Why Too Many Sales Reps Have Only Low-Level Business Relationships

I was meeting with a client, a CEO of a mid-sized professional services firm in the tech sector, when the topic shifted to business relationships in the sales process. He asked me how high and deep I thought his sales team’s relationships were and whether they were operating at the appropriate level they needed to sell into. He had concerns that they had relationships too low at their target companies.

The evidence of this was that many of the deals were stuck in the pipeline at a level or two below where the decision maker was. If a chief financial officer (CFO) was the decision maker, the firm’s reps were only getting to the finance director or manager level. It seemed that many of the conversations were stuck there and that certain reps were comfortable dealing at that level and not higher. Deals were taking too long to complete and unfortunately, in many cases, it seemed that the rep was unwilling or unable to go higher. Maybe they were afraid, complacent, or untrained but the problem was serious.

To put this in context of charitable giving, I related this to a fundraiser who might have easy access to $500 donors but has no relationships at the $25,000-giver level. If the charity needs more big givers, their relationships will not get them there.

CAN A RELATIONSHIP-DRIVEN SALES PROFESSIONAL BUILD NEW RELATIONSHIPS WITH HIGHER-LEVEL PROSPECTS?

So, the question that arose for me was “Can a sales rep known as a relationship builder go up the food chain to have higher-end relationships?” Is it possible, mid-career, to develop strong relationships a level or two above where you’ve comfortably been? And, if so, what are the best resources to help the firm make this happen?

Now the question isn’t can you build deeper relationships? Of course you can. Much has been written about the need to have strong business relationships. In fact, the Institute for Excellence in Sales has put on workshops from two business relationship experts this past year. We brought in Ed Wallace, author ofBusiness Relationships That Last, and Charles Green, co-author of the classic The Trusted Advisor. Both spoke about strategies enterprise sales professionals can take to build deeper trusted relationships, and both programs received our highest ratings.

I called Ed and Charlie and asked them if it’s possible to move up the food chain in relationships, particularly if you’re well ensconced in your career.

Both understood exactly what I was asking. Ed’s company, Relationship Capital Group, offers solutions to companies around the world that help them prioritize, measure, and advance the key relationships that most impact their team’s relationship capital.

His white paper, A Better Way to Measure & Value Business Relationships, states:

Some may have the perception that the words “business relationship” refer to the superfluous “touchy feely” aspects of conducting business. Not so according to our national survey of VP level and above executives. When asked which qualities are most important as the basis for a lasting business relationship, integrity, expertise, reliability and goal achievement were at the top of their list. By most accounts, these are foundational elements to the success of any business enterprise and not “touchy feely” at all. So it turns out that business relationships are about more than just “relating”. Rather they encompass all the value, reliability and performance we come to associate with an individual, group or organization.

Ed said that it’s possible for a sales rep to develop business relationships with people higher up than they’ve been before, but that there must be intentionality by the sales rep to want to establish relationships at the higher level. Ed’s firm has developed a strategy for helping business professionals develop Vertical and Lateral Relationships. The major part of the success in this happening, he reiterated, was the professional’s dedication to developing a set of higher-level relationships.

Charlie had a similar take that developing the next level up relationships is possible in part because the higher level people were once at the level where the rep was comfortable. The CFO was probably a finance director or analyst at some point. If the rep was good at sustaining that level of relationship, it was possible to go to the next level. He meticulously documents strategies for building these higher-level relationships in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

THINGS SALES REPS CAN DO TO GET HIGHER LEVEL RELATIONSHIPS

There are many reasons why sales results can be less than stellar. At Diamond Strategic Marketing, as part of our strategic review of marketing and business development practices, we often uncover the low level of relationships that have stymied sales. If the firm needs its sales team to get higher-level relationships at their prospect organizations, but they are struggling to do so, here are three things they can consider doing right away:

  1. Spend time developing org charts or relationship maps to clearly identify which relationships are most valuable from a sales perspective. There are companies who offer pre-researched org charts. Devote time and energy as a team to ensure you’re not focusing too low in an organization.
  2. Dive deep into LinkedIn to see who can introduce you to the right people. At Diamond Strategic Marketing, we routinely use LinkedIn as a sales tool. The right people are only a click or two away. Become an expert on using LinkedIn to see who you can tap into to meet the right people. Identify which trusted partners can get you to the right people.
  3. Lead an initiative to bring in a company such as Diamond Strategic Marketing, Trusted Advisor Associates or Relationship Capital Group to guide your people through their processes. All firms have developed comprehensive programs, guided by well-trained consultants, who can take your people to the next level. (If you’d like to know more about them, send me an email.)

My challenge to selling professionals is to start right now to build a higher-level set of relationships.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss the most critical resource needed – the marketing leader – to help sales build relationships at the higher-end.

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