Principles of Partnership Selling, Part One



The goal of selling today is to create satisfied customers; not to push or peddle products.  Yet, as a sales person, you are evaluated and compensated for the amount of product you sell.  How do you make this all work?  You learn how to maintain a balance between satisfying needs and pushing product.  This requires you being able to establish a partnership with customers.


Partnership selling means to bring added value, to learn about customer needs, to understand customer problems, and to respect the way customers see the world.  This builds a bridge that creates win-win solutions for both the customer and yourself.

In partnering, we become a member of our customer’s team.  We see through their eyes, care about their success, and contribute to their bottom line.

Creating effective partnerships requires respect, trust, rapport, and honesty.  If we are successful, the end result will be that our customers will prefer to do business with us over our competitors.


As most of us know, Proctor and Gamble is an international corporation with lots of product, lots of boxes to move.  The story goes that several years ago, Proctor and Gamble had somewhere between 20-30 sales reps calling on Wal-Mart, trying to move boxes- boxes of toothpaste, deodorant, etc. P&G wanted to grow the account.  In doing so they tried pushing products.  The sales reps called on Wal-Mart and called and called.  Finally Wal-Mart said, “Stop!  We don’t need your people to sell to us.  We need them to help us!”

With that, P&G decided to take a new approach with the Wal-Mart account.  They installed 12 people in Wal-Mart’s home office. Once the P&G people changed their emphasis from “move boxes” to “help solve problems so Wal-Mart can be more competitive”. Guess what happened?

The Wal-Mart account grew and in the end P&G moved more boxes than ever before.  By building a partnership bridge, P&G created a win-win solution for both the customer and the vendor.

The key point to be learned from this story is that a shift needed to take place in P&G’s approach to selling.  They needed to shift from being simply a product provider to being a problem solver for their customer.


When the old “peddler approach” was used, it focused more on the selling than it did the buying.  It focused more on products than benefits, on forcing needs rather than learning about them.  Peddlers sell on the assumption that “one size fits all”.

Partnership selling is different.  It focuses on creating a buying environment based on customer-defined value.  Partnership selling solves problems.

Partnerships exist because we must rely on others. A buyer has a need.  You have a potential solution.  If you create a partnership, you both gain. In the partnership, you want to be a valuable resource to your customer.  But you must also understand how the customer is valuable to you. To do this, you must think beyond the parameters of the immediate sale and view the customer in terms of “lifetime value”.


What is the lifetime value of a customer?  Lifetime value is the amount of potential business a customer can provide you with directly and indirectly. In partnership selling, you realize the importance of developing a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with your customer.

For example, suppose you want to buy a new car.  Will this be the one and only car you ever buy?  If the car salesman is astute, he will realize he has an opportunity to make a commission multiple times throughout your life if you return to him when you are ready to purchase another car.

This example really happened.  Several years ago, we were looking to buy some trucks for our business. We went to an auto dealership and met the salesman, Mark.  Mark quickly developed a relationship with us and structured our purchase so we only paid a certain amount over the dealer’s cost.  As a result of his willingness to provide an honest and fair deal with us, we purchased many more vehicles from him, including vehicles for our children when they began to drive.  We also referred several others to him.  Our relationship with this salesman has had a tremendous lifetime value for both parties involved.


The main challenge to successful partnership selling is to see beyond your own point of view.  Your point of view matters very little compared to the customer’s point of view.  You must understand what your partner defines as valuable.

My husband loves to illustrate this point. His sales background is in the food industry, particularly selling protein (meat) to national restaurant chains.  Michael does not like breaded meat products.  He cannot properly digest them and refuses to eat breading.  However, many of his customers desired and needed quality breaded meat products.  Did he try to talk them out of buying breaded meat? Absolutely not!  He understood that his personal preferences and personal point of view was of no consequence to his customers.  His goal was to provide them with the product that they wanted and needed.

Once your customers sense you understand their point of view, they will be more comfortable with you and more apt to do business with you.  A helpful acronym to remember how to develop this type of relationship with your customer is ENABLES:

  • Establish rapport
  • Nix preconceived notions
  • Ask questions
  • Be accepting
  • Listen carefully
  • Ensure understanding
  • Share ideas

Another very important aspect in building a strong and lasting partnership with your customer is to understand their particular personality style and learn how to adapt to it when communicating with them.  We will discuss this more in depth in our next post.


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