Sales without gift cards: Relationship selling as a fulfilling tactic that wins

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There are two types of salespeople in the world: those who send gift cards and those who focus on high-quality relationships.

Of course, that’s not true. But as enterprise sales become more competitive, sales teams are left wondering how to differentiate themselves in a market where 33% of all buyers want a seller-free sales experience. If one-third of buyers don’t want to interact with a salesperson at all, it’s doubtful a $5 Starbucks gift card is the sales technique that makes the sales process enjoyable again. 

Relationship selling, on the other hand, might. Where gift cards and other quick hits are short-term tactics that can leave both seller and buyer frustrated, relationship selling is a long-term, fulfilling approach to sales that transforms sellers into advisors who help buyers become more competent in their field. 

Here we’ll describe how sales teams can put relationship selling principles into action, with tips on how to become more efficient when taking this long-game sales approach.

What is relationship selling?

Relationship selling is a sales approach focused on building and nurturing long-term connections with prospects. People who excel at relationship selling understand the human need to build trust—and the power to transform that trust into closed won deals and customer retention. 

Relationship selling is most effective for industries where trust and knowledge are important for driving decision making, such as high-value B2B transactions or industries with complex products and services. When your sales process involves knowledge transmission and collaboration efforts that require long-term partnerships rather than quick, one-time transactions, relationship selling is a tactic you’ll want to use.

Critics of the relationship selling model say it’s disingenuous because it encourages you to act like you’re not selling a product. But this isn’t true—everyone knows a sale is the end goal, but with relationship selling, you’re not only selling something.

Becoming a trusted advisor: Why a relationship selling strategy matters

Sam Nelson, Founder of SDRLeader, says, “Relationships, if you can use them in your initial outreach, are going to increase your odds of success by about 10x.”

To be more specific, 80% of buyers in B2B sales want sales reps to be trusted advisors who can teach them new information about their own industry. If you can make your prospects better at their job, you’ll be top of mind when they need to buy a product like yours in the future.

While relationship selling has become more important to stand out in competitive industries, it’s also more difficult because everyone is vying for a buyer’s valuable time. To get the full benefits of relationship selling, it’s important to remember:

  1. Relationship selling is a long-term strategy because it’s about building authentic personal relationships. You wouldn’t expect friendships to deepen instantly without investment—the same goes for relationships here.
  2. Warm introductions are the sparks of relationship selling. Make sure you’re able to use your entire network for warm intros.
  3. Relationship selling shouldn’t feel like selling—it should feel like you’re helping someone by providing valuable information, rather than a product or service. 

When you’re following these principles, these are the benefits of relationship selling you can expect to see:

More sales with warm intros

According to Forrester, buying interactions increased nearly 60% in 2021. Enterprise sales also now involve larger buying committees with more decision-makers—knowing who knows who and the strength of each connection has been proven to close deals 25% faster.

Trust and a positive brand image

No one bristles more at the word “smarmy” than people in sales. There’s nothing slick about relationship selling—it’s straightforward, helpful, and fulfilling. When you prioritize transparency, empathy, and knowledge, you’re feeding a cycle:

  • You’re perceived as more trustworthy 
  • You feel less pushy and insincere 
  • Your reputation improves—and more people want to interact with you

More loyal customers who say great things about your brand

When customers feel genuinely cared for and supported, they’re more likely to share their positive experience with others. This organic word-of-mouth promotion, which was sparked by an authentic relationship, can contribute a lot to building a network of loyal customers who themselves impact sustained business growth. 

How to be an authentic advisor: 6 relationship selling techniques

While relationship selling will never feel exactly like building personal relationships—after all, you’re still selling a product—it shouldn’t feel like traditional sales, either. 

This is because the core principles of relationship selling are honesty, empathy, and helpfulness. Here’s a process you can master so you’re embodying all three of these attributes:

1. Become an active listener

Active listening is the most important first step to effective relationship selling because it allows you to get to know people in depth. 

When you ask your prospects thoughtful, personalized discovery questions and demonstrate a genuine interest in their answers, you’ll glean valuable information about their goals. This is what earns you the right to sell in the long term, and can help inform more comprehensive and effective account planning.

2. Be honest—and disqualify people who aren’t a good fit

You can’t start an authentic relationship with someone who isn’t a good fit for your product. If you do, all interactions will feel awkward, disingenuous, and, ultimately, sales-y.

To qualify your prospects before you begin a long-term relationship, we recommend two things:

  1. Use Sandler questions to qualify prospects upfront. If they’re not a good fit, it doesn’t mean you can’t work together at some point—they’re just not ready right now.
  2. Use relationship intelligence software to access your company’s entire collective network. This will tell you whom to tap on the shoulder for a warm introduction, which increases the likelihood of a qualified prospect


3. Connect with people in person

Sam Nelson, Founder of SDRLeader, believes in-person relationships build stronger connections than virtual ones. 

