The Telephone Business Relationship

When we first translated Business Performance Group’s materials to Chinese Mandarin, I received a call from the translator who was laughing as we talked on the phone. He was having considerable trouble with the translation of “business relationships” because what kept coming out on paper was the more intimate type of relationships people engage in to grow their families, and it didn’t seem at all appropriate for businesses to be doing something similar. What did I mean? How can businesses have relationships? I explained that some businesses selling business-to-business have a “one and done product.” The product is bought and the buying organization’s problem is solved. Other businesses selling business-to-business seek to acquire an annuity stream of business, a series of transactions over time. They may sell production equipment, and then provide maintenance. They may sell an insurance policy and then the renewal. They may do tax services one year, and look forward to the next. This is a business relationship. The telephone salesperson is in the boundary position, between selling organization and customer, and is seeking to weave and tighten the bonds between their organization and the customer so both parties win, and business continues over time. It is a complex task.

Generally, field salespeople juggle in the neighborhood of 50 to 150 accounts, and telephone salespeople 600 to 800 accounts, but the bell-shaped curve has long tails, on both sides. The duration of the typical sales call also has a long tail, but modern field sales calls can last from 20 to 40 minutes, and the length of the business-to-business telephone call may range from 3 minutes to 7 minutes in length. The field salesperson has far fewer customer with which to build relationships, and has more time to do it.

In the old days, field salespeople would keep the information on each account on index cards somewhere in their car, but most of the information was in their head. Part of their job was carting around information, there was no Internet, the salesperson was the data repository. He or she was welcomed at the customer location because, beyond buying lunch, the field salesperson brought data. If you wondered about the carbon content and tensile strength of a certain grade of bolt, ask the hardware salesperson who will be stopping by tomorrow.

Today, customers can Google this information and much more thank you so very much, so salespeople don’t provide data as much as context and insight. For the field salesperson who will have a personal relationship with most if not all their customers, it is a challenge. For the telephone salesperson who will have need to construct relationships with six times as many customers in 20% of the time, it is a mountain to climb. To be successful, the telephone salesperson must plan carefully before each call, document clearly each conversation, and use their best techniques to craft relationships where their insight is valued and the context is spot on.

Regardless if the language is English or Mandarin.