Focusing on Relationships is a Mistake: Harvard Business School

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives. Dan Richards

The past 10 years has been called the “relationship decade.”  In industry after industry, the focus has shifted from selling products to meeting clients’ needs and from transactional sales to ongoing relationships.  Everyone’s better off as a result, not just customers but advisors and their firms. 

Conventional wisdom says that when it comes to client loyalty and profitable businesses, deep relationships are what counts. But a September Harvard Business Review article raised some important questions about whether this is the case.

Five categories of salespeople

Three years ago, the Sales Executive Council launched a global study of top-performing business-to-business salespeople. They looked at 6,000 reps in 100 companies across multiple industries. Since the findings relate to business selling situations, they do not apply exactly to financial advisors – but at a minimum raise some thought-provoking questions.

The first finding was that every salesperson has one predominant persona:

  1. Hard Worker: She shows up early, stays late and goes the extra mile.
  2. Lone Wolf:He’s the rule breaker who does things his way or not at all. (Compliance hates this guy.)
  3. Reactive Problem Solver:  Extremely detail oriented, she focuses on post-sales follow up and can be relied on to ensure service issues are addressed promptly.
  4. Relationship Builder: He focuses on building strong personal and professional relationships and is well liked by customers.
  5. Challenger:  Tending to the assertive side, she uses a deep understanding of customer businesses to push client thinking.