“It’s really hard to quantify how valuable actual existing in-person relationships are to trust,” he says. “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.”

You may not want to get too personal—some people may interpret it as invasive—but if you share a common hobby or interest with your prospects, there’s no harm in inviting them out with you. Real-life interactions that show your personality could be your differentiator. 

4. Be a trusted advisor with every communication

People value others who can make them successful. But what does “adding value” look like?

Within the context of relationship selling, adding value means solving problems for your prospects with:

  • Personalized recommendations: You may ultimately be selling your product, but you can also recommend non-competitor products that make their lives easier.
  • Educational content: Share original research, industry trends, case studies, or guides that make it easier for them to keep up their expertise.
  • Problem-solving discussions: If your prospect is facing a challenge, work with them to find solutions—even if your product doesn’t directly solve it.
  • Networking opportunities: Introduce people to connections within your network, whether it’s for hiring, learning opportunities, or potential new customers. 
  • Training and workshops: Connect your prospects with learning opportunities that can help them advance at work. 

5. Access patience to enjoy the sales process

Relationship selling is easiest—and at its most authentic—when you’re enjoying the process. That means no one is rushing toward a sale, which is easier said than done when you need to hit quota.

To access patience, try these three things:

  • Celebrate small wins: Acknowledge and celebrate incremental successes within your relationship-building journeys with each potential customer. Recognize that each positive interaction, even if it doesn't land an immediate sale, contributes to the overall growth of your relationships. If you manage a team, find a way to do this for your sellers, too.
  • Set realistic expectations: This improves with experience, but patience comes when you know how long something usually takes. Show your leadership team historical metrics to manage external expectations as well. 
  • Find joy in helping people: Shift your focus from closing deals to genuinely helping your clients succeed. When your motivation is rooted in making a positive impact on their business, the process becomes more enjoyable—and patience isn’t so difficult.

6. Provide value after closing the sale

Your best prospects are current customers—but not if you abandon those customers after the sale. 

Your customers will likely be assigned an account manager for product support, but that doesn’t mean you should disappear. You can still maintain a relationship with your customers by:

  • Offering ongoing support: Post-sale assistance can help customers overcome any challenges during implementation.
  • Sharing product updates: When you keep customers updated on new features or product enhancements, you’re showing a commitment to improving their experience—which can pay off with an upsell down the line.
  • Seeking feedback: People appreciate it when they can express their thoughts. Use customer input to refine your process and enhance the overall sales experience.

How to improve the efficiency of relationship selling

Relationship selling does have a few problems that need solving:

  1. It’s a long-term approach—which can turn into low volume if you’re not maximizing sales efficiency.
  2. Relationship selling requires a large, healthy network that can be accessed for warm introductions. Who you know is more important than ever in relationship selling.
  3. Long-term relationships in sales come with a lot of data capture. You don’t need to document every interaction you have with your friends, but imagine if you did? That’s what relationship selling requires to be systematic, which means CRM activity tracking is key. 

Technology can help sales teams solve these problems. Specifically, Affinity for Salesforce eliminates manual data entry through automation and helps you access warm introductions to conduct relationship selling at scale. 

This is done through AI-driven algorithms that analyze network data to provide warm introduction paths. Extensions for Chrome and Outlook then make it easy to move deals faster by letting sellers make instant updates to deal data directly from their email or browser. 


Relationship selling FAQs 

What is the difference between social selling and relationship selling?

Relationship selling focuses on building long-term, trust-based connections with people through personal interactions. Social selling, on the other hand, leans on social media platforms to identify and engage with potential leads through thought leadership content. 

How does relationship selling work in a world of virtual meetings?

Relationship selling relies on technology like video conferencing, texting, and chat to maintain personal connections. CRMs and relationship intelligence software—and the data that live in both—can enhance virtual relationships by enriching them with more information.

Why should you incorporate relationship-based selling into your sales strategy?

Relationship-based selling fosters trust and loyalty, leading to stronger, long-term connections. When you understand people’s needs through authentic conversations and knowledge transmission, you differentiate yourself from other salespeople and create a positive buying experience. Relationship-based selling enhances customer retention, increases referral business, and contributes to sustained sales success. 

How can you streamline your relationship sales process?

You can streamline your relationship sales process by integrating a relationship intelligence platform with Salesforce. The software combination centralizes prospect and network data, making it easier to get warm introductions that spark authentic relationships. 


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