Enterprise sales may not depend on relationship building!


For years I, and probably hundreds of other mentors and coaches, have been preaching about relationships being the key to creating influence and sales success in enterprise or B2B sales.

I usually divide sales into two types: transactional and consultative.

The transactional sale is all about speed, lack of friction, and often price. The sale is based purely on the product; the customer could care less about the company and its reputation. Commoditized goods, that is goods with very low differentiation, like granulated sugar, are often purchased by a transactional sales process focused on convenience and price.

Consultative sales are completely different. The buyer is very interested in a productive long term relationship with the company. The company’s reputation for quality, reliability, customer service, and innovation all play important parts in the purchase decision. But the biggest part of the B2B sales process is often touted as the relationship between the sales person and their customer. Thus mentors and coaches of B2B startups tend to advise their founders to build relationships with target companies – that takes a lot of time and may be the reason that the enterprise sales process is lengthly.

But what if we are wrong about this approach? The short article on Medium entitled, Is Challenge A Better Way To Sell? caught my eye with its headline and challenged my assumptions about the sales process. The author works in an ad agency and her article is focused on a recent study by the IPA – Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. The study suggests that building relationships is not the most effective means of converting or changing opinion, which is elemental to selling a product or service.


The study suggests that in fact challenge is a far more effective means of converting or changing opinion. ‘People pleasers’ were considerably less successful. ‘Challengers’ outperform other approaches by a long way, showing in order to be the best, you need to push back. You can’t agree your way into influence.

If  you are selling B2B give some thought to acting as a challenger not as a relationship builder.  Your target customer needs to change to adopt your product. By diplomatically challenging their assumptions about why they use their current product you can gain engagement. And engagement is the first step in creating a customer.

the reality that the best performers actually do most of their work before the event of the pitch. They research the reality of their target’s position, before attempting to alter their opinion.

Understand why and how your customer adopted their current product. How long they have been using it? Is the product a company standard or only used by a specific functional area or a team? Have they changed other products in the recent past? Your goal is to gain the deepest possible understanding of the relationship between your customer and their current product or way of solving their problem. Then you can intelligently, but not abrasively, start to challenge each of those reasons or assumptions one by one. You need to understand why the product was chosen better than your customer. It’s hard to argue with someone who knows more than you!

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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