Sales IS about relationships. This truism is often parroted, but too often, has many and divergent meanings. What do we mean by relationships, what are the relationships we seek to develop as sales people?

There’s the old stereotype of a relationship oriented sales person, where selling is only about the relationship–usually some socially oriented relationship. This is the sales person that’s always bringing coffee, taking customers out to lunch, inviting customers to any number of events. They are the sales person that always sends your spouse and kids birthday cards (believe it or not, I still get them from sales people who used to sell to my wife.) They believe the value is in the friendship, being likable, and sociable.

There’s the “service” oriented relationship, where sales people act as information concierges. They believe their greatest value in the relationship is serving the customer need for information, providing the customer all manner of information about products and solutions. They don’t seek to challenge the customer but rather to be responsive to their needs.

Then there are the sales people building relationships based on the value they can create with the customer in improving their business and helping them grow/achieve–both at a business and personal level. While there may be social aspects to these relationships, as well as information concierge aspect, that’s not the core of the relationship. In these relationships, we certainly want to be responsive to the customer, but the core of the relationship focuses on business value. They are about how we can co-create value, enabling each party to achieve their goals.

All these relationships are built on trust, but the trust that one is driven to help us learn, grow, achieve The trust based on business value, not just a social exchange, seems somehow to be more profound.

Relationships are important in sales. But we have to be clear about what we mean in building relationships and those that really matter to our customers.