Ours Is a Relationship Sale. C’mon Man. That’s Stupid.

relationship saleIf I had a nickel for every time a CEO told me that their business was different.  That their products and services were sold based on relationships, well I’d have hundreds of nickels I guess.  But I bet that if I could speak to thousands of owners and CEOs they would tell me the same thing and then I’d have thousands of nickels.  Everybody thinks their products and services are special.  That the clients buy based solely on the relationship.  Heck this belief is propagated by the salespeople themselves.  They stake their claim.  Forge the relationship and then hunker down.  They want everyone to think that the only reason the customer buys is because of them.  I suppose it is possible, but the ability to build relationships is not unique.

Another illustration of this belief is that a relative of mine has been interviewing for a sales position.  He has interviewed for 5 positions and has been offered all 5.  In each and every company, he was told by an executive that their sale is a relationship sale.  What does that even mean?  And more importantly, why does it matter?  Should CEOs even care about this?  I believe many unsuccessful salespeople are hired based on the belief by upper management that the individual will be able to execute a “relationship” sale.  Let me tell you why it doesn’t matter.

I evaluated data provided by Objective Management Group on over 300,000 salespeople from every industry imaginable and from all over the world.  I sliced and diced the data based on one specific trait – whether or not the salesperson was a good relationship builder.  The Objective Management Group data provides an overall rating called a Sales Quotient about each salesperson that gets evaluated.  There are four buckets on the Sales Quotient scale in which a salesperson can fall:

  • Elite – the best of the best, rarified air, truly consultative salespeople – only 7% fall in this category
  • Strong – able to execute more complex or difficult sales, probably able to differentiate well
  • Serviceable – okay for transactional sales or selling situations without much competition
  • Weak – the vast majority of salespeople, frequently those without experience

So, I looked at these four categories specifically for the trait of Relationship Builder expecting to find a big difference between the Elite and Weak.   And here is what I found.  Drum roll please…there is basically no difference between any of the categories.  On average the Elite salespeople have 54% of the traits of a Relationship Builder and the Weak salespeople have 53% of the traits of a Relationship Builder. This is an imperceptible difference.  Hmm.  So why do we place so much emphasis in our hiring on this trait?  I suppose it is important as a baseline.

My advice:

Check the box on the individual being able to build relationships, but don’t stop there.

Look for actual traits and Sales DNA that will separate the Elite from the rest of the pack, such as Consultative Seller skills or the fact that the salesperson has No Need for Approval.

Don’t allow your salespeople to hold you hostage based on the fact that they own the relationship with the client.

Build repeatable sales processes to ensure that your salespeople can execute based on the client’s desires not just on a personal relationship.

If your team is just selling products and services and is not talking about business problems with their clients and prospects, then train them up.  They might have a strong personal relationship with the buyers but without creating true value to the client, that relationship can be shaky.

Stay tuned as I write next time about the important differentiators that separate the Elite from the rest.