In the book The Challenger Sale, the relationship salesperson scored poorly. What most readers didn't realize was that the Challenger's second-highest score after "challenge" was "relationship." This should not surprise anyone in B2B sales. A relational sales approach was built on spending time with your clients and developing a high level of personal rapport. Much of the time, the relational approach is pursued by conflict-averse salespeople.
Here is what is true: You will have a relationship with your prospective clients, including the ones you win. The question is what relationship you believe your client needs from you. The modern relational sales approach requires more than a personal rapport.
What Is the Nature of Your Relationship
When sales was more transactional, developing more personal relationships gave salespeople an edge over their competition. Any time you see humans adapting to their environment, it is because the adaptation provides an advantage. Salespeople who were adapting their sales approach to be more relational were spending more time with their prospective clients in hope of securing a sale. The relational approach would find them developing rapport and business friendships. There are several ways we can describe the relationships between salespeople and their clients.
The first approach is transactional. The salesperson is only sitting across from their client to peddle whatever is that they sell. This approach isn't designed to create value for the client in the sales conversation. It is increasingly difficult to win a client's business using this approach in B2B sales unless the purchase is simply a transaction.
For the second approach, let’s imagine one that is purely relational. The salesperson using this relational sales approach is concerned with developing a close relationship with their contact. The client likes spending time with this person, eventually giving them their business because the salesperson created enough of the right value for this client. This relational approach appeals to buyers who want this kind of relationship, something less common in the 21st century.
The third sales approach is consultative. The consultative salesperson is more concerned with creating value for their prospective clients through their sales conversations. While building rapport is secondary, it comes from being a peer and someone who can help the client improve their results. The nature of this relationship is creating value.
The Elements of a Modern Relational Sales Approach
One thing that humans do is categorize things. In this case, you can be either transactional, relational, or consultative. We make these choices mutually exclusive. You can be one or another, but not a combination of them. A common mistake is believing that a person may have the capacity to use more than one of these approaches simultaneously.
The key elements in the modern relational approach are value creation and a certain type of a relationship. That relationship is something like that of a trusted advisor. Because the priority is creating value, the salesperson develops something close to a business friendship. The reason the salesperson can win the business is because their knowledge and experience covers gaps in the client's knowledge. This allows the client to hand off responsibility for certain outcomes to their trusted advisor, knowing they will make sure the client knows what they need to know.
Why This Modern Relational Sales Approach Wins
Much has changed over the last two decades. Decision-makers and their teams are busier than ever and are unwilling to spend time with salespeople who don't create value around their decisions and outcomes. Sales organizations have become more transactional, trying desperately to speed up the sales cycle. This makes the experience feel more transactional. Finally, there are far too many companies competing for business in most industries, which gives clients the impression that every product or service is a commodity.
Let's assume you are calling on a client. Which do you believe increases your chances of winning more: creating greater value or developing a relationship? Before you answer, consider this: You will always have a relationship with your clients, but a transactional relationship will produce poor long-term results. A pure relationship sales approach, devoid of value creation, also performs poorly in our current environment. When clients need more help making decisions and improving their results, the relationship is inadequate.
The modern relational sales approach recognizes the need to be consultative. It reflects the new way you must think about client relationships. By leading with the counsel, advice, and the recommendations your contacts need, you create a relationship that serves both you and your clients. When you work closely with people over time, a friendship often naturally develops.
Why You Want a Relationship
One reason you want a relationship is because it allows you to win a client once by protecting you from having to continually compete for the client's business. The relationship coupled with the better results you provide eliminate the need for the client to look elsewhere for help.