Building Relationships: The Sales Process In America
If you are trying to sell to Walmart, don’t even think about establishing a warm, cozy relationship between you and the buyer. Walmart strictly limits contact between vendors (sellers) and purchasing agents (buyers). If you’re a vendor, don’t even think about giving a gift.
A long-time Walmart vendor told us that he lost a big proposal because he was a long-time vendor. He insisted that there had been no hanky-panky, but Walmart management suspected that the relationship was becoming too comfortable.
There’s a good reason for this kind of policy. Walmart knows that “relationships” can lead to bribes, large and small. And bribes add to the cost of doing business. (If you have done business in a bribe-ridden culture, you understand how costly the process is.)
However, there are many American businesses where building relationships in the sales process is absolutely vital. No friendly relationships, no business.
Here is an illustration from the world of high-stakes architecture. In a revealing article, Martin Filler, a noted writer on architecture, maintains that two legendary architects got their big assignments because of their ability to build relationships.
Here’s how Filler puts it: “The ways that win, the arts that please play a crucial role in successful architectural practice, as proven par excellence by Philip Johnson and I.M. Pei, two born charmers and diplomats whose relative lack of native talent was far outweighed by their ability to court, land, and keep clients.”
In a juicy piece of insider gossip, Filler tells one big reason why the famed James Stirling–a heavy drinker who could be obnoxious whether drunk or sober–did not get a commission: “When in 1984 the coveted commission for the Getty Center in LA came down to two finalists—Stirling and Richard Meier—a member of the selection committee…told me pessimistically that the decision would hang on whomever Getty officials preferred to dine with over the next several years.” (Meier won.)
The point is, social skills and the ability to communicate do matter. Forging warm, close relationships may be taboo at Walmart, but we suspect that even there, vendors that are obnoxious and can’t communicate have problems, even if theirs is the lowest price. Trust, reputation, and the ability to communicate–the essential elements in business relationships–still matter a lot in the sales process in America.