Many sellers misinterpret and exploit the concept of relationship orientation. In this post, some guidance for sellers and sales management is provided.

In marketing it is common to make a distinction between a transactional and relational approach. Transactional approach refers to viewing the interaction between the seller and buyer as based on exchange of products or services. In other words, the focus is on the transaction. This view dominated until service marketing emerged and which pointed at the importance of the relationship between the seller and buyer. Instead of focusing on the exchange, or sale, the focus was switched to continuous interaction between the parties: focusing on the relationship instead of the sale provided a platform for follow-up sales, which is considerably more cost effective than each time chasing new customers. During the last twenty years, relationship focus has grown in importance and has changed marketing. In spite of this development, sales is still struggling with this approach: relationship focus is often sadly used as a tactical tool, rather than a strategic approach.

In sales also a distinction between transaction and relationship approach is made, yet relationship approach often seems misunderstood. In some situations, it is well justified and fully appropriate that the seller adopts a transaction focus. Perhaps there is no up-selling or follow-up sales possibility, or perhaps the seller does not want to establish an ongoing relationship with the buyer. Perhaps the seller is satisfied with achieving one sale per buyer. In most situations however, the seller should aim for establishing a relationship with the buyer. There is of course a considerable difference what ‘seller’ refers to: if seller refers to a salesperson, he or she could be satisfied with focusing on the sale; if the seller refers to the firm however, it is likely that the firm would prefer establishing a continuous business relationship with the buyer. The importance of appropriate guidance and support systems, including reward systems, that affect how salespersons work cannot be overlooked: it is important that the firm strategy, sales approach, sales strategy, and guidance and reward systems for salespeople are aligned and support each other.

The misunderstanding regarding relationship orientation in sales that was pointed at, refers to that the seller may think that a relationship oriented approach is adopted, when this in fact is not the case. Concepts such as relationship selling or even value-based selling have emerged and become fairly popular in sales. However, most sellers misinterpret the fundamental idea of relationship, and simply use relationship as a tactical tool to close the sale. A true relationship-oriented approach is a win-win where mutually profitable long-term business relationship is aimed at. This often includes sacrificing one’s own short-term goals for the greater good: instead of focusing on the immediate gain, mutual and long-term win-win should prevail. In other words, relationship-oriented sales involves focusing on the buyer as much as on oneself, and by doing so the seller focuses on their own interests as well. After all, what benefits the buyer in a relationship where the parties are viewed as partners, is by definition also beneficial to the seller.

Summing up, relationship-oriented sales can be a powerful approach, if understood correctly by the seller. In most situations it is the seller who is the more active party during the phase of initiating a relationship between the seller and buyer, which transforms to that it is mainly the sellers responsibility to adopt a relationship-oriented approach: it is seldom the buyer who proposes to the seller that they should establishing a relationship. This is a recommendation for sellers to look beyond the first deal, and beyond one’s own immediate needs and or short-term goals, and instead focus on long-term profitability and win-win that relationship-oriented sales can provide.

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