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Point of View Selling vs Relationship Selling: Which Is Right For You?

by Doug Davidoff | Dec 15, 2022 1:00:00 PM

POV-SellingPoint-of-view (POV) selling has been around for a while now, but there are still those who resist, relying on their winning personality and expense account to win business. And that’s fine under certain circumstances, but—as we’ve seen over the last several years—the world can throw you some unexpected curveballs. 

If you want to stay competitive in a world of accelerating change, you need to stop making your prospects happy.

In other words, relationship selling is (mostly) dead. It’s outdated and ineffective. POV selling will get you the right sales—and more quickly. 

But don’t stress if you’re someone friendly and personable. You can learn to do POV selling even if it doesn’t come naturally. But first, let’s talk about what relationship selling is and when it does and doesn’t work.

What is Relationship Selling?

Relationship selling is what most people think of when they think of traditional sales techniques. That’s because relationship selling is based on working hard, providing service, and being likable—and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with any of that. In fact, I believe hard work, service, and being friendly are all great things. 

My issue with relationship selling is that it doesn’t shape or influence that path of a sales or buying interaction. It certainly works sometimes, for certain types of sales and certain personalities. (More on that later.) However, relationship selling worked best in the pre-internet past when selling was a very different proposition. 

How Sales Used to Work

In the “old days,” sales worked like this: a company’s value proposition was based on their solution to a problem faced by their market. Companies with that problem looked for ways to solve it, but might not realize that certain solutions existed. Salespeople helped prospects discover that solution. Obviously, this is a very simplified scenario, but it often held true. 

Back then, salespeople felt like the process was intense, but in retrospect, sales tended to have more boundaries. The differences between one offering and another offering were clearer than they are today. Their fundamental job was to educate, communicating the value of their offering and serving as a resource to connect prospects to the right people. 

For example, let’s pretend it’s 1995. If your workplace copy machine broke down and you needed to replace it, you’d call your copy machine salesperson to ask which copiers process a certain number of copies per second and how much those copiers cost. And when you wanted a printer but didn’t have a printer salesperson, you would probably ask your copy machine salesperson if he could recommend someone. 

Today, you’d just use Google. But back then, the salesperson was the equivalent of Google.

In fact, surveys used to show that Fortune 500 executives kept up with developments in their market by talking with their sales representatives, because they, in turn, had been checking in with people across their industry. Now, people can do the same thing with a quick browse of the internet.

All that said, while relationship selling changed with the advent of the internet, it still exists and can, in some cases, be effective.

Where Relationship Selling is Appropriate

Relationship selling still works well in two scenarios:

  • When the buyer is already on a course - In other words, they are ready to buy what you do at the speed you want them to buy from you. The prospect has decided they have a problem and that your solution will likely solve it. The only issue here is that because you’re not doing anything to change hearts and minds, you’re limiting yourself to the people who were already on course and speed. 
  • If you’re selling a commodity - For example, the buyer knows they want to buy a set of encyclopedias. Their only real decision is which type of encyclopedia would be best—and there’s likely not much of a differentiator between the Encyclopedia Britannica and the World Encyclopedia, which are well-known and respected brands. Both salespeople would probably bring the same amount of education and insight to the product. In a case like this, where there’s essentially a tie, you’ll probably buy from the salesperson you like the most. The problem here is that today, there’s rarely a tie between products. 

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The Drawbacks of Relationship Selling

We’ve already established that the main drawback to relationship selling is the fact that it’s not set up to help prospects change course or speed. We also touched on the fact that relationship sellers are also focused on closing a sale, rather than on closing the right sale. That mindset leads to another, related problem.

Relationship sellers tend to measure success by closing a sale. That means they don’t try to lead prospects to the best decision for them because they don’t want to make them unhappy or say no. That mindset often leads them to ignore red flags, trying to keep a sale in play for far too long. 

And when it comes to relationship selling, I’ve got some bad news: the internet develops better relationships than you can. That’s because the internet is available 24-7, knows more than anyone alive and, unlike people, does precisely what you want it to do. It gives people a sense of control that isn’t readily available elsewhere.

A Better Way to Sell

We’ve established that relationship selling can work under certain, limited circumstances. But—and anyone who knows me in real life has heard me say this—true selling is a business of influence. (In fact, I wrote a whole blog on how it’s better to be valued than liked.)

After an interaction with a salesperson, someone’s actions should be different than if that interaction had not happened. If you don’t have someone on course to buy, a relationship is not enough. You’ll need to help them change course and/or change speed. 

This is the drawback to relationship selling. It’s about comfort, and comfort doesn’t change actions. A point of view does. 

Most people haven’t got a point of view; they need to have it given to them—and

what’s more, they expect it from you. - Diana Vreeland

While Vreeland was an editor of Vogue, that quote applies to a lot more than fashion. An effective salesperson’s job is to deliver a point of view. That flies in the face of the common belief that salespeople exist to make the prospect happy; instead, their job is to find the best way to solve the problem. Salespeople should be helping the prospect figure out the right route and the risks involved.  

Sometimes, people don’t like this POV type of sale because it feels like more work than just showing up, being nice, and building a relationship—and they still lose the sale. But that simply means they need to identify the signs of closed loss earlier in the process. Examine the pipeline stages and see where people drop off.

If 80 percent of proposals are closed losses, there’s a problem. Salespeople should be identifying red flags earlier. 

Relationship sellers think of a “no” as unsuccessful—but a salesperson’s job is to not just make the sale, but to make the right sale. If something isn’t the right sale, it’s time to invest your time and energy elsewhere, way before you get to the proposal stage. 

How Point-of-View Selling Works

POV selling means the salesperson exerts a level of influence to change the course and or speed of the sale. From a sales perspective, it also means that the prospect and salesperson will quickly realize there’s either a fit or there’s not. That often involves challenging conversation and some discomfort, which often makes salespeople feel uncomfortable. 

But remember, the objective is not a relationship; it’s being a guide to the path that creates the best chance of success for the prospect. Keep in mind that anything that has the potential for a positive impact likely also has the possibility of failure. Discussing that honestly can be a very meaningful tool. 

As you sell to higher levels, you’ll find that many executives fear never hearing the truth from subordinates in their organization—and many of them never do, because many people are loath to tell bad news to their superiors. That’s one reason POV selling is so effective when done correctly. 

How to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

If you’ve ever taken an exercise class or worked with a trainer, you’ve probably heard this phrase. It also applies to getting better at POV selling. 

Just like you shouldn’t hit the weight room without knowing weightlifting techniques, you shouldn’t transition to POV selling without structure processing systems. If you naturally gravitate to relationship-style selling, you probably also like to manage someone's expectations.

This is why underlying structure systems, playbooks, and aligned content are important. The challenge doesn’t always have to originate with the salesperson—and many times, I would say it shouldn't originate from the salesperson. With support systems in place, the salesperson can navigate challenging conversations and still be a “relationship person.” 

In short, if you’re a relationship seller, you don’t need to change your stripes to be a good salesperson. However, you should practice becoming comfortable with other people being uncomfortable, which can take a lot of repetition.

While relationship selling is, in my opinion, outdated and cumbersome, it can still work in very specific cases. If you struggle with POV selling, the structures mentioned earlier will help, as will the perspective that you’re helping both the prospect and yourself by discovering if this is the right sale. After all, you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, including your own.