Is Relationship Selling Dead?

Is Relationship Selling Dead?

“I just can’t quite get my mind wrapped around the fact that relationship selling is dead.”  It made me stop to consider the concept of whether relationship selling is really dead or has it just evolved into a different type of relationship.

I was talking with a friend and fellow business owner recently about how his business has changed over the last five years. From rebranding to challenges with his salesforce and the ever changing perspective of his marketplace, he keeps thinking and rethinking about what types of individuals he needs on his sales team and how to best teach them to sell his company, not just his product.  As part of the conversation, he said something that really struck me and got me thinking, “I just can’t quite get my mind wrapped around the fact that relationship selling is dead.”  It made me stop to consider the concept of whether relationship selling is really dead or has it just evolved into a different type of relationship.

The evolution of the sales relationship.

I spent most of my twenties and thirties selling in the home improvement industry. I sold brands like 3M and Genie Garage Doors to companies such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. I knew everyone I sold to on both a professional and personal basis. I sent gifts not just for their birthdays but for their children’s birthdays as well. There was very little difference between how I spent my work time and my personal time since they were so intermixed. I sold millions of dollars worth of product and helped grow a company from $5 to over $50 million based on my knowledge, skill set, and relationships.

Fast forward a decade later I am in the Interim Executive and Management Consulting industry.  Most of my clients contact me after doing a search on the internet and reading through my website. Having never met me in person, they already trust me enough to connect them with the right Interim CEO or CFO to bring into their company.

In comparing the two, I still have a relationship with my clients, it has just evolved over time. I do believe there has been a major shift in how companies make their buying decisions. Though many will argue and say the price has become one of the top decision-making factors, I think there are a number of other factors far more influencing.  The availability of a digital footprint has evolved a number of things from personal relationships to business relationships. Even the most traditional industries such as home improvement and construction have transformed.

Relationship Selling Case Study

Case in Point: Back in 2008, at the height of the recession, we had a client who sold in the construction industry and had experienced devastating revenue losses. Their traditional sales model was not enough to generate the needed leads to fill the company’s sales pipeline. For the first time in the company’s history, they established a marketing program. One year later, the company experienced a 52% increase in sales. Though it can be argued that 100% of that cannot be contributed to the marketing efforts but based on the number of leads and various new techniques for managing them in the pipeline, the company gave much of the credit to their new efforts.

In a time where Google and CRM systems know more about me and some of my buying habits than my closest friends, I am able to quickly build trust and a relationship with a company I have never bought from before nor have I personally met anyone.  A company’s online footprint allows me to quickly assess the company’s reputation, other client experiences and general relevant knowledge/capacity to help with my need.  Being connected with someone on LinkedIn or following them on Twitter now constitutes a “relationship”.

Call me an optimist, but I refuse to believe that relationship selling is dead.  It has just evolved into a different relationship that takes the same amount of nurturing and commitment.  Fortunately, I can automate much of it now.  Since part of the relationship starts to get built before the client ever contacts you, everything you do online should reflect the kind of person and company your customer base wants to buy from.   The more your marketing and sales team understands this and is consistent with it, the better they can convey the story of your brand, your product and themselves to make that quick connection and get on the same page with the client’s needs.

Whichever side of the fence you sit, at the core is still there. You need to know and understand the various segments of your customer base, why they buy your product, what they expect and deliver on it.  Every contact should be seen as building a relationship with that customer as well as future customers.

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