A few days ago, a sales humor profile showed a picture of a performer with a note saying the person was a sales trainer being paid $15,000 to tell a sales force that they need to build a relationship with clients.
While the image was humorous, there is a truth too few recognize. That truth is that you already have a relationship with your client and your prospective clients. The question is: “What kind of relationship will you develop?”
A Transactional Relationship
Many salespeople have a transactional relationship with their clients. The client needs to buy something they need all the time. Because the client has many experiences making this decision, transacting may be exactly what the relationship should be.
These transactional relationships often last years and decades if it is working for the client. A transactional relationship can be threatened by a change in the client’s need, continuing failures, or a new contact inviting a supplier they worked with in their last role.
Transactional is sometimes treated as poor selling, but that is only true if the client needs something more from the salesperson.
A Reactive Service Provider Relationship
Sales reps here react and respond to a client’s needs. Imagine a company with machinery that needs maintenance. This is often a variation on a transactional relationship because it is only necessary when something needs attention.
Some great sales organizations execute both the first two relationships. Many have long-term contracts and effective relationships. They may also have excellent relationships with their contacts.
A Consultative Relationship
Many of us execute a consultative relationship, as we provide counsel, advice, and recommendations. These relationships generally start when a contact needs to make an important decision, one they must get right. This relationship requires more of the salesperson than some of the other relationships.
What makes this different is that the salesperson must know more about the company, their industry, and the experience to tailor the advice to the client’s company. The first two relationship types, transactional and reactive, rarely require them to be consultative.
Trusted Advisor Relationship
This relationship requires even more than the consultative relationship. You need deep trust with an equally deep and comprehensive understanding not only of the company, but also of their contact’s goals and personal concerns.
At this level of relationship, you are the linchpin, making yourself indispensable. This is the pinnacle of the relationship levels. One way you know you are a trusted advisor is your client asking for your counsel outside of their business.
Scroll through LinkedIn and look for content about relationships. You will find little, even though you know relationships are important. You have not been taught or trained to develop your relationship, something we take for granted. But to develop the right relationship, you need first to get the business relationship right.
The first couple of relationships may have excellent personal relationships, the kind that can last the length of your career in sales, even though they are transactional. You may also have personal relationships with a consultative relationship. You want your relationship to retain and grow your clients.
The Risks to Your Relationships
Recognize the threats to your relationships: complacency, failure to adapt, failure to provide what comes next, trust, and negligence. These threats are linked to common issues in relationships:
- Business Needs Change(Complacency): You can work away with your transactional relationship only to fail to notice your client’s business needs something more from you. This can cause your client to seek help from one of your competitors.
- Lack of Communication (Complacency): Infrequent communication can cause your relationship to erode.
- A Lack of Attention (Complacency): Because your client hasn’t contacted you doesn’t mean they don’t need your help. Relationships are expensive. You pay for them in time and attention. Absence doesn’t make the heart go fonder; it makes your client wander.
- Inability to Help Improve Results (Failure to Adapt): In these different relationships, if you cannot help your contacts improve their business and their results. Some who should be consultative haven’t done the work to be consultative.
- Running Out of Ideas (Failure to Provide What Comes Next): You have provided your client the best ideas, and now you have no ideas for your client.
- Lack of Transparency (Trust): Every relationship is built on trust. When that trust is broken, you risk the loss of your relationship, which is why I prefer to lose a deal than to lie to a client.
- Over Promising (Trust): The promise that exceeds what you can do for your client harms your relationship, eventually causing them to lose trust in you and your promises. If you want to prevent this, tell your client you will have a learning curve and that you will only improve.
- Lack of Proactivity (Negligence): A lack of proactivity can cause you to harm your relationship, especially in a consultative relationship. You can’t be a trusted advisor without being proactive.
What Kind of Client Relationship?
It’s important you decide what kind of relationship you will have with your clients. This isn’t something you should allow to form itself. You are better off deciding what kind of relationship you and your client will need to do the best work together. I would suggest you sell the relationship, as it is far better to win a client than to win an order, especially today.
There seems to be a gap in sales development regarding relationships. It is possible to improve your sales results by methodically building a plan for each client and what they need from you. Inherently, we know relationships are important, but too many sales organizations are regressing back to transactional approaches with the false belief it speeds up the acquisition of a client.