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Buyer/Seller Relationships: When is Personal Unprofessional?

Every seller I know relies on their relationship skills. It’s natural and essential to build rapport with prospects and buyers: we depend on sellers, and many are very, very good.

But what does “relationship” mean? Too often we hear about dysfunctional buyer/seller relationships, and I wanted to share what we’ve learned about what buyers want and need to see in their relationship with a seller.

We have spoken before on the relationship between sales and the customer. Every salesperson wants a good relationship with their buyer - although they are not always necessary – but as salespeople we often misunderstand what a good sales relationship looks like. Too often we mistake private details as being professionally useful - ‘Nadine and I have a good relationship; we both love football.” Mutual hobbies may make for good small talk and fill the gaps in a conversation, but a good personal relationship is a different beast than a good sales relationship. A good sales relationship has to demonstrate credibility, competency, and show that the salesperson has a good sense of give and take.

Today we want to unpack the word relationship, examine what it really means to a buyer and a seller, and show why sharing a passion for golf isn’t a formula for sales success.

Buyer/Seller Relations can be fraught with tension.

Know Your Biases

Everybody can suffer from bias. We all carry within us preconceptions, and sales, both as department and as individuals, is no different. Every salesperson has biases about their sales relationships. They have their own notions about why they won a sale, why this or that element helps keep a client, and why a sale was lost. Too often product marketers and executives forget about these biases when they interview salespeople about their buyers – they overlook how biases can blind or distort the truth about buyers.

(This unexamined bias has a lot to do with why we at Eigenworks so heavily push the doctrine of talking to your buyer. Getting at the real unvarnished truth involves expanding your viewpoints beyond the limited understanding of sales. Of course your buyers will have biases of their own, but by relying on multiple sources for information, you’ll be able to analyze a greater spectrum of data. By synthesizing and refining all this knowledge, you’ll find your way to the truth.)

Acknowledging our biases is the first step in tackling them – and they should be tackled, especially those that actively harm the sales relationship. ‘A good relationship means making a personal connection’ is one such bias. Of course, everyone wants to have a close relationship with a client and having shared interests and mutual camaraderie makes the job that much more enjoyable. But it doesn’t necessarily add anything to the sales process, and in some cases can detract. When it comes to forging a sales relationship, a salesperson’s credibility and competence matter more than the interests or hobbies they share with a potential buyer.

Hobbies Are Not Helpful

Buyer and Seller may be the best of friends: they love the same sports teams, chat about their favorite television shows, and go out for drinks whenever the opportunity arrives. Seller feels great about their relationship with Buyer; their friendship is so strong that Buyer will surely always be ready to buy. But friendship doesn’t mean much when the sales process is neglected. Seller spends so much time charming Buyer that they never get around to really selling their product – or they don’t put much effort into it. Maybe Buyer’s concerns get swept under the rug, or not given due consideration – after all, they’re buddies, and what’s a few onboarding issues among friends? The fallout can be dire - Buyer could be called before their board to report on Seller’s sales pitch, and while Buyer could tell their bosses quite a lot about the game they watched with Seller last night, their inability to answer questions about cost or ease of use won’t reflect well on them - and even worse on Seller and Seller’s product.

Seller put their relationship ahead of their product and ahead of their own skills. They didn’t take the time to show their credibility and competence to their buyer’s company – and may have damaged their product’s reputation in the process. Buyer doesn’t even have to get in trouble for this to happen. Should they suddenly leave the sales process, their replacement won’t have a big stack of A’s notes to work off of, or a nice cache of sales documents. They’ll just have Buyer’s word that Seller is ‘really great,’ and Seller will have to start all over again in creating a brand-new, friendly relationship. This new buyer may be nothing like Buyer – and they may even resent Seller’s attempts to make the professional personal.

Buddies Don’t Get Budget

Salespeople have to put the product –and their professional face – first.. If a buyer wants a more personal relationship with a salesperson, then it should be the buyer who takes the lead on bringing a seller into the personal fold – and even then, salespeople should be wary of going down that road. ‘Buddies don’t get budget,’ as the old saying goes. and being too close to your buyer, can be as compromising to the seller as it can to the buyer.

Going forward, you should consider the relationships you’ve formed in the past – as seller and buyer both, if applicable. Were there times you put personal before professional? Did this help the sales process - or did it hinder? Has this happened multiple times? If so, how often has it worked in your favor, and how often did it undermine what you hoped to achieve?

The next time you meet a new buyer, think carefully about how much of yourself you’re going to put out there. Ask yourself if it’s worth it – and try and make sure that you buyer thinks of you as credible and competent long before they think of you as a friend.

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