Sales Relationships 101
This idea first dawned on me in my late 20’s. Watching my friends meet, date, and take next steps in their love lives, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the big milestones of a relationship and the stages in a deal cycle.
Both can be tricky, should be navigated with optimism and caution, and must be authentic to be successful.
Here are the common stages to navigate:
Whether it’s quick interactions at conferences (pre-Covid) or ‘swipes’ on dating apps, finding a potential match is not much different from the activity of Business Development teams that we see today. Both involve identifying a “fit,” a “prospect” for what you have to offer. You scroll through the available channels of research, do your homework, and scour the web, all in the hope of making sure that your precious first interaction makes a lasting impression.
The Pickup Line
This can go so wrong so quickly. There are cliches that you absolutely want to avoid, similar to the bot-like one-liners that will get your message deleted upon receipt. Some famous culprits in both camps include:
- “Quick Question” – Tried and true yet overused (not unlike “Did it hurt …when you fell from heaven?”)
- “Meeting Request” – Particularly presumptuous (not unlike “Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?”)
- “Last attempt at reaching out” – You’re not a credit card company (and this one, much like a backhanded compliment, might send you straight to trash.)
The Intro Call
You’ve been introduced. You’re nervous. You know you almost never get a second chance.
Prepping requires studying and deep investigation. You must prepare yourself to be knowledgeable, but not overstep.
The intro call, much like a date, starts off with light-hearted banter, building rapport and finding common interests. Eventually, it’s time to talk shop and move into more serious topics (also known as discovery). How can you help? Are you a good fit? Do you care about the same things? Can you complement what might be missing?
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve now entered a two-way street. The right partnership has to work on both sides, and the plan forward has to be one of mutual evaluation. What have you agreed upon as next steps? Do you agree on timing? Are you at the same level? Both parties’ expectations must become crisply aligned.
External validation is important. Think of offering references like introducing someone to your friends. The prospect wants to know that they are in good company. This step will help them understand how you might navigate challenging situations as a partner, particularly in the long term.
The Exec Alignment
No two stages more closely lend themselves to correlation than that of the exec alignment and meeting the parents. You’ve spent all this time getting to know one another, ensuring you are mutually the right fit, and now it’s time to get the proverbial blessing. Just like big families, larger companies will tend to have more groups to mingle with; maybe some cousins from procurement or aunts and uncles from IT.
This one is pretty clear.
What can we learn from this?
Listen, like really listen. Before you can connect with what someone else is feeling, you have to recognize what they are feeling. Listening is crucial—but not always easy.
Deals take a lot of work to get over the line, and doing something thoughtful to appreciate the effort doesn’t have to mean a big grandiose statement (though certainly it sometimes can). Small gestures are appreciated – referencing a shared interest, sending a coffee gift card after a busy week, or noting a big milestone. This has to be authentic, or it will be cringe-worthy. Don’t fake it.
Consistency is Key
Consistency is a combination of behaviors that show dependability, trustworthiness, and a true desire for partnership. Much like thoughtfulness, this is a hard one to fake and must be authentic to be effective. If you cannot be counted on for your follow-up actions, what happens after the sale?
Avoid “Happy Ears”
It’s easy to be excited when things are going exactly as planned, but a level of skepticism is always healthy. Being too excited can blind you to true red flags. Make it a practice to recap what you heard and ensure understanding. Eliminating potential misunderstandings today reduces the opportunity for unfulfilled expectations tomorrow.
Don’t Take Them for Granted
True partnerships can stand the test of time, across different roles or even organizations. Every relationship requires monitoring and consideration to make sure the needs of both parties are addressed as they inevitably evolve.
Be Persistent & Patient
Relationships take time and often won’t pay off immediately.
The most important thing to remember is that no relationship will ever be perfect. Our job, professionally and personally, is to make sure our partners realize that on balance, the value and benefits we bring to the relationship outweigh the challenges.