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Monday, July 7, 2008

Relationship Selling ( I )...

Why developing "relationships" is the key to sales success
by David Bookout

Many of the small to medium enterprise ( SME ) owners and executives I've worked with over the years have one thing in common relative to sales and selling.

They either don't like to sell, or they just don't consider themselves sales people.

However, at the end of the day, somebody has to buy something from someone else to make the world go round. So, I would offer that this orientation, and the narratives that go with them are a big mistake for three reasons.

First, the identity component. Clients want to know that they are dealing with decision makers, people that they assess to really have the power to make things happen should the need arise. This is particularly true in more expensive, or more complicated offers, which may include business process changes. In these situations relegating sales, specifically the closing part of the sales process, to sales people often doesn't produce the client confidence necessary to close the deal. This is often why we see a drop in sales, instead of sustained growth, when SME owners and executives bring in sales people to manage the sales process. In these instances prospects and even existing clients can feel betrayed when these transitions aren't handled in a way that meets, or exceeds their expectations.

Second up, narratives are equally important, and these new sales people often struggle to embody these narratives fast enough, or effectively enought to sustain satisfactory growth rates. Also, to often, these new sales people find the need to materially change these stories, or personalize them in a way that no longer resonates well the desired audience. This can form a double disbelief, including the identity component, and effectively short-circuiting the sale.

Third, and perhaps most important, is the relationship component. SME owners and executives that are trying their hardest to get out of the sales role seem to forget the simple fact that he, or she that has the relationship with a client has the power. How many times have you heard of sales people who get disenchanted with their employer, leave the company, and take a significant number of customers with them to cash flow their new venture. Forget the fact that this is illegal unless there is a significant amount of money at stake, which wouldn't even be an SME situation in the first place, and your certain you can win.

In conclusion, these three rules will help SME owners and executives effectively transition sales roles and facilitate growth:

1) Keep the closing role. Owners and executives that maintain their client relationships by staying involved in the sales cycle tend to have steadier growth charts.

2) Monitor narratives for effectiveness and migration. Continue to go on sales calls, and maintain a commitment to help new sales people establish effective story telling skills.

3) Maintain relationship. By focusing on number 1 and 2 above, it is much easier to not become a stranger to your hard earned customers.

Our next installment in this series will focus on relationship building skills and practices.

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