The Sales Version of Chicken or Egg – Sales eXchange 2050

By Tibor

Chicken or egg

For many the age old question continues to be which came first the chicken or the egg, and while some have claimed to have the answer, there is a similar one playing out in B2B sales.

Most agree that you need to develop and maintain relationships with buyers (then clients) to succeed in B2B selling, but there is lot of debate about which comes first the relationship, or the sale?

First thing you have to do is define “relationship”, it is one of those words in sales that people use without often quantifying or defining its meaning.  Maybe the assumption is that “everyone knows” the meaning, but that is a false and risky assumption.  Some use it to hide their lack of knowledge or understanding of sales, and relationship is one of those sunshine words, if you keep using it, you sound as though you are in the know and good at sales.  I see this a lot when I ask sellers I work with to define sales, they’ll talk around the question, and throw in “relationship” at a few critical junctures where their response looks weak.

When you get into more formal definitions, you find two main camps. One basically states that the primary objective is the building of long-term relationships with customers from which repeat business will flow.  The other, believes that relationships evolve from good results delivered on sales that were initially made before there was a relationship, based on a positive experience, the interaction continues, relationships build and evolve.

Both agree that relationships are important and make for better and more sustained business, but like the chicken and the egg, they seem to disagree on which comes first, the initial sale or the relationship.  For the sake of disclosure, I tend to line up with the “sales comes first, relationships evolve” camp, rather than the camp that feels that sellers need to focus on the relationship first, and then business will flow, a definition borrowed from a popular sales glossary.

Relationship do not ensure sales.  I remember having a rep in Ottawa who finally landed a big government department, when asked by her peers how she did it, she told them she established a solid relationship.  She failed to mention the 10% discount she negotiated with me to close the deal.  A year later, she lost the department, the only one of the many we had as clients, as we were reviewing the deal, I couldn’t help but ask what happened to the relationship?

We have all seen or experienced where buyers, not just new buyers, but established customers, ones  sellers thought they had a relationship with, who end up buying from someone else. It usually comes down to either price, the other seller, the one without the relationship, being cheaper. Or even more biting, the other seller was able to convince the buyer that they can move them closer to their objectives than you.  In outselling the relationship, they show that attaining objectives will trump relationship for a buyer every time.

We work in a world where companies and reps need sales to thrive, sales in the current month and quarter.  This is why companies all pay commissions for sales, not for relationships.  This is why it makes more sense to develop a sale, delver to or above expectations and use that as the platform for building a relationship, rather than building relationships with customers from which repeat business will flow.  To be clear, I am not saying no relationship, or relationships have no vale, but that there is a sequence that delivers more for both parties, and that sequence is, start building the relationship and the sales as soon as you engage, but get the sale first, it will take time to build a real and worthwhile relationship.

So there, we have solved that one, and if you are interested, and have a sense of humour, the question of which came first the chicken or the egg, has also been answered.  Again, if you have a sense of humour, you can learn about it here.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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