Surga Thilakan

CEO & Co-founder, Salesken

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Post Covid Selling - Shift from relationship sales to RoI sales?

There is an exquisite conversation in the TV series Mad Men between Roger Sterling, long time account man and his finance head, Lane who is trying to meet a potential customer for dinner to get help on filling out an RFP form. Pretty much the 101 of classic relationship selling.

Roger: “The beauty of this dinner is that if you do it right, you can actually have him tell you all the answers.”

Lane “There’ll be plenty of drinks”

Roger “Not for you. You order a scotch, rocks and water. You drink half of it until it turns see-through. You get another. And then, well, then it’s kind of like being on a date. I find it’s best to smile and sit there like you’ve got no place to go, and just let them talk. Somewhere in the middle of the entrée, they’ll throw out something revealing. And you want to wait until dessert to pounce on it. You know, let him know you’ve got the same problem he has, whatever it is. And then you’re in a conspiracy. The basis of a ‘friendship’.   Then you whip out the form.”

Lane: What if I don’t have the same problem?” 

Roger: “It’ll probably just be something like he drinks too much, he gambles.    I once went on a five-minute tear about how my mother loved my father more than me. And I can assure you that is impossible”

Lane: “Very good then. And if for some reason he’s more reserved?” 

Roger: “Just reverse it. Feed him your own personal morsel,”

Lane: “Oh I see” 

Roger: “That’s it. Get your answers. Be nice to the waiter and don’t let him near the check. Oh, and find out everything you can before you get there”

Lane: “That I’ve done,”

Roger: “And you still like him?” 

Lane: “I do.”

Roger: “Let it show!” 


The ability to build strong relationships with potential customers has been the brahmastra in the toolkit of every great salesperson.  “You don't close a sale, you open a relationship” has been a quote handed over from one generation of sales leaders to others, a timeless classic truth every sales person knows in his bones.  In the pre COVID world, there were several avenues to build this relationship - hanging out with customers in an informal capacity after a face to face meeting, spending hours in customers officers, learning everything about customers from their family members to names of their dogs, hosting dinners and coffees to meet them in informal environments.  How does all of this pan out in a post COVID world where meeting avenues 1:1 have pretty much been left behind out of the rear view mirror? 

Human contact and memory is certainly a lot more with an in person meeting.   The physical presence creates a longer memory than a virtual one, which somehow manages to fade into oblivion.   How does one create powerful, impactful moments over a call that resonate in your potential customers mind for long afterwards? Has Covid made the nature of selling more impersonal?  There has been an increasing automation in sales, particularly in the B2C space where a pizza you ate at a restaurant, you then ordered over the phone and now you just app deliver it.  Enterprise sales however has still functioned largely out of opening doors through these carefully cultivated networks.  The COVID imposed lockdown has shaken up all of these classic notions of relationship selling.  In a contactless world, memory, especially emotional memory is a hard one to cultivate.   At Salesken, we see two large trends emerging for our customers who primarily do B2B sales:

  1. In a world where relationships are less important, product market fitment and demonstrating Return on Investment is basically everything.  Creating a couple of slides or talking points in the conversation about how your product delivers RoI to the customer is super key for fast decision making.  RoI may be on cost parameters through better efficiencies or enhancement to the top line, stating it out loud in your first pitch call makes a significant impact on the calls moving closer to the next stage.   At Salesken, we see a strong correlation between proactive time spent on RoI in the demo pitches to lead moving across the pipeline.

  1. Some benefits in a post Covid sales world would be:

    1. Access to senior leadership more easily - we see more numbers of CXOs available on the calls 
    2. Easier to connect the dots by running a scheduler across all key members of the cross functional teams 
    3. Savings in time and cost, more efficiency in the sale process 

So is the relationship selling model dead? We think enterprise selling is now more focussed on fitment, efficiency and RoI but relationship is still needed to a smaller extent than previously for the following pieces:

    1. Opening the doors for new selling with already existing networks 
    2. Staying top of the mind in recall to ensure dots are connected. 

5 tips to build sales relationships in a post COVID world:

  1. Increase calling frequency - need to always be on the customers mind, given the lower impact of voice/ video compared to in person meetings from a memory standpoint
  2. Get a conversation going over a chatting medium - like WhatsApp or slack groups 
  3. Create project groups on WhatsApp or chat - to include all key stakeholders and updates on the project 
  4. Spend first 5 mins on small talk, COVID is an excellent start point 
  5. Host online events such as webinars and invite customers to speak - since there is no travel involved, this could be very interesting to engage and build relationships around business issues 

Wishing you all the best for selling in the new world! 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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