The second myth of print sales: relationship selling brings in the business

Posted by Matthew Parker

Have you ever seen a print sales person imitate a goldfish?

This happened to me a few years ago. He wasn’t expecting the answer that I gave him. His mouth opened, then closed but nothing came out. He went all goggle eyed.

The reason for this fishy behaviour was because I said a single word to him:  “No”.

The print sales person had just changed companies. He had made a big deal to his new manager about all the loyal customers that he had. But I had just told him that I was staying with his original company. And by the way he reacted, I’m guessing that I wasn’t the only one to stay.

This story illustrates a fact that many print sales people prefer to ignore.

Relationship selling on its own doesn’t make money

Relationship sellers can resemble goldfish

Relationship sellers can resemble goldfish

Sales people that focus on business reasons rather than just on relationships actually build better partnerships with their customers. Their customers remain loyal because there is a good, logical reason. Their custom is not just based on whether they like someone or not. That means that the sales people have better control over their future orders. They find it easier to achieve the targets that they have been set.

Sales people that continue to rely on relationship selling and nothing else will find that they get poorer results in return for a lot of hard work. Often, their prospect will be delighted at all the help, friendship and free consultancy that they get from these sales people. But they will often go elsewhere to place orders. So relationship sellers will struggle to control a solid sales pipeline. They may find it very hard to achieve the targets that they have been set.

There is some solid research behind these conclusions

In my last article, I highlighted a study from a book called The Challenger Sale. This research profiled over 6,000 sales people from a variety of market sectors. They found five groups of sales people. Last week I talked about the hard worker. This week I am going to focus on the relationship builder.

When the study looked at the results of relationship builders it was found that these were the lowest performing of all sales people. For a commodity sale only 11% of the high performing sales people were relationship builders. When it came to more complex sales the figure dropped to 4%.

The chances of a relationship builder being a high performing sales person are very low. Let’s look at some more research to find out why.

Relationship builders fail to perform because of the 60% rule

Another study, carried out by Siebel Research, tracked the buyer journey. They found that 60% of the buyer journey could not be influenced by a sales person.

By its very nature, the success of relationship selling depends on interaction with the prospect or customer. However, if the sales person can only influence 40% of the buyer’s decision-making process then relationship selling faces a problem. It’s going to struggle to influence the buyer enough.

So how does this work in reality?

Let’s look at the buyer journey

If a print sales person approaches me and I am interested in their sales pitch, what do I do? Traditional thinking would say that I should meet up with them to find out more. Actually, there is an awful lot that goes on before I’m prepared to take that decision.

After a sales person has approached me, I am going to check them out thoroughly. I will be looking at their company website. I will be looking at their social media presence. I will be checking out customer references. And I will be talking to my industry contacts to find out what they think of this company and the sales person.

So I will have been doing a lot of research and have a lot of information that will influence my decision. A relationship builder has no chance to build a relationship during this activity.

Of course, some people will be reading this in disbelief.

All business is built on good personal relationships

I’m not denying this at all. It’s a lot easier to do good business with someone you like. If you don’t like the person you’re dealing with, the chances are you will try and take your business elsewhere.

However, these days a good business relationship has to be based on more than just the relationship. There have be solid, logical reasons for choosing a supplier. If you rely on relationship building on its own, it will not be enough. You will struggle to get the right sales.

Here is a real-life example

One of the magazine printers that I regularly use has excellent sales people. They are very good at creating successful relationships. But the power of their sale relies on far more than this.

Their sales message is very powerful. It has a clear target audience. They know what worries this audience. They have a great solution for it.

This company does not just rely on its sales people to spread the message. You will find this message on their website, in their newsletter and in social media (although they could do this bit better). I also constantly get great feedback about them from my industry contacts.

If I was a new prospect considering this company, I would be reassured at every level. There are some concrete reasons to use them rather than their competition. Even if I checked them out in greater detail I would find a consistent and compelling message.

So what can you do to get to this point?

  1. Make sure that you have an engaging company message. Focus on the TPD principle: target audience, pain, difference.
  2. Brief your sales team on the message and make sure they use it consistently.
  3. Make sure that you have this sales message in place on your website, on your newsletter and in your social media.

If you carry out these three action points, you’ll be in a far better place than many of your competitors.

You’ll certainly be in a far better place than the print salesperson who imitated a goldfish

He thought that our relationship would automatically win him the sale. He found out that he was wrong.

Goldfish have a memory that lasts about seven seconds. Customer loyalty based on relationships can be just as short-lived.

Some sales people feel that they don’t need to worry about relationships. There are plenty of interesting features of their company for them to focus on instead.  I’m going to bust the myth about selling on features and benefits next week.
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