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The Relationship Myth

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This article is excerpted from Discover Your Sales Strengths: How the World’s Greatest Salespeople Develop Winning Careers, by Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano, Copyright 2003 by the Gallup Organization (Warner Business Books).

We are almost reluctant to write this because we can already hear the chorus of objections as we comment on the relationship myth.

“Well, maybe relationships don’t matter in certain situations,” our readers might say, “but in our industry, relationships are everything.” We have yet to find an industry in which this is completely true.

The notion that relationships are critical to selling is so widely held that everyone assumes it must be true. And in part it is. People with strong people skills frequently use those strengths to generate positive results. But we also see people with great relationship abilities who are not able to sell a thing. Why?

Because relationship strengths themselves are not enough. More than seventy-five years ago, Dale Carnegie wrote his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The second half of his title is worth considerable attention. The best salespeople influence others … they don’t just make friends. The best salespeople ask customers for commitments in a way that gets positive results. They are not afraid to risk the relationship to ask for the business. Gaining customers requires more than just making friends.

Surprisingly, we have found a good number of top salespeople who have only average people skills, but they do have the ability to influence others. They have adopted a selling style that works for them and have figured out how to make the most of the relationship abilities they possess. Some – in fact, the vast majority – will never be the “life of the party,” and they may not have tremendous amounts of charisma. Some of the best salespeople we met actually limit customer contacts and avoid too much socializing with customers. But boy, can they ask for the order.

One time we were riding around with one of the top salespeople as a client company. She had a territory in one of the nation’s largest cities, and, as luck would have it, we were conducting this particular job observation in the dead of a hot summer. Visiting one of Anne’s largest clients, we were stunned that on the walls and door of his office were taped about three dozen Christmas scenes drawn by children. When the customer had to leave his office for a minute, we turned to Anne to ask why these Christmas scenes were in his office in August. She looked at us quizzically, then said, “Oh my, I never noticed that before.” When the director returned, we asked him the same question. He told us that he though the Christmas season was the best time of the year and kept his children’s pictures up all year so that he could be reminded of it.

Anne, who outsold all of her competitors with this gentleman, overlooked some rather obvious information that some other reps would have used to deepen their ties with him.

What is the most natural way for you to develop relationships, and what is the most natural way for you to move others to commitment? Understanding this vital information about yourself will help you develop your true potential.


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