Sales Is a Relationship Business – Right???

This post was first developed for the CEO membership of, Vistage International revolutionary new online community built for the express purpose of developing executives using virtual peer advisory sessions.

TV’s hottest show is Mad Men. “Viewers see Mad Men as a polished reflection of their own — and their parents’ — life and times.”

I grew up in that world of the ‘50s and ‘60s where “a relationship” was born from and measured by  booze, lunches, expensive Christmas gifts, trips and other benefits. My grandfather was a purchasing agent for General Motors, and Christmas at his house looked like the loading dock at Macy’s with multiple Silver Tea sets, more than one color TV (rare items then), many bottles labeled “Johnny Walker,” large boxes of fruit, mixed nuts, and those cards with tickets to the Kentucky Derby, Florida and Europe showed up each and every year.

That was how to build relationships back in the day of Mad Men — you picked the person who could do you the most good and buy — or I mean, build a one-to-one relationship.

The Mad Men definition of creating relationships with goodwill and gifts may still persist in a few places in the world. In all but those rarest of places, the Mad Mendefinition of relationships has changed.

Today, all significant purchases are touched by a number of individuals, systems, metrics, reviews and laws. With all that oversight on a deal, it is hard to conceive of a sales person creating that many Mad Men relationships to cover all those players throughout the buying process to win against those competitors who deliver real value.

For many reasons, good sales people abandoned the Mad Men relationship model 30 to 40 years ago, but the myth persists for those salesmen who may not know better and for management that watches too much TV.

For these two groups, the myth of the Mad Men relationship just keeps on going — they think a one-to-one Mad Men relationship will carry the day. Mad Men and Jurassic Park make great entertainment, but both are about things that are extinct — dinosaurs and the Mad Men relationship.

So move on!

Today, not only has the definition of the relationship changed, but so has who the relationship is between.

In 2012, the relationship is not about gifts (lunch, trips, golf, etc.). It is about value shared between the buyer and seller. The relationship is between your customer and your “brand promise.”

If there is a gift today, it is the gift of your brand promise, which creates the relationship. Sales or any other member of your team may develop a personal relationship with members of the buyer team. These relationships are a result of delivering your brand promise and helping solve your customer’s business problems, but today it is brand promise first and personal relationship second.

The biggest change wasn’t the definition of the relationship but theforms of the relationship. A relationship can still be person to person or it can be person to brand or brand to brand or brand to person. In this virtual, transparent world, even a trusted adviser relationship does not have to be with a person.

Many of us trust and rely on the brand promise from Apple, Facebook, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Amazon, Expedia, Coca Cola, Google, McDonalds, Southwest Airlines and many other relationships that don’t require a golf game, a drink, a gift or even another human.

Steps to take if you want to build the right 21st-century sales relationships:

  1. Build a brand promise that your customers, staff and partners can count on.
  2. Solve a problem for your customers that no one else solves — be sure the problem you solve will compel customers to engage with you.
  3. Declare a niche to dominate so your customers see you as a necessary part of their business model where you provide high value as well as being easy to acquire and consume.
  4. Make sure you stay in integrity with your brand promise — that relationship with your brand promise is what your customer wants in this new transparent economy.

Finally, hire people who don’t watch too much TV. (It drives them maaaaad, wink, wink.)


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