The Real Reason Why Relationship Selling Doesn’t Work.

You’ve been told time and time again that sales success comes down to trust and relationships.

If buyers don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you. That is usually true. If you don’t have a relationship with the buyer, they won’t buy from you. That’s sometimes true.

But what’s ridiculous and misleading about this entire discussion is how you go about building trust and relationships.

The current relationship selling model is horribly broken.

You’ve been told that you need a packed schedule of lunch meetings, cocktail parties, and other “personal excursions” to convince clients that you’re a person they should do business with — the wine-and-dine model.

And certainly, likeability does matter in life. We all avoid jerks as often as we can.  But being likable isn’t a sales strategy though. Neither is building relationships.

That’s because human beings are complicated creatures.

We like certain things at certain times for certain reasons. And then at a moment’s notice all of that can change.

What we think is certain is really uncertainty.

So working towards relationship as a primary sales strategy is unreliable. It’s just not a smart, predictable plan for success.

Your client’s uncertainty combined with your momentary uncertainty make for frustratingly unproductive efforts.

You being fake just adds to the chaos. The problem with most sales relationships is that the only exist as long as money exist.  The reason for the relationship is money. So is the motivation for maintaining the relationship.

It’s not genuine interest or empathy or companionship. It’s just a deal.

And that makes the uncertainty even more uncertain.

When your client thinks he has a relationship with you and you think you just have “a deal”, things can unravel pretty quickly.

No one likes to be taken advantage of. Adding money to the mix just makes that feeling worse.

That’s why relationship selling is broken. Because the relationships themselves are broken. Most of them were never really created in the first place.

Instead of trying to build relationships, work on being an empathetic person.

Genuinely care about those around you.

Realize the human intangibles that impact decision-making from everyone you meet.

You can keep trying to “fake it until you make it”. But that just means you’ll probably never end up “making it.”

Care more. That just works better.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachLee Leanne HoaglandSmith

    So horribly true, Dan. What I advocate is to just be valuable and this means for you to authentically care about other people.

    If you are a salesperson or business person who only cares about getting that next sales or order or reference and use lunches, etc. to buy the business then you are shortchanging the customer and more importantly yourself. .

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      1. Care More
      2. Fake Less

      You got it right, Leanne…

  • GerhardV

    Too true – so many sales reps think they have to have a “relationship” with the prospect first. I don’t need a buddy, I need somebody to trust me I can help them reach their objectives with my offerings. If you want to be loved, get a dog. Bigger problem with relationship selling is that it stuffs the pipeline full of false opportunities – just because they take all your calls, respond to your emails and let you take them to lunch doesn’t mean they are even a qualified buyer. So you have a “relationship” with the buyer? Professional lookers eat sales reps’ commissions for lunch! Sales reps love working with professional lookers (usually supervisors & lower management) because it is easy and they let them build a condo under their desks….It just wastes precious time and doesn’t close deals.

    The first sale is a transactional sale – post sale the customer decides whether or not they received the value you said they get when buying from you. When they are satisfied, they buy the second time – now we are talking about relationship selling.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      Brilliant, my friend… “Professional lookers eat sales reps’ commissions for lunch!” I am going to have to reuse that. :-)


  • CameronD

    Great post Dan! I’m new(er) to the business world and work at a Healthcare consulting practice that thrives on the “relationships” we have with both our clients and vendors. Right from the get go, I realized that the Partners/Directors of the firm ‘cared’ and that is why they have been successful, not to mention many of our clients/buyers have bought many times over! I think this falls close to the topic of integrity as well, in that the minute your integrity is called into question (i.e. you only care about money, the deal or, heaven forbid, you lie your way through sales) your reputation will carry that for the rest of your career.

    Great comments from others and nicely done on challenging relationship selling!

  • Michael Ryan

    “Genuinely Care.” It has been an undeniably successful leadership law for me. I have found it to be my natural networking “fit” too. I am utilizing the same model in the new sales model today. Now, let us see if companies and CEOs can embrace the same lesson that you highlight, Dan. Great post and great message. Thanks Dude.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      You’re a good testimony of the difference that caring can make. Glad to have you as a friend. Keep breaking rules and being awesome…


  • http://twitter.com/Karlitoslife Karl Brisard

    Excellent point Dan!

