"Relationships with customers matter most in business."
That’s the earliest business advice I remember being given when I was a kid.
Mostly it’s because:
You might think: „Yes, that's perfectly right.“
We buy from people that we know, like & trust.
So when I was a kid, I believed that to be true.
Many years later...
I refuse relationship selling to pitch potential garment buyers.
Mostly it’s because:
In the early 2000s, I planned to quit my job as an apparel buyer for a company that was later bought by Metro and go full into agency work for an Indian knitwear exporter.
To make it happen, I started - I thought selling would be fun and lucrative.
Playing golf with your buyers can work.
It’s just not the most efficient way to get customers.
I know because I tried the "relationship" thing before.
Instead, I went with a much different strategy to get clients.
In one season I’ve earned more than 50.000 euro in commission for my services.
All without forcing social relationships with strangers. And it wasn't slowing down.
My customer base became an ever-growing group that kept increasing opportunities with referrals. More on that later.
First, let’s see why relationship selling is a fundamentally flawed method to get buyers...
The five big flaws that make relationship selling so hard to do and what to do instead
Flaw #1: Buyers are humans, too.
What!? Shocking news, I know.
Much like I remember the time when I worked as a women's wear buyer. And suppliers tried to play that card.
My bullshit detector lit up.
🚨 W A R N I N G Peep, peep
"Someone's trying to buddy up to squeeze me into a sale"
I stepped back.
Not responded to with a cheery “Here's my order, friend!”
Just stepped back.
Worse still: suppliers I loved to work with kept a healthy human distance.
No wonder when I became an agent relationship selling didn't make me feel good in my skin. I guess because of my own experiences from the other side of the same coin.
Flaw #2: Relationship selling takes up too much time.
Your time is immensely valuable.
Your time is a finite resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Do you really want to spend your limited time trying to force a "personal relationship" with buyers?
Even if by chance the chemistry is promising between you and the other person, it still takes a long time to form real bonds.
I mean, you could try forcing human rapport to see if you get any results.
But keep in mind that it usually takes at least a few years before we can talk about something like a real connection.
Do you have time for that kind of activity? Because I don’t.
Flaw #3: Constant rejection feels so personal
When starting as an agent for this Indian factory, I was dreaming big.
Every time I approached a buyer, I pictured what I’d do with the commission I'd get from this order.
First buyer... "I’ll have a house with big garden for my dog.”
Second buyer... "A BMW. Think red would be nice."
Third buyers... " boah, Hawaiii..."
For months, I second guessed my abilities to get orders. I felt dumb and angry. Ashamed in front of my father. I even started to pull away from the idea of being a sales agent altogether.
But it hurts, and it usually hurts more than we expect it to.
Worst of all, I felt being personally rejected. (Because I played a personal card!) It ruined my mood.
Flaw #4: It's against the policy
Buyers are rigorously requested to refrain from personal relationships with their suppliers.
Basically, a good idea to avoid bias.
It's mandatory to respect compliance principles and guidelines.
Yay! To Bidding in a portal.
Cuts the salesperson off completely.
No interaction with buyer and seller. At all. By design.
(Crazy unproductive, if you ask me, because a salesperson can support, proposes options, and speed up the decision process.)
However, no way for relationship selling in a bid. You don't even know who's the decision maker.
Flaw #5: It’s not fun because it’s inefficient
Approaching professionally with purpose and personality is rewarding.
Selling your lifeblood that 99% of buyers will ignore while keeping more distance from you is the opposite of rewarding.
It is annoying, both for you and the buyer.
I’m terrible at it.
Relationship selling wastes too much time for too little payoff, plus you feel facepalm and won’t have any fun.
“So, what do you recommend instead of relationship selling?”
Helping them with their business.
Not being buddies.
The whole goal for garment exporters is to help customers grow their businesses.
Buyers believe in what you do more than in what you say. You can tell your customer hundred times that you see your customer as a partner. They believe when you act as partner.
You can speed up the process with their vetting process. With you being dedicated to support them they feel there’s a match there.
I learned I don't need to fake friendship to sell.
Instead, be smart about it and make it ultra easy for them to say yes:
Conclusion: Good intend wins
So which sounds better?
Gate #1: you waste hours of your life trying to form intimate liaise to sell something to defensive buyers that might respond but probably won’t?
Gate #2: you act like a pro, do good work, surround yourself with professional buyers who are happy to recommend you to their peers because you help them grow their business... all while filling your bank account, leaving you plenty of free time?
I know which one I prefer.