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Relationships Don’t Get You The Order!

by David Brock on July 24th, 2011

Before you misunderstand, relationships are very important in sales.  If everything else is equal, I’d much prefer to have a deep relationship in any competitive sales situation.  So I don’t want to diminish the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships.  The issue, though, is everything else is never equal.

Unfortunately, I think too many people focus only primarily on the relationship.  I read a comment in a discussion that made me cringe:  “…successful sales depends on relationships, it’s not a matter of ‘productivity’ in terms of calls made, appointments set……”  I couldn’t imagine a statement that is more wrong.  (I was tempted to say stupid, but I want to keep this civil.)

We only get the opportunity to sell when we get in front of a person that has a need to buy.  Making calls, setting appointments, prospecting are all activities we need to do to identify opportunities.  Furthermore we need a sufficient number of activities to identify enough opportunities in which we can compete and win.  The number and strength of our relationships is meaningless if they don’t have a need to buy.

We can never take the relationship for granted.  We can never think that we will be selected over a much stronger alternative, solely because of the relationship.   However powerful our relationship, if our competition presents a much more compelling solution, the customer would be foolish to make a decision based solely on the relationship.  Customer’s can’t justify anything else–their performance is being evaluated, they need to achieve results of their own.  Before relationship–they must look at the solution(s) that best help them achieve their goals.

Despite the strength of our relationship, we need to “sell to the problem/issues.”   We need to persuade the customer we have is the best alternative–having a strong relationship helps us do this, but by itself does not guarantee the outcome.

The thing is, I see too many that focus only on the relationship, forgetting they still have to sell and meet customer needs.   They think the lunches, golf games, birthday cards will carry the day.  They abandon their sales process, they forget the steps they have to go through to make the sale.  They rely on “their guy.”  They forget, regardless role “their guy” is in, they still have to execute their sales process. 

Many years ago, when I led a very large sales organization, a friend of mine lost a multimillion dollar order.  We had a very good relationship, the sales person had worked for me at one time.  We’d had many dinners together, shared adventures on the road when he worked for me.  When I went to the other side of the desk, becoming a customer, he thought things  would be great.  Despite my coaching, he didn’t spend the time necessary with my team.  He presented a solution that was OK, but not nearly as good as the alternatives we were considering.  When we selected his competitor, he came to me shocked.  “Dave, I thought we had a relationship.  How could you do this to me?”  My response was simple, “Tom, you are still my friend, but how could you do this to me?  I advised, guided and coached you on the sale.  I told you who you needed to convince and what you needed to do.  I told my team to seriously consider your solution.  But you failed to convince my team.  You thought I would make the decision for you, despite everything I said.  So, I’m really disappointed.  How could you do this to me?” 

Tom lost about $5M in that order.  He’s sold to me and my organizations since then–winning a good number of deals.  When everything else is equal or even near equal, I’d prefer to give Tom my business.  But Tom has learned he must sell me, he must sell my team.  He knows we will evaluate the solutions looking for the one’s that best meet our needs, only after that does the relationship count.

Relationships are important. As I said, when all else is equal or just close to equal, a strong relationship may be the differentiator–people buy from people they know and trust. Relationships help us in propsecting. Relationships and referrals can open new doors for us. If we have strong relationships, when new opportunities arise, hopefully the customer picks up the phone to invite you in. Relationships are important, they can help to create strong advocates within our customers.

Relationships are important.  Build and nurture them for life.  Don’t take them for granted.  Don’t forget, despite the relationship you still have to compete for and earn the business.

From → Performance

  1. Absolutely, 100% true. And that comes from a person whose given many workshops on relationship marketing.

  2. I could not agree more. I cringe everytime I hear a salesperson, vp of sales and/or the president say, “they love us, no worries”. Unfortunately, I hear it more frequently than I would.

    Relationships are important but given all the other variables in the sales process, I never want to die on that sword alone.

    • Thanks for joining the discussion Colleen. We have to continue to earn business every day. Relationships are helpful, but we have to continue to demonstrate value, solve important problems, etc. Without this, the customers should not do business with us.

  3. Sylvania Harrod permalink


    Very well written article and way to get the sales “Stamp” on the article. Sometimes as sales professionals we forget that we need to “Sell” every now and then. We can be best friends with our customers but if we aren’t proactively solving their problems, you better believe our competition is. The relationship is very vitale when your doing an apples to apples comparison between you and your competition, but you have to make sure you that you are fully doing your job as a trusted solution advisor for your customer.

  4. Dave, excellent post! I have often seen this played out in people who do business with family members. They think that, just because there is a relationship, they have a surefire ticket to an order. It doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, work that way. You should have to create value whether it’s for a friend, family member, acquaintance, or complete stranger. If you DO have a relationship with the person you are working with, you should work all the harder to make sure they are satisified. Saying, “We’re buddies and that’s why you should buy from me” is patronizing and manipulative. What you should say instead is, “We’re buddies and that’s why I’m going to give you a great reason to buy from me.” Relationships are nice but they should act as compliments rather than substitutions for value creation.

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