Relationship Selling Is It Dead in a Virtual World

The Death of Relationship Selling in a Virtual World with Marcus Jewell, #159

If you’re a sales manager of a 21st-century business, you will not be successful unless your sellers understand how to leverage sales tools and engagement strategies and their impact on relationship selling. Virtual selling engagement strategies have no doubt trumped what we commonly refer to as traditional relationship selling methods, and it’s not even a close second place.

The art of selling and your individual “net worth” to a business used to be solely focused on how good you were at building relationships that converted into building trust with your customers, which in-turn created closed-won revenue.

Though this is still extremely important, my guest on this podcast episode says, “you can’t have relationship-building be your seller’s home run swing.”

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Is Relationship Selling Dead?

Gone are the days where in-person sales meetings would last hours on a golf course, and deals were closed over a few bottles of wine. Those were the good old days of relationship selling.

The market demands a new breed of salesperson, a Modern Seller. Someone who is not just a relationship builder and sales closer, the market has molded the ideal seller to be a data manipulator and analyst. He needs to be capable of building strong relationships virtually, agile enough to leverage data to help determine key actions following the sales plan, and can quickly identify the purchasing stage a prospect is at, all the while he/she can come up with concepts that can help their buyers’ business.

This salesperson is not just your smooth taking relationship builder, no. Rather, this seller is a modern seller capable of building a personal connection through the digital selling process.

Our guest in this episode of The Modern Selling Podcast is Marcus Jewell, Juniper Networks CSO and E.V.P., and race car driving aficionado. Marcus brings more than three decades of experience working for organizations such as Xerox prior to being at the helm of Juniper as their Chief Sales Officer and EVP.

Marcus will tell you, however, that relationship selling is dead.  You can hear why and what you can do about it here on this episode.

What Happened to Relationship Selling?

According to Marcus Jewell, COVID killed off what was left of relationship selling making it very difficult for B2B sales professionals to build a personal relationship with a prospective customer. This slow death began during the early days of the internet when lack-of-time hindered frequent lunch meetings with buyers thereby hindering building a relationship. The gradual digitalization of sales processes continued this downward spiral. Finally, COVID19 in 2020 solidified the transition, as sales became more about data analytics and customer value than conversation-skills and building relationships.

Even before COVID changed the relationship in selling, #sellers began using data analytics to generate successful sales conversations by knowing the buyer. Thank you, @JewellMH from @JuniperNetworks and @M_3jr from @GoVengreso for… Click To Tweet

While salespeople still need to be inherently good at building a business relationship, they can’t rely on just business selling face to face trust-building skills. Today’s business buyer is more knowledgeable and has access to more information than ever before making them a business customer that is harder to reach, engage, and build a relationship with. Frankly, with knowledge comes power and a more informed possible customer makes it harder to build a trusting relationship as fast as we used to be able to do.

Relationship Selling Techniques and the Effect of COVID

The psychology of previous sales motions was more about building empathy and trust whilst asking a series of open-ended questions. These questions, coupled with a personable seller, would allow an organization’s salesperson to build a rapport and familiarity with its customers.

In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for buyers and sellers to go on vacation and spend time with families, do dinners, or even just go golfing. The rise of the internet, however, took time away from everyone.

The recent effects of COVID have not only put a stop to travel but have also generated safety concerns among us all in terms of gatherings. Thus, making it very difficult to create customer loyalty, a strong relationship, and building trust through a handshake.

How Do You Build Relationships with Clients?

These days, sales relationships are built not by how much a buyer likes what you have to say, but more by how a salesperson approaches buyers with concepts that can help their businesses.

Today’s digitally connected, socially engaged, mobile attached, and video hungry buyers will build trust with their salesperson. This eventually leads to building a relationship if the seller’s consultative selling skills bring value to solving a valid business problem.

However, as Marcus identifies, buyers are looking first for value by the seller not a transactional selling sales pitch.

Once the value has been established, trust and a long term relationship can be built, thus the start of relationship sales.

The world has become very outcome-based as Marcus states. Therefore, a salesperson with analytical skills is more likely to succeed than the seller solely focused on being personable or trying to book that face to face.

Social skills are still required for today’s modern seller. Yet, they are now only part of your sellers’ makeup. Processing and analyzing data, then interpreting that to a buyer is what my guest discusses as the key to being a relationship builder with customers.

