Getting the Sale or Earning a Customer?

Selling is an art. And just like any art form, there are multiple approaches to selling. While painting and sculpting might not have an objective metric by which they can be measured, selling produces sales, which is a hard number. So, while impressionism may not be objectively better than pointillism, one type of selling can be said to be better than another, at least in specific contexts where it produces results.

While countless books have been written dreaming up new sales methodologies and planning out new ways to move product, there are really only two different approaches to sales that all these “new” ideas fall into – transactional and relational. Transactional sales are just that. You find someone with a need that you can fill, and you sell them a product. End of story. Think of it like a supermarket. I may go back to Wal-Mart regularly, but I don’t really have a relationship with them. It’s a pure transaction. If the store down the road has the same item I need for ten cents less, I’ll go there.

Opposed to this is a group of sales strategies that experts have identified as “relational” selling, basically emphasizing the long-term relationship with their customer over the short-term profit they could make. In most cases, in the long run, this will be more successful than transactional selling. The best example of this would be a (good) stockbroker. They know their ability to serve you is built entirely upon trust. They also know the longer they keep you as a happy customer the better they do financially. So, even if your stockbroker could talk you into buying a whole bunch of stocks one day – therefore making himself a large commission – he generally won’t, because he knows the relationship is worth more than the one-time sale.


Side by side

These two very different attitudes of course produce very different approaches in a lot of circumstances. Transactional selling can be characterized in a number of ways:

  • Selling a commodity or non-differentiated service
  • Over the phone or internet
  • Follows a shorter sales cycle
  • Price focused
  • Customer knows what they want


Contrasted with this, relationship selling tends towards:

  • Major sales, often touching on company strategy
  • In person
  • Customized
  • Collaborative, focused on value
  • Salesperson serves to advise customer throughout process


So, while transactional selling has its place, for most of BIG’s customers, relational selling is much more effective.


Sell It and They Will Come

Thinking back to your market segments, these are the groups you need to be building relationships with in order to make sales smooth and efficient. While in a perfect world you would have a salesperson to go to each group, form the relationship, and stay there to assist with any issues that come up, this probably isn’t how it will go. Your sales team will of course have limited resources and manpower and so will have to balance where they go when and who they focus on.

In B2B sales this is a bit easier, because sales tend to be much larger and long term. When selling to individual consumers or smaller groups, it becomes harder, impossible even to develop a relationship with everyone. So, we have to do the best we can do.

A work around to this problem involves the groups that consumers form amongst themselves. Going back a few weeks to our example of a bicycle shop selling to consumers, perhaps there is a lobbying group of bicycle commuters or environmentally concerned cyclists in the state. These sorts of organizations are large enough to form relationships with, and by bringing yourself into them you can get in front of your market segments. This way, the hundreds or thousands of scattered individuals that you are trying to sell to become a single group that you can form a working, long term relationship with.

Companies trying to form relationships with scattered consumers can also bring the customers to them, rather than trying to reach out to thousands of individuals. Think of the Apple Store, something Steve Jobs insisted on. Most of the world thought it was a waste of money, something unnecessary for Apple’s business model. But Jobs knew that allowing customers to come in person to the company allowed them to form a long-term relationship, even in an abstract way, which would pay off.

As we conclude segmentation, it’s important to remember you are always selling to an individual. Micro-segmentation is a very powerful tool to use, but only if you never lose sight of the individual. So, break your market into segments, see which segment you can best serve, communicate your value clearly to them, and then build a long-term relationship to make sales from, but never forget that you’re always going to be dealing with people.

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