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Olsen on Sales: Partner or Adversary?

If we ask 100 salespeople, “What kind of seller are you?” most of them will say, “I’m a relationship seller.” My question is, “What kind of relationship and what are you doing to make that happen?”

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If we ask 100 salespeople, “What kind of seller are you?” most of them will say, “I’m a relationship seller.” My question is, “What kind of relationship and what are you doing to make that happen?”

Most sellers have a Master-Servant relationship with most of their customers. They present product, ask the customer what they think of it, and wait for the customer to buy. They don’t ask for the order. They don’t tell the customer why what they are presenting is a good deal (for the customer). Since they don’t ask for the order, they don’t get objections. Their sales calls essentially are: “Good morning, what do you need, what do you think is a good deal, and what will you pay for it?” They make the customer do all the work.

These same sellers say they can’t customers on the phone. The reason the customer isn’t coming to the phone, is because the value of these kinds of phone calls is low.

Adversarial Selling

Sales can seem like an adversarial proposition; we are trying to sell our product for as much as possible and the customer is trying to buy it for as little as possible. Many buyers and sellers approach sales with this mentality. These buyers and sellers share as little information with each other as possible because they don’t trust each other.

Students ask me all the time, “If I give my customer a good price and tell them which mill it is coming from, they will go around me.” My answer is to either call the customer on it (going around you)—we need to set the record straight and see if we can be partners going forward—or prospect to find customers we can trust.

Partnership Selling

The Master Seller has partnership relationships with their customers. They start every relationship with a partnership approach. Every time a potential customer tries to make the relationship adversarial, the Master Seller stops the sales process and reminds the customer that they are in this together, that seller and customer are on the same side.

Developing partnership relationships with customers takes work. In the beginning we will be doing most of that work. Customers are used to having, and some prefer, adversarial relationships with their vendors.

Partnership Prospecting

The first call to a potential customer is to find out about the customer and their business to see if we will be a good fit going forward. Many sellers try to mix in “just a little” sales into these calls also. This is a mistake. It sends the message that we are all about the order instead of being all about trying to understand the customer.

The Master Seller sends the message that they truly want to get to know the customer. When the customer asks, “Hey what’s your price on 2×4 16’s today?” the Master Seller responds, “I’d love to sell you something today, but before we get to that, let me ask you a couple more questions about you and your company. If at the end we can get together on something great, but let me ask you…” And continues qualifying the account.

Partnership Closing

Most sellers don’t ask for the order. Even fewer can overcome objections and close. The partnership seller sends the message that they care. Once the customer knows we care, we can ask for the order.

Servant Seller: “Good morning, Susan. I’ve got a car of 2×4 9’s I can get into you at $950/MBF. Whadya think?”

Susan: “Thanks for the number, I’ll let you know.”

Partnership Seller: “Good morning, Susan. I’ve got a deal on five trucks that are going to fit us perfectly. First off, it’s ABC stock which we love. Second, the tallies are 12’-16’ heavy 16’, which is what we’ve been looking for and we’ve got a great price on these, so why don’t we put these on?”

Susan: “Well, how much are they?”

Partnership Seller: “That’s the best part. We can get these into you at $950/MBF, which is a great deal in this market, so I recommend we put them on.”

The partnership seller thinks, talks and acts like a partner with all their customers all the time.