Relationship Selling Redefined: Money Ball Selling

“Relationship selling just doesn’t work anymore because nobody has the patience to develop relationships.”

relationship selling redefined, money ball selling

This statement last week from a trusted colleague, who happens to be a nationally-recognized sales coach, really stuck in my head.   I have been mentally repeating it over and over because it helped to punctuate what I’ve been stating about how much the sales process has changed.

The point he made was making is that companies are no longer patient while their sales force to develop relationships with major prospects.  Job tenure in sales, always a problem, is shorter than ever.   Sales personnel are expected to produce sooner rather than later, regardless of the length of the sales cycle.  Compensation and incentive programs emphasize the hear and now.  Sales training and development emphasize short-term orientation, a new sales person is expected to be running before their feet hit the ground; those who don’t adapt quickly are readily replaced.

On the buyer side, buyers and key influencers and specifiers are likely to change positions and companies long before a decision is made.   Today’s gatekeepers — voicemail, email, group calendar schedulers, a longer work day and work week, and a shorter or no lunch break — all work against direct human contact and relationship-building opportunities between customers and existing suppliers.  And it makes sales prospecting between a new supplier and sales person and a new customer and buyer or influencer a hundred times more difficult than even ten years ago.

The end result:  sales personnel relying upon relationship selling to build their business are failing.  The old adage that a buyer must know, like and trust you before they buy from you and your company just isn’t so anymore.  Sales compensation is declining and sales turnover is decreasing.  Sales as a profession (often attracting the aggressive, self-motivated with the promise of unlimited top-end income for top producers) is no longer considered a top career choice by current and recent graduates.

We can’t stop change.  Those that anticipate and adapt to change and use it to their advantage can win and beat their competition.  And so it is with Sales and Business Development.

Here’s a sports analogy.  Last weekend I watched the movie “Money Ball.”  A great movie (but a better book) about how the Oakland Athletics, a “small market” major league baseball team,  after years of floundering as one of the worst teams in  major league baseball, finally found success by adapting (in desparation) what were considered to be  revolutionary (heretical?) theories based on systems and processes in the tradition-bound game of baseball that favored big market teams like the New York Yankees  and the Boston Red Sox who could afford to pay star players who would win games and pennants and fill their stadiums with rabid fans.

“Money Ball” helped redefine how baseball team rosters were filled, what players were drafted and traded, how managers made game-time decisions, and how games were played.  Over time, as “Money Ball” theory turned into success for the Oakland As, team statisticians and team video managers, team scouting departments and minor league player development suddenly  became important part of many major league baseball teams, and the same process approach has been adapted by major league basketball and football teams.

So it is today with sales and business development.  Companies hoping to increase sales may continue to naively expect to hire “sales superstars” with built in “rolodexes” (itself an anachronism) with warm relationships in a given industry and territory.  In light of how the nature of relationships have changed, the chances of quick success are small in comparison to the likelihood that the salesperson’s rolodex of warm relationships have grown stale with time and turnover.  And how many companies today can afford to throw enough big money to attract (and keep) true sales superstars. 

“Hunting” for new business prospects and developing new relationships has long been considered to be the responsibility of the sales person or partner or rain maker; today the company must own this.

So here’s to defining the “Money Ball” approach to sales and business development.  The company that has a clearly defined sales process that is tested and measured and proven to work can win in any market, large or small.  The company that continuously touches through a variety of communications suspects prospects and customers and listens to the buying, not buying, or just looking signals they give off will beat their competition.  A company with a living, breathing sales process that adjusts to the market can find and afford to compensate sales personnel who can be effective in their system, and can be more readily replaced when they leave.

The sales process is the relationship, and the relationship is the sales process. The companies that anticipate and adapt to this fundamental change in relationship selling and use it to their advantage can win the sales game and beat their competition.  May the best sales process win.

By Michael Chapman,, 214-764-6315.