For a sales relationship to be successful there are many skills, behaviours and attributes one must harness. Integrity is key. Your word, your honour, your actions and your promise is what you will be judged upon – not your spin.

With the rise of the digital world, your reputation now precedes you and you will be judged. ‘Old school selling’ techniques such as product monologues (which us marketing and sales people are all too familiar with), bullying tactics and in some cases pure deception, simply don’t work. Trust is now the name of the game and for sales relationships to work and be retained, trust must be achieved.

Interestingly, it seems highly successful sales women are to be our inspiration here. My interviews with women has demonstrated that they have a knack for establishing a long term relationship with a customer, are better listeners and (surprise) they find it easier to identify emotions and respond with empathy. This is not to say that males aren’t great at selling – it’s just that the behaviours required these days have shifted.

In reviewing the latest research on elite sale performers, gender differences in sales capabilities were found; women rated significantly higher than men on 5 of the 7 emerging competencies which gave them a distinct advantage in selling.  Some of these capabilities included:

  • listening beyond the product needs;
  • engaging in self-appraisal and continuous learning;
  • orchestrating internal resources;
  • aligning customer/supplier strategic objectives; and
  • establishing a vision of a committed customer.

These competencies coupled with a full understanding of relationship selling is what’s important in order to turn a profit. ‘Relationship Selling’ is a term often bandied about by sales managers and sales people without proper definition. Often the statement that one needs relationship selling is made but the right questions are never asked. These are:

  • What type of relationship are we talking about?
  • What type of relationship are we looking for?
  • What do we mean by relationship selling anyway?

Relationship selling happens in any place where relationships are important. Most people’s intentions are to have healthy viable business relationships, but this does not always happen, just like in our personal lives.

I see many businesses and sales people in trouble because they have set up the wrong types of relationships with their clients to begin with. If you don’t clearly define what you mean by Relationship Selling then you may end up with client relationships that are abusive, aggressive, simply social, master/servant relationships, big brother relationships, win:lose or lose:win relationships or even friendships at the expense of profitable business partnerships.

One needs to consider whether these types of relationships are currently in one’s business and whether they are healthy or not. And of course, are the making you money or costing you?

Some of the relationships mentioned are particularly relevant for SME’s when dealing with big business where, for instance, your size can be used against you.  I also see sales people in relationship sales roles for big businesses as well as SME’s who over service existing client at the expense of selling and winning in new business thinking this is good relationship selling.  It is not, as it sets up unrealistic expectations and costs too much.

All relationships change and are continually evolving over time for better or for worse.

You need to make sure you:

  • Clearly define your level of service/products offerings and pricing.
  • Know what you are good at and clearly communicate and deliver that.
  • Create a network of businesses who are experts in allied fields to you so you can refer your clients to them when a needs arises you cannot fill.
  • Learn to say ‘No’.
  • Stand up for yourself, just because you are small doesn’t mean you can’t be a professional, well regarded business in your market.
  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Know the line between friendship and professional business relationships, and
  • Apply integrity to all your dealings with prospects and clients. Deliver on promises – don’t over promise!