Relationship selling is dead, or so contends author Matthew Dixon in his book The Challenger Sale. I think Dixon’s report of the death of relationship selling is an exaggeration. Let’s say relationship selling is evolving.
Dixon advocates “challenge selling” over relationship selling. As highlighted recently on the American Express Open Forum, “Challenger salespeople … stand their ground and say to the customer: You need to think differently about your business. There are things happening in the market that we see. I need you to pay attention to the insights that I am delivering you and what actions you need to take.”
Let’s back up the train a bit. Before you can tell your customers what you think they should do, they have to trust you. To achieve results, sellers need to focus on improving their market analysis and sales planning skills, as well as on the quality of the interactions they have with their customers. High-quality customer interactions create opportunities for business. Understanding your market also means that there is opportunity to work as a team to sell products and services as solutions to customers’ business issues and problems.
A “high-quality customer interaction” is one in which the customer perceives the seller in the role of a “trusted adviser” who can provide solutions that address the company’s business needs and issues, not simply someone who is selling discrete products and services. To establish this perception in the customer’s eyes, the seller, or as we think of them, the relationship manager must be able to:
- understand the customer’s current business situation from your customer’s perspective.
- understand your customer’s buying motivation, style, and buying decision points and criteria.
- determine how the customer’s company financial situation relates to strategic business issues.
- explore with the customer problems and opportunities to improve their situation.
- focus specifically on those issues, problems, and opportunities that can be impacted by your products and services.
- make a cogent case that demonstrates to your customer how specific products and services will provide solutions to their company’s business issues.
Understanding the marketplace and bringing key insights to your customers is an essential component of developing effective customer relationships. Becoming that trusted advisor will make you an invaluable resource—one your customers will count on again and again.