Is Relationship Selling Dead?

UPDATED: April 21, 2011
PUBLISHED: April 21, 2011

Your prospects don’t return your calls or they quickly brush you off if you catch them on the phone. They check their cell phone during your meetings together. Even your favorite customers ignore you for months. If selling is about relationships, based on the way your prospects are behaving, you might begin to think they’re “just not that into you.”

The truth is your prospects are overwhelmed. Their calendars are filled with meetings. They’re buried in e-mail. And fires keep popping up everywhere. Yet they’re expected to do even more, with fewer resources in less time.

They’re good people doing their very best to survive in a world of relentless chaos. The last thing they need is another “relationship”—especially when they’re not spending enough time with their favorite people already.

Here’s good news: These frazzled people crave strong relationships with sellers they can trust. But, to be that person, you need to understand how your prospects are thinking.

Time is their most precious commodity. The last thing they want to do is waste it with a self-serving salesperson who blathers endlessly about leading-edge products, one-stop shopping or unique methodologies. To be brutally frank, they could care less about your products, services or solution. But they do care a tremendous amount about reaching their goals, eliminating problems and avoiding failure—and they’re looking for someone who can help them accomplish those things.

If you want to connect with prospects today, you must first pass the new relationship test. As your prospects listen to your pitch, play your voicemails or read your e-mails, they’re evaluating you using the following criteria:

Is this relevant? Does this person provide value? What's the urgency? Will it take lots of effort?

Unless you can answer those questions very quickly, you won’t earn the right to have a relationship with them. They’ll quickly delete your messages and move on to their next project. Building strong relationships with crazy-busy people requires that you adhere to the new rules of selling.

Rule 1: Keep it simple. Too many options, big decisions and complexity of any sort overwhelms them. When that happens, they decide to stay with the status quo.

Rule 2: Be invaluable. They’ll love you if you bring them helpful ideas and information on a regular basis. Make yourself the expert they can’t live without.

Rule 3: Always align. Your prospects need to see an immediate connection between what you do and what they’re trying to achieve. Be ruthlessly relevant.

Rule 4: Raise priorities. It’s imperative to work with frazzled prospects on priority projects. With their limited capacity, that’s all they can handle. Because priorities constantly shift, be alert to what’s going on in their organization.

Relationship selling isn’t dead. You still need to connect with your prospects on a personal level, but that’s no longer sufficient. Your prospects want your expertise focused on their priority goals, key initiatives, bottlenecks, issues and challenges. They want your fresh ideas and insights. They want you to make their lives easier.

When you become a resource rather than another obligation, they’ll not only take your call, they’ll call you back.