Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Relationship Sales and Today's New Buyer

For years, the prevailing thinking in sales has been oriented around relationship sales. The idea was that by being a friendly person, a good listener, and a decent golfer, you could gain the opportunity to build trust with potential buyers. In initial conversations, sales would ask a lot of questions, learn about the prospect’s business, delve deep into areas of pain or business challenge, and finally wrap things up with a solution that was oriented to curing these pains and solving these challenges.

However in today’s world, there is often not an opportunity to have that conversation in the first place. Unless you have information of value to offer first, the chance of a prospective buyer wanting to spend an hour with you to describe their business while you ask questions is plummeting . The access to information, which was once mainly managed by sales, is now open to all. This has forever changed the dynamics of relationship selling, as the early conversations, upon which the “trusted advisor” relationship were built, are now being diligently avoided by most prospective buyers.

Now, that trust is built by educating prospective buyers early in their buying process, providing information of value to them, and establishing the credibility of knowing enough about the space to be able to solve their problems. Rather than relying on large sales teams with good golf skills, this now relies on marketing and sales teams who are able to work together closely to understand prospective buyers and educate them on topics of interest to them so they remain engaged throughout a lengthy buying cycle.

So where does that leave the discipline of Sales?

The discipline of sales is changing fundamentally, as there is a shift away from the upfront concepts of relationship building social functions and the discovery call. Sales is shifting towards being a discipline that builds trusted relationships based on providing real business value based on prospective buyers true needs and discovery based on guiding, and observing, buyers own education processes.

For those in the Atlanta area, I’m excited to be joining Rick Page, author of Hope is Not a Strategy, and Debbie Qaqish, Principal Partner at the Pedowitz Group in a luncheon and panel discussion on these exact topics. The event is on Friday, September 25th, and more information is available here:


For those unable to attend this event in Atlanta, I will definitely share the ideas, thoughts, and discussions that come out of the event with the audience here.

Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Unknown said...

Great post, Steve.

One of the things we see at Helpstream is the desire for the customer to be in control of everything. Whether that means taking control of Customer Service, or taking control of the Relationship/Education process, it has to come on the customer terms and be firmly under their control.

Social CRM offers a great way to empower your customers to learn about your offering at their own pace and is well suited to this brave new world.



Steven Woods said...

agreed very much, the change towards the customer being in control really spans from before the sale to after the sale and through to renewal.

My upcoming post on Thursday, in fact, is dealing with Social CRM and post-sale elements. :)