Prior to the Industrial Revolution the task of selling was relatively simple. All firms had to do was meet the growing demand of consumers buying new things.
It was very common for one person to perform all tasks of the business. The proprietor was focused on producing and meeting orders; selling, marketing, and accounting were regarded as secondary because the market demand was abundant.
The Industrial Revolution brought about organizational changes to businesses. Industries were now producing mass quantities of millions of different products. Because buyers could not absorb all the products, an increase in sales coverage was needed to relieve the excess created by large factories.
The emergence of sales divisions within corporations solved many logistical problems and increased the quantity of potential customers. However, sales representatives generally had very little feedback within the company and were viewed as contracted help. They were paid strictly on a commission basis, so they had very little loyalty to either the firm for which they worked or the customers to whom they sold the products. As long as the proper allotments of products were being shipped and the sales representatives were meeting pre-determined quotas, firms generally took very little notice of what consumers wanted. These practices remained unchanged until the early 1980s when “quality” became the modern management mantra of the day.
The economic expansion of the1990s led to a flurry of development in all business sectors. Advances in technology, especially in the information sector, have increased competition between firms and heightened the awareness of the average prospect and customer. Increased access to information has forced sales representatives to change their methods.
Sales techniques have changed over time to meet the ever increasing demands from informed customers. It has become imperative in today’s business environment to gain the trust of prospects and customers by first focusing on building relationships based on common affinities and objectives.
Advances in Technology: The Changing Role of Relationships
Today, relationship “connections” enabled by the social web has created business transparency were anything and everything about a firms relationship with its market, its employees and its customers can easily be discovered at the click of a mouse. Increasingly, as consumers gain more access to others and information about the products they use, firms have been forced to “come clean”, in a sense, about their promises for performance and customer service.
In a relationship-based environment, the critical factors necessary to make a sale are trust and confidence – which take time to build. Trust and confidence are attributes driven by the quality of the relationship and performance on promises made by the marketing hype of your products and services.
If your product or service doesn’t perform as promised the only thing that can keep the customer engaged is a relationship. You don’t sell relationships you build and earn them. The best kind of sale comes from existing customers either buying more or referring someone else to your business. This process is the result of relationships satisfied with their relationship with you.
The social web enables anyone to “connect” to everyone and the depth of those relationships vary. However, everyone is a customer of someone and as customers we are either satisfied and brag about out experiences or we can complain, one to one to millions.
People aren’t for sale (although many act as if they are) and neither are their relationships. Businesses sell products and services by building relationships. The quality of your relationships can significantly impact your sales. That is why we call it The Relationship Economy.
What say you?