A recent discussion on social media centered around relationship selling, what it was and the value of it for all the parties involved. It was a great topic, but on a social media platform, there is very limited time and space to discuss something so important, so I am expanding on my thinking here.
Relationship selling is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Your primary goal in selling is first building a relationship with a customer. Once that relationship is strong, then you provide them the goods and services that produce value for that customer.
If we look outside of the AV industry for relationship selling there are some great examples. Most of us have a person that cuts our hair. Whether this is a beautician, a stylist or a barber, we have found that person who does a good job and knows what we like. When we walk in, all they have to say is, are you getting the usual today? They know about any products we may use, the frequency we need to purchase them, and they have them ready for us. If we want to do something different, they talk to us about it and give us suggestions based on their professional experiences.
An AV salesperson should be able to provide us with the same experience. The first crucial piece of relationship selling has to be to build that relationship. To do this well, I believe that firms should hire customer relationship managers in the same number as sales people. These positions can truly help a company understand their customers and what they need. There would be a strong level of trust, as the customer knows the relationship manager is not trying to sell them anything. They should be a resource to the customer, proactively talking to customers about warranties, recalls and availability of products. They could help make connections across industries and businesses. These positions should be rewarded with pay based on the number of customers they have managed to retain and annual surveys from those customers about how they feel the relationship stands.
I make this suggestion because where many salespeople tend to fail is in the care and feeding of the relationship. To have a great relationship with a vendor means that they stay in constant contact. They should be reaching out to you at least one time a month. They should be asking you the continuing questions about problems you have, solutions that have worked or not worked. This is very hard to do as a salesperson who may be getting paid by commission. In that case, you want to move onto the next customer or next project that is going to put money in your paycheck. I work with a vendor that I like a lot as a person. However, that person sometimes amazes me with the lack of research they have put into my organization. Whenever they sense business drying up a bit, they will call me and try to sell me something that we absolutely do not use, and would have no use for based on our values and strategy. Because this is a salesperson, they are trying to sell me something, even though I don’t need it. They have not had the time to truly get to know my business.
A relationship manager will actually get rewarded for keeping you as a customer. They will know your business and be a champion about your needs to a sales person and designer. They will understand your budget, your level of risk acceptance and the strategy of your business. It is possible to try and move sales professionals to this model, but it is difficult to move them out of the mindset of selling first. It would be really difficult to move them away from a commission based on sales numbers. However, I think that this mindset would produce drastically better value for the customer, and over time a more reliable revenue stream for your business.