A Sales Strategy for Relationship Builders
While there are many, many, many of you who have chosen to be business owners, I would venture to guess that fewer of you have had formal sales training or had to develop a sales strategy. When you decided to become a business owner, you didn’t necessarily make that decision with all the facts in place. You did it out of passion for your work, which is great and I think more important really. Who doesn’t want to feel passionate about what they get to do at their job everyday, it makes life so much more enjoyable.
But once you open the doors to your business, you are suddenly responsible for everything which includes bringing in new business and that makes you the chief of sales strategy. I never worked for the type of company that had sales training so learning how to bring in business so that I would get the opportunity to do what I love was something I had to learn quickly.
For business people who have not been in sales, sometimes the idea of suddenly having to become a sales person is icky. We have preconceived notions of what being in sales means and our heads are filled with visions of the slimy used car salesmen, the schmoozers or the shysters and it reinforces the idea that being in sales automatically puts you in an adversarial position with your prospect; that you are intentionally trying to get them to do what you want them to do which is manipulation. It doesn’t feel good.
Actually sounds quite a bit like parenting doesn’t it? Get them to eat their vegetables, make their bed, clean up their room, do their homework…those are all negotiations and examples of selling.
So the reality is, we are all in sales. In your personal life you negotiate frequently for various reasons and to varying degrees of preferred outcome. But how can you take sales skills that you already possess, whether you realized it or not, and apply them to your business?
There is a great article on the Harvard Business Review blog that was published in September of 2011 written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson that identifies five distinct profiles that every B2B sales professional falls into:
- Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customers’ organization. They are generous with their time; strive to meet their customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
- Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
- Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.
- Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the customers’ standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on post-sales follow-up, ensuring that service issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly.
- Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.
According to this massive global study of over 6000 reps across 100 companies and several industries, which profile do you think was the most successful? The 80/20 rule stands with most things in life and that includes a sales force. Typically 80% of sales would be generated by 20% of the sales force. With five profiles, you would expect that the high performers across the entire study would wind up being 20% of each profile but that’s not what happened.
If you’ve been reading current sales and communication books you may be disappointed. The result was, that close to 40% of the high performers all came from one profile. Those star high performers were all Challengers, not Relationship Builders.
Hmm… Now I’ve got you thinking right?
While these authors on the HBR blog go on to make a case for why being a Challenger type sales profile is best, even though a great number of authors and experts have been telling us for several years that being a Relationship Builder is what is required today, I have a different take.
I believe the perfect sales profile is a mesh of both. Remember
Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and supports across the customers’ organization. They are generous with their time; strive to meet their customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push the customers’ thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.
I think the combination makes the perfect sales strategy profile for the 21st century. Be a relationship builder in the sense that you develop strong personal and professional relationships with your customers and strive to meet their needs. Be generous with your time, to a point that makes sense, and be transparent and quick to resolve issues. The flaw of the relationship builder is they are quick to give the customer what they asked for. The problem with that is that a customer doesn’t always know what they need. You have to be able to discern and give them what they need, not necessarily what they ask for.
So be ready to think outside the box and push the customer by giving them ways of looking at their problems that they’ve never considered before. Be ready to show them why and how a different point of view is good for them, thereby taking control of the sales conversation. Don’t be afraid to be honest, transparent even if it may be controversial. That’s being assertive. This will firmly build a great relationship while making you a go-to problem solver for that client.
It takes both to be a sales superstar. For additional help, I want you to read The 7 Levels of Communication by Michael J. Maher. It’s a quick read and will give you a very firm foundation on how to build relationships with your prospects. Then read The Challenger Sale, a book written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, authors on the HBR blog post I shared. Mesh the two into your sales process and you will be staged for super star salesdom in your business. I guarantee it!