Relationship marketing and consultative sales

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Relationship marketing and consultative sales

During the early years of my involvement in the ICT business, selling software projects and products, I dreamt of having X-ray vision, seeing through the customer and his organization, in order to understand his true needs and my true business opportunity. The customers typically knew, what they wanted, but I wanted to know, what they really needed. On top of that, I wanted to know, if they had the right level of ownership, funding, and a feasible plan for the investment. Well, my thick goggles did not provide me with this visibility and many sales projects ended with frustration. The pieces of the puzzle did not match. Had I known it beforehand, I would have spent my effort with some other customer.

Selling operational development based on enterprise architecture is different from pure technology business. In the OD business, you eventually gain access to the heart of the customer and his/her business in a very intimate way. Given the enterprise architecture competence, you can discover customer's strategy, business models, processes, and operational development project portfolio in a way that corresponds to having X-ray vision. Having all this knowledge during a sales project would be an enormous advantage, allowing you to offer just what the customer needs and when he needs it. However, very few customers volunteer this information at first sight. It is a question of trust.

As much as trust exists, it exists only between people, not between organizations or other abstract entities. You don't want to open your heart to a person you don't trust. Developing a trust relationship takes time and effort. You need to accumulate a consistent and trustworthy track record. Every time you meet the customer, you keep your eyes and ears open, focusing on understanding the customer and his wants and needs. You don't push a product or service, instead you facilitate the problem definition process.

The problem definition process requires nurturing like a small plant shooting up from the soil. Both parties need to fertilize it in turns. In each interaction with the customer, you need to provide something that is valuable for the customer, fertilizing further growth of the trust relationship. You don't give your crown jewels for free, but just enough ingredients so that the customer can extrapolate the relationship in his mind leading to a fruitful and mutually beneficial business relationship. As for your reward, who is in a better position to offer a solution than the one who defined the problem?

During the early stages of the process of building the trust relationship, you will not get instantaneous visibility to all information you would need for the big OD project sale. However, you will not need it all upfront. Just like you can drive the 180 km from Helsinki to Tampere in the pitch black night, with your headlights showing only 200 m ahead, you can acquire this visibility step by step. Using your enterprise architecture skills, every step of the way you gain additional information that complements and supplements existing information about the customer. Organizing this information as an enterprise architectue model can be considered the state of the art in customer relationship management and relationship marketing. It turns information to valuable knowledge, giving you the X-ray vision that every salesman is envious for.