Knowing that the world has become so outcome-based, I want to improve my analytical skills to increase my sales results and be more prepared for the buyer. Excellent insights from @JewellMH from @JuniperNetworks and @M_3jr from… Click To Tweet

The Impact on the Buyer and Seller Relationship

Traditional selling methodologies dictated that on every cold call or discovery call, both the buyer and seller are trying to figure out if they’re good fits for each other. Today’s buyer has done ample research, so by the time they speak to your sellers, the buyer often wants to go straight to the demo and pricing making the potential customer relationship difficult to establish. This forces the professional salesperson to rethink their sales strategy and ultimately their relationship selling skills.

Time is much more precious now than it was back during the early days of the internet. To build a lasting relationship it used to take a lot of meetings and eventually successful salespeople would close a sale. Today, buyers want to avoid as many meetings as they can, and they only want to streamline the buying process.

A sales and B2B buyer journey used to begin at the same time. Both the buyer and sales rep would use an initial call to discover and qualify each other. If the seller was personable and could articulate ideas well, the buyer would accept a second and third call. This was all part of the sales technique to become that trusted advisor and the beginning to build a good relationship with a potential customer. Today, the seller also has to be able to identify (using data, analytics) where in the buying journey the customer is.

Analytics tools such as the sellers CRM inform sales teams how many pages users search and where they spend most of their time on their website. There are even tools that tell you which competitors they’ve searched allowing sellers to get ahead of the customer possibly. Analyzing and developing a professional selling sales strategy plan with data requires sellers to be influencers and a marketer not the “pushy salesperson” gunning for their own agenda. In other words, today’s relationship selling skills require modern marketing acumen.

Successful relationship selling and analytics-based reps are those who can understand what their possible customers are saying (as well as what they’re not saying). They can disseminate, grab data to identify what the buyer needs, and close the sale.

According to Marcus, “Too many sellers talk about what their organizations do. And sadly, most customers don’t care.” They’re only interested in what your business does that will help their organizations and teams grow.

Social Selling Skills in a Virtual Selling Environment

A client of Juniper, running a six billion dollar organization, asked, “Why do I need to be on social media or possess social selling skills?” To which CSO Marcus replied, “If you’re the leader of a 21st-century business, you will not be successful unless you understand how to use 21st-century tools.”

I consider an “old school” seller someone who is 45 or older (my age) and made their way up the ranks leveraging relationship selling the traditional way. Whether their style was out-in-the-trenches cold-calling, showing up to events to shake hands and/or face-to-face meetings, that breed of seller possessed different skills than those required by the market today.

According to Marcus, many organizations are providing early retirement plans to their “old school” sales teams. It’s not that they think that breed of seller is incapable of adapting. However, most organizations know it’s harder to teach modern skills to traditional sellers. It is becoming more affordable to train someone younger than it is to create a social seller out of a traditional salesperson.

Thank you, @JewellMH from @JuniperNetworks and @M_3jr from @GoVengreso for this @GoModernSelling episode. Organizations need #ModernSellers that are updated with the modern skills to understand the #ModernBuyer Click To Tweet

Modern sales demands workforces adapt to today’s buyer. They need sellers who are not just tech-savvy, but socially engaged and video hungry. They need modern relationship selling skills delivered through the sharing of content, understanding of data and analytics, and modern day omnichannel engagement.

So much more is asked of the modern seller, which is not in line with what sellers 45 or older were taught. Determination, hunger, gregariousness – all of these intangible skills are still important. However, what the sales workforce now needs are those sellers who can also analyze data, possess non-verbal reasoning skills, and read pattern information.

But contrary to what some organizations think, remote selling is here to stay. That eventual transition back to face-to-face selling will happen but not in the way things used to be. There will continue to be more virtual selling. The good news is, a recent study by Mckinsey says, sellers are now better than they were pre-COVID.

From Relationship Selling to Virtual Selling

Sales has always been known as a numbers game. The more people you reach out to, the higher the probability of speaking to someone, and the more conversations you have leads to the more opportunities you create and the bigger the chances you have at closing a prospect into a customer. Though this was the notion of traditional sales, Marcus says sales isn’t solely a numbers game.

Sales is about making sure each interaction comes at the right time and delivers the right message. It’s about not targeting for the sake of hitting. It’s about being specific and sending messages that are so on point and hyper-personalized that prospects have no choice but to engage.

According to Marcus, virtual selling will eventually evolve into something of a hybrid where it used to be and where we are at now. Even if things go back to what we knew as normal (pre-COVID), virtual selling has made too much of an impact to go away.


Outline of this Episode

[1:40] About Marcus Jewell: From Engineer to Sales Leader

[7:25] The Death of the Sales Leader

[11:20] Balance relationship building with relationship selling

[13:00] How trust is built today

[23:50] The importance of research

[25:20] What skills are needed in today’s selling environment

[39:15] How are you digitizing your sales force?

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