For a few years, I have been hearing that "relationship selling is dead."
In other words, people are so busy and so self-absorbed they no longer have time to build relationships with companies and organizations. People are so time-starved that they no longer are interested in becoming "friends" with salespeople or even the owners/executives of the companies with which they do business.
In 2016, the argument goes, people are simply too overwhelmed for relationship-based selling to be effective.
What is relationship selling? It's the theory that customers put so much value in the positive interaction with a company or company representative that they develop strong feelings of loyalty, which sometimes can be even more powerful than the quality of the good or service and its price.
People who think relationship selling is dead are dead wrong, at least in my opinion.
As an aside, I tend to bristle any time I hear someone say something is "dead." Such statements tend to be exaggerations uttered by someone who is trying to sell an unproven replacement theory. The truth is that most techniques and methods and even philosophies and strategies don't simply pop up and suddenly vanish a couple of years later. Instead of changing abruptly, philosophies and strategies evolve. They phase in and then fade into the next iteration without ever fully going away.
That said, the business experts who claim that relationship selling is dead do have some rationale on their side. Marketing and selling operations are different from how they were 10 years ago.
It used to be that salespeople were the only true experts when it came to product features and benefits. If you wanted to learn what a product could do for you or your business, you had to sit down with a highly trained sales rep and ask a bunch of questions. Much of the value that the salesperson provided was in the form of knowledge dispensing. The salesperson was as much a journalist or teacher as a dealmaker.
In almost every industry, customers no longer depend on a salesperson's knowledge and experience. The Internet provides a wide array of product information, and all those blunt reviews on social media can provide incredible insight into products (and much of that insight can be damning).
All this easily available product knowledge has sped up the sales cycle and caused buyers to see products and services as mere commodities. At the same time, if you cater to big companies, you are dealing with professional buyers who are growing ever sophisticated in how they "beat up" their vendors on price.
So, if you run a business or sell things for a living, what do you do?
Remember that building strong relationships with both prospective and current clients is still important. People like to have positive and trusting relationships with the people who provide them with products and services, but you have to build the relationship in a way and at a pace that appeals to them. These days, you have to do things a little differently:
You must constantly focus on delivering what your customers value without assuming what they value. Only the customer can decide what is valuable to them, not you. Nobody needs to be buddies with a vendor just for the sake of having more friends. First and foremost, a business needs to provide exactly what a customer wants/needs. After that, you can differentiate yourself from the competition with a positive relationship. As long as the clients are receiving what they value, the advantage goes to whichever provider can develop the most positive connection. Life is short and full of stress, so when everything else is equal, we'd rather work with people we like.
Since so much product information is available before prospects even pick up the telephone or send an email, the salesperson's job has changed. Instead of being an all-knowing information provider, successful salespeople are coaches and guides. They listen carefully to what prospective customers want and then steer them to the best choice. If you do this properly, you will build a relationship that will yield fruit long into the future.
Because the marketplace is more hyperactive than in years past, you need to move quickly. You can still build long-term relationships, but you don't have much time to get started. Prospective customers expect calls to be returned immediately. They expect answers now instead of waiting a couple of days for you to get back to them.
If you're a business leader, empower your staff to provide answers as autonomously as possible. Any delay, especially early in the selling cycle, can cause the prospect to drift over to your competitor. Gone is the old standard that "you have 24 hours to return a message."
You could argue that relationships in business are even more valuable than they were in the past. While customers have more knowledge and options at their disposal, they're simultaneously under more stress. The successful business owner or salesperson is the one who constantly delivers client value in a pleasant and stress-free manner.
People will pay for that piece of mind, and they'll certainly be loyal to it.
Jeff Beals is an Omaha speaker and author who can be reached at email@example.com.