When all your new customers come from referrals of existing customers and various personal networks and relationships a highly sophisticated value proposition is a nice-to-have – some early afternoon agenda for your next offsite management meeting. Half of the needed value is embedded in the relationship.
But when your customers must come from non-organic lead generation methods such as digital marketing, cold calling, and email prospecting you must identify and develop a super strong value proposition to get your sales leads.
Everything is about relationships, right?
We always hear that, especially now. A lot of the thought leaders raking in the nice speaker fees talk about relationships constantly. And we know that solid relationships can advance our careers and fulfill our lives (personally).
If you add all that together, it seems like relationship selling would work pretty well. Isn’t all sales kind of about relationships? Isn’t this the magic elixir that you need to super-charge your sales funnel? A focus on relationship selling?
Not so fast!
What “relationship selling” also means
If you hire a sales principal (either internal or outsourced for a new market segment) who promises you that he’ll focus on relationship selling, this is what it commonly means:
- He will sell to people he has pre-existing relationships with, but not necessarily your ideal customer profile.
- People end up buying from you because of the relationship and not necessarily the value of your product/service/solution.
- Again, the sale is driven by relationships as opposed to real buyer persona.
But there are a host of problems here
If you hire good relationship guys with big LinkedIn connections and phone books, that is awesome at first. But eventually they bring their own relationships, all of whom have their own demands, into your workflow. And if you’re making money, the executives won’t do anything. They won’t look long-term at the potential repercussions. They’ll just rinse and repeat.
In almost all cases, at the 4-5 year mark, though, you’ve got this completely unrealistic mosaic of what core-service you do, and you’ve got new prospects looking at you and trying to figure out what you stand for and then deciding you’re not the perfect match. Your business erodes. The relationships you sold on don’t renew. The offer is a mish-mash.
After those (relatively) quick wins — after the relationship seller’s Rolodex is exhausted — can you work a market strategically with relationship selling? It’s very challenging. Even if the sales principal has been in a specific vertical for 20+ years, eventually the lack of focus on buyer persona and ideal customer profile and his lack of value based selling to unknown people far outside his comfort zone will dry up the potential leads.
Growing your business suddenly becomes your biggest and most urgent issue.
Smart shift towards non-organic lead generation
Beside or sometimes even instead of you relationship-selling you start to introduce non-organic lead generation methods like digital marketing, cold calling, email prospecting, LinkedIn outreach, PPC campaigns, etc.
What most companies in that stage totally underestimate is the fact that the value proposition and a proper articulation on all channels (=sales messages) is 10x more important and crucial than in relationship selling.
VP Sales to Business Developer: “Just book me meetings. In a meeting with a potential customer I can always prove that we are a good fit! We don’t need to spend too much time on improving our value proposition.”
WRONG. Be aware that a personal relationship was the reason why you got the meeting to explain that you are a good fit.
In all non-organic lead generation methods the main challenge is not what you say in a meeting. The problem is how to get the meeting. That’s why a strong value proposition is so important here!
How to 10x your value proposition
Actually, you have to go back, review your existing projects and start with a focus on these questions:
- What was the problem in the market?
- What did people need?
- How did we prove or meet that need?
- What’s the next need?
- How did we skate to that puck?
- How can we repeat that?
Most effective non-organic selling is about developing the product-market fit, message-persona-fit, and figuring out how to overcome the common buyer objections.
Now, someone with a relationship selling background probably has enough experience in the industry/vertical to help you improve value proposition and messaging. They can be a great value-add in that phase.
So while they can help you develop what you need to sell effectively, their relationships can’t be the backbone of your sales strategy. That’s not scalable and won’t lead to predictable revenue.
Relationship selling always sounds nice on face and the commission-only rewarding seems perfect – everyone likes relationships, but for long-term business growth, it’s not the right approach.
Non-organic value-driven selling creates relationships because people need whatever you have, so the relationship has to form. Relationship selling does work the other way — it doesn’t create value. The value is in the relationship, and that’s great for a while. But when the product erodes or the connection moves to a different industry, you can’t sell on that. You can always sell on value, however.
Key to non-organic value-driven selling is always your value proposition.