. Salespeople too often overcompensate being the most courteous person around, hoping that their goodwill and charm will carry the day. But unfortunately it isn’t real and isn’t a true representation of who they really are. Prospects see through the façade. An effective relationship seller is authentic and knows that one must first honor and respect oneself before others do. If everyone you encounter in your sales position likes you, you are doing something wrong.

Don’t fall in love with your prospect, fall in love with the process of learning their business and helping them understand their priorities and initiatives. You know you are too relationship-oriented to a fault when you are unwilling to let go of unqualified prospects with whom you have a great relationship. One question you should always be asking yourself is, if I invest in this relationship what will be my potential return? By the way, your prospects are constantly asking themselves the same question.

Many personality sellers claim they are relationship sellers when in fact they are just professional visitors, goodwill ambassadors and glorified order takers who bring no business substance to the relationship. They go only where they are welcomed and well received, eventually socializing on company time and dime.

Companies are now waking up to the fact that there is a deficit of true relationship sellers in the marketplace to recruit and hire. They are slowly coming to the realization that “the natural,” who they sought out and hired in the past, can no longer bring the necessary prerequisite skills to successful selling in this demanding and challenging new marketplace. Too many sellers in the marketplace today are simply empty suits.

Relationship selling is a manner of building a business relationship on thought- provoking and incisive questions where the prospect formulates a belief and an understanding that you have the best solution without you even telling them what that solution is. Relationship selling is all about trust, confidence and understanding, and since so many products have reached quality parity you can no longer create trust like you could in the past with your product or service offering. You aren’t selling features and benefits, your value or your superior product or service. You are really selling the advantage of doing business with you. Prospects are really buying your advice, counsel and expertise in their industry and understanding of their business and their problems. In true relationship selling, people don’t buy from companies but from individuals. Trust shifts from product and company to the people who are selling.

Ironically, prospects will buy inferior products and service from salespeople they trust more often than they will buy superior products and services from salespeople they don’t trust. Prospects don’t have the time, patience or inclination to be an expert in every purchase they make. They rely on salespeople to demonstrate their expertise through their understanding of the prospect’s business.

Because of a universal parity in products and services, the only remaining differentiation companies can rely on is their ability to engage their prospects in a unique fashion. Thus, trust is the #1 relationship skill in business. The first step in building a successful business relationship is through curiosity and rapt attention, which, by the way, is the highest and most sustainable form of flattery.

It’s the journey that builds the relationship, not the end result. What you do from discovery to the close is what will determine the quality of your relationship. The sale is only the means to an end. The end is really the relationship you build and the opportunities it affords you in the future. Unfortunately, most salespeople, even with the best of intentions, are perceived as putting the sale first because of their egocentric approach.

Building a relationship on trust is easier said than done. For a lot of salespeople it doesn’t come naturally. They may be likeable and friendly and knowledgeable but they might not have the innate ability to build trust and confidence with prospects who don’t know them or who are guarded and defensive.

Learning your prospect’s business allows you to create value. However, you don’t create value with your product or services. Creating value and building a strong relationship requires you to be neutral and take a non-selling posture. Actual information is lost when we lose objectivity by emotionally responding (positively or negatively) about what we are hearing. By being in the moment we honor and empower our prospects. As difficult as it may sound, we need to be empty of expectations. Building long-term relationships comes from first serving and then selling. Most salespeople mistakenly first sell and then try to serve and build trust through their deliverables. So often, they never get to the trust and serve part because the trust wasn’t established initially.

Business relationship sellers are more concerned that people respect them and view them as a business resource as opposed to having someone like them. They ask tough questions, they are willing to walk away from relationships that no longer are mutually profitable. They take time to build relationships within an organization so they are never left high and dry when the inevitable day comes when their “inside guy” leaves. They also know when to have serious relationships and casual ones and they are always open to making adjustments. They are willing to be selective and discriminating to maximize their time and their returns. When it comes time to upsell existing relationships, they treat their customers as first-time prospects. They don’t have preconceived assumptions, they don’t take their relationships for granted and they patiently and methodically reestablish understanding of their prospects’ new needs and objectives.

Effective relationship sellers seek to build relationships to get annuity business instead of short-term transactional business. Transactional selling is very expensive and raises your cost of sales. Relationship sellers always have their focus on long-term customer retention and development. Taking a long-term perspective, they are willing to make an investment in the relationship instead of just getting a quick hit or one night stand. Sustainable relationships happen when both parties view one another as equals. It is always more fulfilling and fruitful to establish relationships with prospects whom you trust and respect than with someone you don’t respect, or you place too much emphasis solely on them and place them on a high pedestal.

Relationship selling, unlike personality selling, will ultimately be more fulfilling, will be more profitable long-term and will minimize sales burnout. By creating enriching experiences and connections through knowledge-based questions you will learn which relationships to pursue and which relationships to deemphasize.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com