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The Green Sheet Online Edition

February 25, 2013 • Issue 13:02:02

Is relationship selling on the rocks?

By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.

When it comes to selling merchant services, most merchant level salespeople (MLSs) would agree that relationships are the ties that bind a book of business. So how would you quantify a relationship's success? Would you measure it by profitability, longevity, mutual respect, or the degree of influence you have in merchants' day-to-day decisions related to credit card processing?

In their September 2011 entry on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network entitled "Selling is Not About Relationships," Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson said relationship building is less effective, than other selling techniques.

Their findings are based on a 2009 study by the Sales Executive Council, which focused on the attributes of top-performing sales professionals. The selling styles of the more than 6,000 sales reps from diverse backgrounds, regions and industries fit into five categories: hard workers, challengers, lone wolves, reactive problem solvers and relationship builders. Which one reflects your selling style?

1. The hard worker

We've all known a hard worker or two in our professional careers. Paul H. Green described this type in Good Selling! 2: Thirteen Weeks to Personal Success as "willing to make whatever sacrifice of time is necessary to simply outwork the naturally gifted sales persuader."

Hard workers may not be the most extroverted or humorous people, but they tend to be sincere, competent and ambitious. Their persistence and remarkable dedication to their jobs help them and their customers win. They go the extra mile and do whatever's necessary to deliver results, day after day, quarter after quarter.

2. The challenger

Challengers thoroughly research customer requirements and communicate with key players in an organization in order to create a client-centric presentation. In their book Beyond Selling Value, Mark Shonka and Dan Kosch presented the challenger approach as a formal process, summarized in three steps: research, communicate and present.

  • Research: "Time and again, sales professionals using the process have leveraged the quality and depth of their research to blow away upper-level decision-makers," Shonka and Kosch wrote. "You know your research has paid off when the target of your presentation, a senior-level executive, responds by saying, 'You know more about our business than most of the people who work here.' Good research also gives you a level of credibility in the decision-maker's eyes that will prove crucial when you propose a strong business relationship with that customer's organization."

  • Communicate: Communication is a key determinant of success in selling. Your effectiveness as a communicator will determine your degree of success in reaching decision-makers and effectively dealing with gatekeepers who try to block access to them.

    According to Dixon and Adamson, challengers are tenacious communicators who leverage "their deep understanding of their customers' business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They're not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive - with both their customers and bosses."

  • Present: A client-centric presentation "differentiates you from competing sales reps, who typically conduct discussions or present facts and figures about their business instead of talking about the client's business," Shonka and Kosch wrote. "After you've begun making high-impact business presentations, the way you do business and the way you sell to your customers will become one of your strongest selling points."

3. Lone wolves

Described by Dixon and Adamson as "deeply confident ... rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all," this old-school communication style was popular in the mid to late 20th century. One book I've kept for purely sentimental reasons is Secrets of Closing Sales, published in 1983 by Charles B. Roth and Roy Alexander. The book contains the famous master closing formula "that can double or triple your sales income" basically by forcing the prospect to see things your way. The formula involves the following steps:

  • Make every call a selling call.
  • Try to close early in every sale.
  • Close on every resistance.
  • Keep trying.

These are wise words to be sure, but the steps leave little room for intelligent discourse and customer interaction.

4. Reactive problem solvers

As we move up the food chain from lone wolves, we find reactive problem solvers. This approach to selling has broad appeal in the payments industry, due to the complex nature of technology and evolving requirements of merchants. MLSs who adopt this approach are renowned for their grasp of technical issues, detail-oriented approach to implementation and excellent follow-up. While this approach may boost retention rates, it can put us at risk of becoming too technical and losing our identity and focus as business-development specialists.

5. Relationship builders

Dixon and Adamson described relationship builders as focused on developing strong personal and professional relationships. They are adept at growing advocates within customer organizations. They tend to give generously of their time and knowledge, promptly addressing issues and resolving conflicts. These attributes are valuable and have helped these seasoned professionals build lasting and meaningful relationships with merchants. But as we all know, relationships need continuous attention, communication and room for growth.

It's easy to get into a rut, especially with long-term customers. Here are a few warning signs:

  • Do you find yourself racing to a merchant location at 2 a.m. with a paper roll because they forgot to order supplies? Have you done this more than once for the same account?
  • When a merchant asks for an account review, do you automatically lower the merchant's discount rate instead of doing more research to uncover the motivation behind the request?
  • Do you cave in and say yes when a merchant decides not to invest in new processing technology, choosing instead to reprogram an old, outdated device?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be an enabler. You allow your merchants to remain in their comfort zones, instead of challenging them to make the sometimes difficult decisions that help them grow their businesses and control their destinies.

And the winner is ...

Ultimately, challengers outperform the other profiles. What makes challengers the most effective of the five profiles? Dixon and Adamson believe the answer is three-fold: challengers educate their customers, tailor their messages to customers and take control of the sale. "Your very best sales reps - the ones who carried you through the downturn - aren't just the top performers of today but the top performers of tomorrow," Dixon and Adamson wrote. They are better at driving sales and delivering customer value in any economic environment, they added.

So is the era of relationship selling really over? The answer depends upon how we define relationship. If we use Webster's broad definition as a "connection, association or involvement," then relationship selling and relationship building will be around for a long time. Ultimately, the quality of the relationships and how we choose to manage them will make all the difference. end of article

Dale S. Laszig is Senior Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or dale_laszig@castech.com.tw.

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