Blogs are good…if they make you think. Similarly, relationships particularly in the case of business relationships are good if they lead, in one form or another, to a mutually beneficial exchange of goods and/or services.
I read a blog recently which discussed and debated the value of a relationship and whether it began before or after the first sale is made. Of course, there was the obligatory quote from a larger-than-life super-achiever sales guy who said that he didn’t need relationships in business because he had friends for that. It goes on to reference the sales person who goes out and builds lots of relationships but never closes any business.
Our first order of business is to establish a working definition for a viable business relationship. This blog did a good job of identifying some key elements, namely trust, follow-through, value and reputation. However, there is more to be said about how they evolve and where they fit. Clearly, the salesperson initiating a relationship with a prospect wants to build on the afore mentioned elements. The larger-than-life guys do this instinctively when they enter the room. What they do cannot be taught or replicated. It’s a force-of-personality thing. For the rest of us mortals it is a process that requires tenacity, diligence and strong listening skills. It’s an iterative process.
There are two additional elements that must be present in order for this to be a viable business relationship: honesty and integrity. Yes, the prospect must be able to expect that the salesperson brings those elements to the table. The old adage that you can tell when a salesperson is lying because their lips move is humorous but should never be applicable. However, the salesperson has a right to expect those elements to be part of the relationship with the prospect as well. If the salesperson is doing the job of addressing the prospects needs, the salesperson has I right to know if they are being taken seriously and that they are playing on a level playing field.
That isn’t to say that this always exists, but rather that this is where you want to get to with a business relationship. Shame on the salesperson who fails to do their “sales within a sale thing” throughout the sales cycle to make sure they are being taken seriously. You will win your share of deals when these elements are present. No one wants to lose the deal in a competitive situation, but if you do not win the first time that initial relationship could still lead to valuable referrals and future opportunities to work with the prospect. At the very least you should be able to walk away with a clear understanding of why you lost and what you can do in the future to improve your competitive position…and if the initial winner screws up, you may yet have another opportunity to win the deal.
All of the above has spoken to what has happened before the initial sale is made. Once that initial sale is made, guess what…it is no different…or at least it shouldn’t be. Salespeople and companies can claim to have a relationship with a client. You may have delivered an absolutely pluperfect solution on time and under budget, taken them to dinner, played golf, sprang for tickets to a playoff game or bought their kids gifts. What you should expect that to get you is a fair shot at the next opportunity.
Yes, you may actually have an inside track, but in our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of business, the inside track is all too easily derailed by the next strong competitive bid. The process of building a solid business relationship is not only iterative. It is also never ending. Priorities change as do people, roles, responsibilities and the authority to sign checks. Therefore, you can and must always build upon trust, follow-through, value and reputation as well as honesty and integrity. The term “penetrate and radiate”, which I stole from a colleague a long time ago, is the key to ensuring the creation and perpetuation of profitable business relationships.
About Michael Bergman