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January,  2007
Volume III   Issue 1

"Relationships Don't Matter Anymore"
by Jack Miller

I recently worked on a market research project,  and interviewed a number
of sales people.  I asked my favorite question: “What do they buy and why?”

I was told things like “Relationships don’t matter any more. It’s all about
price now.”

Funny thing. I heard this a few years ago, when I was in the paper business
at Domtar. But I also heard it when I first joined Domtar in the late 80’s. Paper
used to be sold over three martini lunches and golf games, but no more, I
was told.

Of course, I heard the same thing in the linerboard business in the 70’s. I
remember when I was a young kid, barely out of college, and one of our
senior sales executives retired. The last of a dying breed, they said fondly.

What was that breed, exactly?  I was too young and inexperienced to put it
in perspective then, but it seemed like he was likable, worldly, had lots of
good stories to tell. He had known everyone for years and was pretty skilled
with his American Express card.

But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there.

Business didn’t just get competitive last week. I suppose there always have
been and will always be a few people in any business that succeed on style
rather than substance. A few. For most, relationships are built on hard work,
and a well earned reputation for providing solutions.

Solutions. That word may be the buzzword from the Internet era, but the
concept is not new. Most of the time, the customer just needs a good
product at a fair price, delivered on time. But there are times when the  
customer has a problem, and problems requires solutions. Always have.
Always will. And relationships are built on solutions. The customer will buy
that undifferentiated product at an undifferentiated price from the seller that
has a history of providing solutions.

In my research, I asked, “Will they pay more for service?” The surprising,
but on retrospect obvious, answer was, “If they can.”  Yes, it’s a competitive
world, and sometimes the customer’s boss, or the customer’s customer (i.e.
the real boss) requires a very aggressive price, but at the end of the day, the
customer needs solutions, and will pay for them.

“It’s not about relationships anymore.”

“It’s all about price.”

“The last of a dying breed.”

I don’t think so.

That’s what Willy Loman thought in 1949. It was wrong then, and it was
wrong in the 70’s and it’s wrong today. Relationships still matter, but the
good ones have to be built the old fashioned way: you have to earn them.

Whatever success Willy had, whatever relationships he had, were the result
of his efforts and hard work more than his “personal attractiveness.”  

It’s the same today as it was in 1949.

Do you know what your customers really value? Personal relationships –
based on what? Do you really think all they care about is price? I’m sure
some do, but have you identified which ones do and which ones don’t?

Do you know what your salesman believes? Do they believe their success
comes from “personal attractiveness” like Willy Loman believed? Do they
think it’s price? Do they believe in the product, but think they are continually
losing orders due to price?

Pira can help with all of these questions. For more information call Jack
Miller at  203 925 0326 or email

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Copyright 2007, Jack Miller

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