In response to my January 6 post, Are you in the game, or on the sidelines, a respondent on a LinkedIn group posted the following:

"I assume you are not overlooking relationship selling. That is generating sales opportunities over the long haul. In terms of rainmaking in contingency cases it is years in the making. Converting then becomes the easy part."

IMO, the writer refers not to "relationship selling," but to "positioning." That's where you establish a virtual relationship with a defined market segment via relevant, content-based thought leadership. For example, over time I'll earn a virtual relationship with a percentage of those who subscribe to ResultsMailVT. They'll know me somewhat as a person, but they'll know a lot about more how I think about marketing and sales. When it's time to do something about a marketing or sales problem, a percentage of them will discuss it with me. At this point, marketing (opportunity generation) ends, and selling (opportunity conversion) begins.

There's no such thing as relationship selling. The relationship develops during the marketing cycle, which includes all the activity that occurs as a Suspect transitions to a Prospect, then a Lead and, finally, an Opportunity. Let's begin by defining some terms. 

  1. Suspect is a literal term. This is a company or person whose circumstances cause you to suspect them of having a reason to buy what you sell at some point. For example, if you're a partner in BigLaw with less than $1 million in business of your own, or if you're the primary revenue-generator in a small firm, I suspect that at some point you'll be motivated to rise above the origination threshold in the first case or, in the second case, get others in your firm to contribute to business generation. When that happens, you'll likely be in the market for the types of training/coaching solutions that I sell. I don't know when this will happen, or that you'll choose me, but you match a profile, and I'm betting that you'll eventually buy from someone. 
  2. When you begin taking actions to solve your marketing or sales problem, you become a ProspectExamples: registering for a webinar I present, or approaching me to discuss how my topic relates to your firm after I speak at a conference.
  3. You become a Lead when you discuss your revenue-generation challenge in depth with me, revealing information that's not public, and demonstrating that you have a legitimate stake in the problem you must solve.
  4. When it's clear that the timing is right and you're ready to buy (from someone, not necessarily me), you become an Opportunity. At this point, we'll have discussed the difficulty of getting decisions made in law firms, that accomplishing that requires a decision process. You recognize that you don't have a reliable process (because decisions in your firm take forever, and often default to the loudest voice) and give me permission to facilitate decision-making.

This isn't semantic gamesmanship. Lawyers' lack of understanding of the distinctions among these four terms causes them to waste a lot of time on activity that has little chance of succeeding. They justify countless hours of lunches, meetings, etc. pointing to a long sales cycle. Wrong. The sales cycle doesn't have to be long at all. It's limited to the time to reach a decision once the stakeholders have decided that the problem's impact requires them to make one, i.e., that the Cost of Doing Nothing is unacceptable.

There is, however, a long marketing cycle. In fact, it's a continuum, because you're not marketing to individuals, but to market segments, e.g., an industry. I disagree strongly with the common practice among lawyers in which they invest in building relationships with individual buyers at individual companies. Unless you're in a fully-consolidated market with a limited number of buyers, e.g., as you see with large capital-goods businesses, investing in relationships with individual buyers is far too risky. 

The purpose of relationship-building is establishing relevance, which is the gateway to understanding and trust; it occurs over steps 1-3 above. Once the decision-making (selling) process begins, it's too late for relationship-building. The trust has to be there already.

Selling is not about the seller, or what they're selling, so the relationship is no longer relevant. This is easily demonstrated. Suppose I have two very close friends who practice the same type of law, and are equally skilled and experienced. I'm going to choose one or the other. Our relationship, and whatever degree of relevance and credibility they've earned within it, has gotten each of them considered. It has no decision value. 

Selling is about decisions. It's transactional, i.e., a "stakeholder alignment" process by which you facilitate an informed, sustainable decision among those stakeholders. 


To learn a reliable stakeholder alignment process, experience Step Three of RainmakerVT's Decision Process, "Stakeholder Alignment": Add Value by Helping Buyers Make a Good Decision. This is an interactive simulation, in which you learn by doing. You manage an avatar through a series of "say/do" choices as you facilitate an overall decision.