Customer relationships, now more than ever.

We are writing April 1988 and I am having my first job interview for a sales job. The sales manager interviewing me is opening the discussion about sales with the statement that a sales person in his team should be able to sell anything to anybody. Feels like the second hand car dealer approach and the discussion went around a package of butter and if I would be able to sell it. There I am applying for a job in a high tech company supposed to be selling solutions to long term customers and this guy is challenging me to sell butter. Clearly I did not agree so I countered the statement with the fact that in my view at this company customers at first will buy from the person and thus building and maintaining relations are important. The sales manager did not agree and I did not get the job, after all I wasn’t a sales person in his view: I couldn’t sell the butter!

In the next 20 years I experienced that there are indeed (at least) two different kind of sales people, being the relationship folks and the hard core sales people. I am of the first kind and I am at my best developing long term relationships that will deliver value to both parties. Over time I have had a couple of similar conversations: hard core sales versus relationship selling, however I stayed on my course knowing and experiencing that in the longer term the relationship approach would be best.

Two books in particular are more or less centered around the topic of building business and sales based on the relationship approach, one is the excellent “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi and the other one “Rainmaking” by Ford Harding. Although coming from a different angle in their books both Ferrazzi and Harding have written a book that brings together a lot of common sense about creating business through relationships. Harding’s approach is more from the consultants view, or the partner in a consulting firm, where Ferrazzi approaches the subject based on his own career and success in building fruitful relations.

Both books are an excellent read and I would argue both books especially now, in current economic times, to be hot again. Loyal customers are the most solid foundation a company can desire and hence they need attention and be nurtured, without spoiling them. Maybe the principles written in both books might not be as good applicable for large corporate customers where procurement is king and are demanding an additional 20% discount. On the other hand also in those organizations there are a lot more stakeholders that will benefit from the deal you are trying to close and especially for those stakeholders it comes again to the value of the relationship that will make them help you convince procurement. Especially in those situations where customers buying behavior is influenced by satisfaction and might even be measured by the Net Promotor Score (another very interesting topic) both books are highly recommended to read or even re-read.

Keith Ferrazzi and Ford Harding both maintain of course a way to stay in touch. Ferrazzi has his weekly email tip and maintains his own online community. Harding writes regularly in his blog that can easily be subscribed to in email or rss reader.