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Relationships Are Secondary To Sales Effectiveness

by David Brock on April 6th, 2017

I find myself in an unusual position.  I’ve always been biased more to the science side of selling than the art side.  I believe that selling is a disciplined process, that we can “engineer” those processes to increase our impact, customer engagement, and our effectiveness. I believe in sharp, rigorous execution of those processes in driving sales effectiveness and performance.

Sales people promoting the old “Hail and Hearty,” sales is all about relationships and “when the going gets tough, the tough take a customer to lunch/golf,” have been somewhat abhorrent to me.  But then, I’m a physicist/engineer by training–and somewhat of an introvert.

But I’ve been alarmed by the rise of “assembly line” thinking, extreme specialization, and obsession with our own efficiency—to the detriment of building relationships and trust.  Much of this seems to be a R 3.0 approach to Predictable Revenue.  I read posts and books about customers as indistinguishable widgets that we process from MQL to SQL to SDR to BDM to AE to Product Specialist to Negotiator to Order Entry to Customer Success.  At each step, we do our assigned task, then pass the customer down the assembly line.    At the same time, proponents of extreme specialization and the assembly line thinking, make vague claims that customers don’t want relationships, they want to solve their problems, so if we give them the right information at the right time, we can move them through our process.

As I read these views about the future of selling, I find myself extremely uncomfortable.  As much as a “sales is more science than art” guy as I am, I can’t help but think we are dealing with human beings with all the frailties, fears, ego, opinions, ambitions, dream, and faults that make us human, as opposed to machines.  I’ve always thought EQ is as critical, perhaps more so, than IQ.

But since I’m seeing so much of this thinking, I thought, perhaps I’m missing something, perhaps I’m wrong.

I decided to look at it from a different perspective.  What causes each of us to choose who we work with, what companies we join, and what we get out of work?  For the moment, let’s put those pesky customers to the side and think about ourselves.

We seem to be drawn to companies and people that have similar values, the culture of the company is important to us.  Building relationships with our managers, colleagues and others in the company is important–not just because we value human relationships, but it’s through those relationships we get things done.  I trust Amy to do a great job in explaining the technical intricacies of our solution, because we have a relationship with shared goals and values.  I’ve seen her work before and know she will help me achieve my goals.  Likewise, she wants to support me, not just because I’m the next person in queue, but she likes working with me, she appreciates the kudos and the fact that I bribe her with coffee every once in a while.  We have dependencies on others in our organization to help us achieve our goals, just as they have of us.  We commiserate with our colleagues about the latest edicts from corporate and management–we value the collegiality and the opportunity to collaborate with others.  These relationships aren’t just limited to our immediate work group but extended to others in our company and to partners and colleagues outside our companies.

As I look at things we do that have some level of personal or job/function risk, relationships seem to be more important.  We want people to “have our backs,” to “be in the same boat,” and so forth.

When I ask people, “Why have you chosen to work here?”  More often than not, it’s because we are aligned with the company, our colleagues, and what we are collectively trying to achieve.  Yes a pay check is part of it, but we don’t just work for a paycheck, we work to be part of something beyond each of us as individuals.

I suppose, if I asked any reader or any sales person I might meet, “Are the relationships you establish within your company important to you and important to your ability to achieve your goals and dreams,” the majority would say, “Yes!!!”

Now I go back to the “science of selling” pundits, those that focus on our own efficiency, those that claim relationships/trust are unimportant–or at best secondary.  I think, if these relationships/trust are so important for us and our success, why would we think customers would be any different?  Why would we think that some level or relationship, some level of connection, some level of trust in helping them achieve their goals and dreams is unimportant?  As customers engage in complex collaborative decisions, with possible serious consequences to their organizations and their own careers–human emotions and frailties come to the forefront of those processes.

We can never forget that as long as we are selling to a human being, relationships, trust are important to them, consequently they must be important to us.  They need not be deep, they need not be long lasting–though if we have any thought to repeat business, referrals, growing our business, they will be.

We must weigh the impact of our internal drive for “efficiency” with our ability to create value through trusted relationships, and drive results.



From → Performance

  1. David,

    You are TOTALLY CORRECT in my opinion, which might be interesting coming from the Sales 2.0 guy.

    My version of Sales 2.0 is not about process and technology INSTEAD of relationships, it’s about process and technology FOR building relationships.

    Of all the ingredients that move a sale forward my data and experience says relationships are #1.

    All the process stuff in prospecting needs to be about starting a relationship. Customers must know, like and trust you or they are NOT going to buy anything!

    You’ve nailed a super-important point with this post in my view. Well said!


    • Wow Nigel—and from the guy that created Sales 2.0!!! Actually, I’m kidding. Sales 2.0—X.0 is, by definition, about the customer which means it’s about relationships. Too many focus on the technology. As a result, they invest hugely in misplaced technology implementations. If they start with the customer and the processes to most effectively engage the customer and create value, they get huge returns from their technology implementations.

  2. “In 2010, in London, I held a breakfast briefing with clients from Big IT, Big Data Storage, Big Telco and Big Software, where I suggested that Relationship Based Selling was NOT working.

    It did NOT go down well!

    We had a lot of toys thrown out of prams.”

    The 2008 Financial Crash showed many Sales people that their ‘relationship based approach’ to selling was not enough.

    Almost 10 years on, yet without full recovery, this is still true. Sales ‘relationships’ are important, but you cannot rely on them. Sales Skills, are more reliable, but you NEED a relationship to use them.

    How have I changed since 2008? I’ve put a LOT of time and energy into understanding Behavioural Economics, Bias and Irrationality. Decision Science will be the next area for Sales Development, where we will combine Evidence Based Selling Skills and Relationships. The new Science of Selling.

    • Love the ideas Brian. Particularly the line—sales skills are more reliable, but you need relationships to use them.

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