I wrote, People Buy From People, focusing on the importance of human based engagement as a wake up call to the overwhelming trend to depersonalize the relationship.
In comments on the post, Larry Levine and Brent Adamson added some fascinating and important insights (though I struggle with the concept of Brent creating insights–it just doesn’t seem to be him 😉
As sales people we learn about the importance of developing relationships with our customers. The old school version of this was people liking us. The idea that the more people liked us, the more they might unconsciously be biased to making decisions for us.
So we competed on developing these relationships, hoping to leverage that social pressure to drive sales. We wined/dined them, invited them to golf, sent birthday cards to them, their spouses and kids.
While, sometimes, those relationships might have been genuine, they were at the core self serving and manipulative. They were driven with the motivation of creating social pressure to reciprocate with a purchase.
Once, my team was making a $5M purchase of PCs for our sales people. The lead sales person had worked for me at another company. Rather than working with my team, he focused on our personal relationship and our past working relationship. And when we made a decision for his competitor he actually asked for a meeting to discuss why I had betrayed the relationship.
For some, these relationships are deeper, base on mutual trust. Generally, these are less selfish and manipulated, with the relationship being built more deeply, and focused on building growing the basis of trust. In these relationships our customers can make decisions we are unhappy with, and we can do things the customer may be unhappy with, but because the relationship is not transactional in nature, they endure over time, and there is a stronger basis for doing business. Crassly, when everything else is equal (as they often may be) the higher level of shared trust, the more likely we will do business with each other.
In building relationships we want our customers to feel good about us. We want them to feel we understand what they are trying to achieve, that we understand their businesses. We want them to trust that we are proposing solutions that create value. We want them to know we understand and we care.
But as Brent and Larry reminded me, perhaps the more important thing in the relationship is how we make the customer feel about themselves and the decision they are making. As much as they may trust us, what they worry about is “are they making the right decision.”
We strengthen the relationship, demonstrate our caring and understanding when we focus on how the customer feels not just about us, but what we are helping them do. Are we building their confidence–not in us, but in their decison? Are we helping them understand what they are trying to do; what they need to learn, the risks, and so forth.
While it’s human nature to focus on how we feel about others and how they feel about us, the real meaning of a relationship is how we help people feel better about themselves, and, possibly, how they make us feel better about ourselves.
Are you building real relationships?