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Are You Building Coalitions With Your Customers?

by David Brock on August 27th, 2012

As sales professionals, we’re supposed to be great at building relationships with our customers.  Relationships are important, they are the foundation to doing business.  I don’t mean relationships in the “old sense,”  but relationships earned through establishing trust and credibility with your customers, and the customer’s respect for the value created in the relationship.

But somehow, I think relationships are too narrow.  Too often, as I look at the relationships sales people build, they are narrowly focused.  Too many sales people focus their efforts on too few people in the organization.  Every sales person has their “buddy” in the account.  It’s the person that we’ve done business with before, the person that always supports ans sponsors us.  We may have relationships of varying quality with many people in our accounts.  These relationships may not be enough to get our customers excited about new ideas and change.

While these relationships are important, I think its important to move beyond relationships and build coalitions.  At least in B2B sales, many people need to be involved in buying.  More an more, we are seeing decisions being made by groups of people–and at higher levels in the organization.

Coalitions with our customers are about achieving shared goals.  Getting an order isn’t a shared goal–helping the customer solve a problem, helping them address a new opportunity, helping them improve—-all of these are meaningful goals to our customers and us.  We want to show our customers how they can solve their problems leveraging our solutions–but the goal is solving the customer problem.

Helping customers build coalitions within their own organizations can be very powerful.  They align people across the organization with shared visions, interests, and goals.  Coalitions can help build energy and commitment within the organization, accelerating the ability to change. 

Look at the political campaigns in the US.  One of the remarkable things we see happening is the power of coalitions to unify and mobilize people to take action.  Regardless of the issue, coalitions are very powerful in the political world.  We can leverage that same power within our customers to help them unite around an opportunity, initiative, or effort to drive change within the organization. 

Coalitions are more powerful than relationships. We can have a number of very powerful relationships, but these don’t mean the customer is motivated or has reason to change or do something.  It just mean they value working with us.  In the sense of changing things, they can be relatively passive.  Coalitions are focused on actions, change, and achieving goals.  They move us and our customer into motion around an initiative.

Relationships can be the foundation of establishing a coalition, but they aren’t a precondition.  It’s the aligned interests in achieving a goal that make the coalition powerful in accomplishing things with any organization.

What coalitions are you forming with your customers?


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  1. Dave,
    I like the distinction between “relationships in the ‘old sense'” and “relationships earned through establishing trust and credibility with your customers, and the customer’s respect for the value created in the relationship.” Two very different ideas, indeed. All too often, we see businesses still attempting to build a foundation on the former rather than the latter.

    • Heather, thanks very much. I think too many people, both sales people, so called sales guru’s, and others misunderstand relationships.

      Too many sales people think of relationships in the social sense–taking the customer to lunch, golf, glad handing them. They respond to customer requests, but provide no leadership. They don’t drive or challenge the customer.

      Many sales pundits declare relationship selling dead–reinforcing the stereotype outlined above. Frankly, that kind of selling died decades ago.

      But relationships are critical to our effectiveness in challenging the customer and providing leadership. The customer needs to trust us, they need to believe we are credible, they need to know that we understand and care about them. New ideas without this will be viewed with scepticism and doubt. People buy from people–from those they trust and have a relationship with. It doesn’t have to be a long or deep relationship (but when all else is equal, the relationship wins), but it has to be based on quality and calue creation.

      Thanks so much for reinforcing the importance of this.

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