You have to sell and prove yourself first before you can hope to develop a relationship… Leading with the notion that you can build any sort of relationship from the outset is hopelessly out of touch, but that is precisely what around 90% of front-line sales professionals are still trying to do.
But be assured, relationship selling is alive and well, and reports of its death have been wildly exaggerated.
I think that, in order to fully comprehend what I mean, you need to imagine a couple on a first date – think of this in sales terms as the “exploratory meeting”. The two have never met before, but they have both done their homework: They have asked friend’s opinions; they have checked out each other’s Facebook profiles, etc. In fact, they have conducted as much research as possible so that, when they finally sit down to eat, the conversation is flowing and they discover considerable synergy. But this early attraction, and discovery of mutual interests and values, in no way leads either of them to instantly think of marriage – the desire to grow the relationship is established, but they are not ready to open joint bank accounts!
Our commercial relationships are very similar to that scenario if you think about it: Trust, which is the basis of all symbiotic business partnerships, cannot be created overnight – it takes time. Don’t ever mistake lust for love!
You see, on day one of any new potential relationship, we are simply in the “Me too” bracket: Lots of other companies may be bidding; we have not yet had the opportunity to demonstrate and prove our uniqueness, let alone our superiority.
If we are lucky enough to win that first order, we establish a foothold – it is never more than that.
At this point, we work diligently to ensure that all of the after-sales tasks are performed reliably, efficiently and on time. Our aim is to reach that next stage “Me first”. In other words, every time this customer has an additional requirement, they call us first for a quotation. We are not yet trusted advisors, but we are preferred suppliers.
Finally, we reach the hallowed ground – if we have followed all the rules of engagement, and if we have continually worked to “earn the right”. We become the chosen ones and we enter “Only me” territory. We now work with our customers to define strategy; we are not only trusted advisors, but also long-term allies. We have a relationship and both parties work very hard to maintain it, both aware of the costs of starting all over again from scratch – not unlike a marriage!
So in summary, I repeat, relationships take time to blossom and grow. There is no instant magic dust. But when a strong commercial relationship is formed, it can provide rich benefits – including substantially increased profitability and stability for both partners.