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      Thanks, Karl. Glad I’m not the only “crazy person” out here…


  • Mary Anne Doggett

    This makes life so much easier doesn’t it? Just show empathy as part of who you are with no expectations. Buyers much prefer not to have ‘relationship’ get muddied in the mix of making a choice that might be better for them. It’s just plain awkward for all. Empathy creates the opening for honesty. It also opens lots of doors!

    Thanks Dan for the post.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      I agree. Just be kind and compassionate and helpful. Everything else will work itself out. When you try to “play games ” and use relationships as the foundation for your sales process you end up with nothing but a house of cards. There is nothing solid to leverage…


  • http://twitter.com/SteveBorek Business Coach Steve

    Relationships are very important. You need to be likable. If you’re not, game over. Credibility is next. You have to demonstrate to the client you’re a professional: understand their pain; how is the pain effecting their business; what is the pain doing to them on a personal level; how can you solve the problem; be understood you’re there for the long term.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      Being genuine is very important. I am not sure that being likable is all that important to long term success. Steve Jobs wasn’t all that “likable”… and he changed technology as we know it.

      Being llkable is a bonus. A big one at times. But it’s the dessert — not the entree.


      p.s. I think that we try to compensate poor business skills with charm. Over the long term (and short term) that ends in disaster.

  • Mari Anne Vanella

    This is the problem–self-centered people can’t manufacture genuine relationships. Companies that are faced with long-time cultural dynamics in sales teams that foster short-term thinking, and not caring about the client in a genuine way have a hard time adding “relationship selling” into the mix because it isn’t the dynamic the team was built with. It’s like telling a front lineman to be a contortionist in Cirque du Soleil. Many companies that have brought in “hard closers” to hit the ground running have built a team of near sighted players. For example, I know just one of many many situations that go like this–rep talks to prospect, within 5 minutes the rep is asking about budget and trying to figure out if there is something here they want to pursue, and when it doesn’t magically surface to the top they are out there there. When in fact there was something that just took more creative collaboration. Or the rep is the prospect’s best friend until they close the deal, and then they are out of there. And when the customer has problems or needs some outreach, the rep is nowhere to be found. And honestly, not in all situations but in some, the rep should stay engaged to help because they built the trust that closed the deal. An example is one rep called a prospect multiple times a week doing everything to get the business, it was more of a partnering approach–went on for weeks and weeks, then they closed the deal. Lots of implementation problems and high visibility issues happened and when I asked the customer when was the last time they talked with the rep–the response was they haven’t talked to them since the day they signed the contract. It is unfortunately the old-school thinking of many sales teams to be a prospects’ best friend until they either close the deal,or see they aren’t going to make them any $$ and dump them like a hot potato. When I interview people, one the questions I ask–and one of the most important, is “give me an example of when you have gone above and beyond for a client, for your company?” That tells me so much about the person. I get everything from “well, you are really making me think here Mari Anne…” to something along the lines of “well I stayed till 5:15 once….” Then I get the people that are committed to helping their prospects/clients/companies to succeed and don’t have the mentality of scarcity. Those answers of how they went out of their way to make a difference tell me everything I need to know.

    You can’t re-engineer people that think like that at their core, they are coded that way–you CAN address it up front and hire people that really do care about what they are doing or coach the people that want to be more genuine and need some development. That way you don’t perpetuate the car salesman persona into your company.

    If a relationship is all about the “deal” that is the equivalent of a scam–if you are genuine with your prospects/clients then you have something that is further reaching into your personal reputation and brand, and a by-product of that is you will close more deals.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      You said it with your first comment: “self-centered people can’t manufacture genuine relationships”… Brilliant explanation.


  • http://twitter.com/minetmarketing Carole Mahoney

    There is a catch here with this whole genuinely care concept that might get overlooked.

    I think some might read this post and wonder, how do I start genuinely caring more?

    And what is really great about this post, is that if you start asking that question and keep asking it, you will find that the thing that you do actually genuinely care about. And here is the surprise- it might not be what you are doing now.

    Successful people are so because they do what they care about.

    Haven’t you ever heard of the rich, successful lawyers that give it up to start and run a non-profit? Or doctors without borders? Or social workers and teachers who do what they do for 20 years, with crappy pay? What about comfortable executives who create a start-up in their garage?

    I think they kept asking that question too. Funny how a simple question can change perspective.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      “Successful people are so because they do what they care about.” BEST LINE EVER! I love that insight.

      Thanks for sharing some perspective.


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