What is the role of subject matter expertise in relationship selling?

March 5, 2013

By Bob Johnson, NAID CEO

Anybody in sales is all too familiar with sayings like “people do business with people,” “all sales are based on relationships,” and “people buy emotionally and explain it intellectually.”

The reason we are so familiar with these sayings is that they are largely true. Sometimes the relationship is between two people but just as often it is between a person and a company. When someone buys a computer or smartphone, especially an Apple product, how they feel about Steve Jobs is part of their buying decisions even if they did not know him personally. Nonetheless, there is still a relationship.

By now, most NAIDnotes readers know I believe subject matter expertise plays a big role in success. Knowing that HIPAA was not primarily a data protection regulation or that only two of the 19 provisions of FACTA impact the secure destruction industry can improve sales for secure destruction businesses.

So the question occurs to me (and others), if selling is about relationships, why do I need industry expertise? After all, being a know-it-all can actually be a big turn off. In reality, there is absolutely no conflict between the dynamics of relationships in the sales process and the role of expertise. In fact, they are in complete harmony.

The relationship your customer or prospect has with you or, more importantly, their relationship with your company is definitely the key ingredient in sales. That relationship is what separates you from being a commodity. The trick is to use subject matter expertise to strengthen that relationship. People are attracted to companies and professionals who know what they are talking about and know what they are doing. The confidence exhibited by those professionals elicits the emotional connection needed to get the sale. Apple, BMW, Bose and companies like them, are not just commodities, they are experts in their fields.

So, yes, it is critical that you or your company (I stress the latter) build relationships but relationships should be based on more than a good personality or creative corporate image. Subject matter expertise should be one of the primary ingredients in that relationship – maybe the most important one.