We’re going to pull from an axiom that comes from tried-and-tested leadership training: positional leadership and relational leadership. Let’s talk about the two forms of leadership for a moment and then we’ll link it to your career as a sales professional.
Positional leadership means exactly what it says. An individual is placed in a position or title of authority, usually through a promotion within a company or organization. Notice I didn’t say a leader is placed in that position. That’s because we don’t know if that person is a true leader or not. We don’t know if that person is going to rise above the title and develop a team of motivated personnel.
Those that remain in positional authority give orders, commands and demands because their title and position within the company or organization gives them the power to. They tend to dictate what needs to be done and never really command the respect of their subordinates. This kind of authority might get the job done overall, but it creates a punch-clock environment where personnel go to work, do their job and go home.
Relational authority goes beyond the title. The individual given the promotion and title sees the group they’ve been assigned to lead as a team. This person takes time to get to know the members of the team, takes time to understand what drives and motivates them and uses that to help them achieve their goals within their position in the company. This leader develops strengths and authentically addresses weaknesses to the benefit of the individual and the team.
Someone who utilizes relational authority has stepped into true, authentic leadership. The team under this leadership feels valued, understood and appreciated and will be more likely to go the extra mile because they understand the big picture and their role in it.
You’ve likely worked with both types of leaders, and you likely recognize that there are much fewer leaders who lead with relational authority.
This is because relational authority takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is a carefully and purposefully developed culture and is a process that can’t be rushed.
Alright, how does this relate to sales?
Just like leaders, there are broadly two types of sales professionals. Those who sell from positional authority and those who sell from relational authority.
Sales professionals who sell from positional authority generally know their products and services well, at least enough to articulate which product or service will best fit the needs that their prospective client has conveyed to them.
Positional authority sales professionals know their sales territory and where businesses and potential clients are within it. They know how to prospect. At least, they know the steps to take to find leads and generate business.
These sales professionals know “X” amount of cold-calls will yield “X” amount of leads, which will lead to “X” amount of sales. They know that sales is a numbers game, and if you work the numbers, the numbers will work for you. Or so the saying goes.
While sales professionals who stay in positional authority might consistently hit their companies’ sales goals, they will rarely develop a book of business filled with clients who are loyal to them. These sales professionals will always struggle to justify their profit margins. They will never command the full respect of their clients, and thus will never reach their full potential.
By contrast, relational sales professionals take the time to get to know their clients and form business relationships with them that go far beyond product knowledge and discovery of client needs. While it starts with positional sales authority, it is cultivated and developed into a meaningful business relationship. There is an established mutual respect between the sales professional and the client.
Because relational sales professionals take the time to get to know what a client truly needs, the business relationship almost always goes beyond the product or service. They know there is always an underlying issue that can be uncovered. Through thoughtful discovery and questioning, a relational sales professional can identify authentic pain points and naturally present solutions to solve them.
Relational sales professionals think beyond the solution they can offer. These sales pros are often well-networked and know of trusted resources they can bring to the table to solve a multitude of challenges a client might face. The return on investment for this kind of sales relationship with a client cannot be measured.
If you become a relational sales authority, you’ll no longer be just a sales professional who represents your company, product or service. You’ll have become the trusted advisor clients respect and value. Your clients will look forward to working with you again and again.
What makes relational sales more difficult is that it can’t be forced or coerced. It must be a natural, mutually beneficial relationship that develops over time. It isn’t inherently difficult to achieve in and of itself, but it takes a disciplined approach to working with clients and requires a significant mindset change.
The more difficult path is often the most rewarding, and those sales professionals who sell from a relational authority will reap the benefits beyond measure.