Healthy relationships in selling and leadership are sometimes predicated on a challenge. Without a challenge, the relationship is hardly worth the effort.
I doubt if there is a sales training program or sales book today that fails to cover relationship building as a means to securing more sales. The key is the quality of relationship.
In a recently published study on “Selling Is Not About Relationships” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, the authors describe two types of salespeople: “Relationship Builders” and “Challengers”.
Relationship Builders focus “on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time; strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.” On the surface, this description is generic enough to fit well within the parameters of the art of relationships. However, as the writers define this type of salesperson further, they add that relationship builders “focus on relieving tension by giving in to the customer’s every demand.”
In my estimation, and that of Dixon and Adamson, this type of relationship builder is not what you would expect from a salesperson practicing the art of relationships. In fact, it is more in line with how the art might look like practiced by someone who cannot move beyond the science of selling.
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.” This type of salesperson, according to their studies, outperforms all others. I think this is helpful, but imperfect. For me a good salesperson practicing the art of relationships builds relationships through healthy challenge.
With this context, I describe relationship building in the art of relationships as follows:
- Being vested in the customer’s business objectives and demonstrating a real interest in their personal and professional success
- Having the integrity to say “I don’t know” and “no,” and providing transparency into you and your company’s actual capabilities
- Knowing your industry so well that you can teach your clients insights. In other words, get in front of where they are going and offer new possibilities