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Effective Relationship Builders Remain Important Part of Selling

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Let’s visit a quote from a recent HBR Blog:

“In our study, Relationship Builders come in dead last, accounting for only 7% of all high performers.

Why is this? It’s certainly not because relationships no longer matter in B2B sales–that would be a naïve conclusion. Rather, what the data tell us is that it is the nature of the relationships that matter. Challengers win by pushing customers to think differently, using insight to create constructive tension in the sale. Relationship Builders, on the other hand, focus on relieving tension by giving in to the customer’s every demand. Where Challengers push customers outside their comfort zone, Relationship Builders are focused on being accepted into it. They focus on building strong personal relationships across the customer organization, being likable and generous with their time.” 

Interesting to focus on the “fine print” here. 

First: They are definitely NOT saying that relationship selling is ineffective… “that would be a naïve conclusion” according to the authors.

Second: Don’t be misled by their category labels.  It is still about relationships!  The key point they say “… is that it is the nature of the relationships that matter.”  So it isn’t that so-called relationship builders are somehow ineffective, only those sales people that fail to use “…insight to create constructive tension in the sale.”  In other words, the authors are suggesting a specific type of relationship.

Third: You can’t squeeze every sales person into some idealized mold.  What these “challengers” do might be unique to their personal style, personality, experience, etc. The approach, no matter how well it is tested in the study, may only work for the few.  So this seems more about testing for these qualities in the hiring process rather than trying to instruct the entire sales team in this approach.

I’ve experienced efforts to move sales people into new roles/approaches only to see their effectiveness decline. 

BEST PRACTICES TIP:  Sometimes it seems that authors work too hard to try and create a unique angle, and they stray from a solid underlying theory to explain their findings.  Human beings are hard-wired to have safe and secure relationships – so the real issue here is why is it that the type of relationship they say is the most effective?  Let me know your thoughts.

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