How to drive pipeline using relationship selling

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While relationships are important throughout the entire sales cycle, they play a critical role in pipeline generation, especially when it comes to B2B sales. In a recent webinar, we spoke with Sam Nelson, Founder of SDRLeader, to discuss the increasing complexities of B2B sales, strategies for navigating relationship selling, and ways to drive consistent sales pipelines.

Watch the full conversation or keep reading for the core insights, marked with time stamps so you can dive deeper at key moments.

Why B2B selling is becoming more difficult 

Starts at 3:15

Current B2B sales motions are becoming less effective for a few reasons. Nelson, who specializes in outbound prospecting, credits the tougher macroeconomic environment for one, but notes the real difficulty lies with increased competition and stale techniques for pipeline generation. 

“The number of companies that exist that want more pipeline is definitely growing faster than people’s appetite and budget to spend, so you really have to be better than your competitors in your outbound if you want that channel to work well.”

Comparing B2B SaaS today to several years ago, there are now more players in the market trying to drive pipeline using the same strategies. Using non-tactical cold outreach to generate pipeline sales doesn’t work in this environment.

Fortunately, this is where relationship selling can help set companies apart.

Increase outreach success using relationships

Starts at 5:27

The key to maximizing your team’s success with prospecting is capitalizing on shared connections. Nelson emphasizes the impact of using relationships to secure a first meeting with a prospect: “Relationships, if you can use them in your initial outreach, are going to increase your odds of success by about 10x.”

Relationship selling is built on establishing trust and credibility, so relying on shared connections that already have that baseline, can be a differentiator for outreach.

With automated and enriched tools like Affinity for Salesforce, you can identify shared connections faster. You can also understand your entire organization’s network, the strength of each relationship, and the context around each relationship. This gives your team the insights they need to facilitate outreach and drive pipeline.

Use internal referrals to make warm introductions

Starts at 12:01

When Nelson coaches sales professionals on making effective introductions, he emphasizes two things:

  • Identifying who to reach out to at a target company
  • Knowing who at your company is best placed to make an introduction

“The best person to find, if you are doing cold outbound, is the person at your company that would be the user of your own product. So, if you’re selling sales tech, your CRO is going to be the first person you go to, because the CRO can reach out to another CRO.”

Nelson suggests creating a list of all the people the CRO is connected to at the target company and confirming who they would be most comfortable reaching out to. Relationship intelligence can help streamline this process; with every interaction in your organization analyzed, you have an up-to-date view of the strongest relationships to prioritize. 

From there, the idea is to make it as easy as possible for the CRO to reach out. “We take all the friction we possibly can from our C-level people and make it a two-minute project for them.”

Identify the right contacts upfront to save time

Starts at 16:00 

A common pitfall in relationship selling is misallocating time. Nelson stresses, “One of the biggest things in sales development and outbound prospecting is doing a good thing that takes so much time that it [doesn’t have] a strong return on investment.”

Instead, he notes that the most impactful use of time for sales professionals is confirming the right point of contact at a prospect’s firm. Affinity research shows that more than 60% of sellers can’t identify the best person to engage at a prospective company. This is a problem Nelson sees time and again with the companies he consults for: “At least one-third of the people that [sales teams] are reaching out to are the wrong people.” 

Nelson reiterates this step is crucial to pipeline generation: “Figuring out the right contacts is crazy important. So anything you can do to make sure that you’re focusing on the right people is the highest return on investment.”

Prioritize relationship strength and in-person experiences

Starts at 24:00

Developing the strength of prospect relationships and focusing on personal touch points is paramount to relationship selling. It fosters a more personalized approach where potential customers feel they can trust their sales representatives.

Nelson believes in-person relationships have a leg up when it comes to building stronger connections: “It’s really hard to quantify how valuable actual existing in-person relationships are to trust.”

Nelson also predicts more personalized experiences will become increasingly important to pipeline generation given the increasingly competitive landscape: “Unique experiences—things like relationship selling, meeting people in person, approaches that are a little bit higher touch than the traditional cold outbound method—are going to become more valuable relative to the baseline.”

To learn more about how Nelson navigates relationship selling to hit pipeline goals, watch the full webinar. You can expect to hear more about:


  • The importance of using relationship selling in your outreach process
  • Obstacles to finding and using the right internal relationships
  • Where relationship selling is headed in the next few quarters

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