Transactional or relationship?

Easy or Hard?

in US it’s more relationship than transaction because it’s a top - down capital system, stock market being the transacting equalizer.

there’s an absurd belief in US that sales has to do with business specialization, meaning you have to be a businessman at a high level to sell something. although it might be beneficial, this type of exclusivity will eventually bring the downfall/degradation of a system that is entirely tactic based instead of having an advanced structural value.

so it should be structural taking into consideration all important aspects regardless of transaction and relationship. otherwise it’ll fail imo no matter how backed up or experienced the so-called sales entity it might be.


While this topic certainly has not taken off, could you continue your thoughts on the subject? I’m still transitioning from a brute-force consumables-based sales methodology to one more selectively targeting high-level manufacturing targets. So your response would be a particularly illuminating one to me. Please follow-up!

Thank you in advance,



Thank you for your note and the interest in this topic. Yes I think it’s a key topic especially as competition for design opportunities becomes more global and more intense. Designers are generally exciting to work with, especially if you are a client. Sales, or better said, new work, tends to repeat when work is well recieved. That said, sometimes firms are invited into pitches with/against multiple other firms. In these cases more transactional,( by that I mean traditional sales methods) may apply. Design tends to be larger sales than say buying encyclopedias or widgets, so the “usual” transactional closing techniques don’t apply. When dealing with larger cost sales I have found a helpful source. Niel Rackham, who seems to have really good ideas. (He has a number of books on the topic). In my own business I try to make almost all of it is relationship based, with sales repeating and occuring naturaly. That said, we just lost a pitch in which many firms were invited to compete for the work. When I authored this topic I was mostly curious regarding other firms and “how” they sell new business.

Thanks again, for your interest. Perhaps this more detailed entry will illicit other responses.



When selling consumables in the past I can point to a number of factors that contributed, or at least helped in the sale: personality, price, promptness, a hook or ace in the hole, and perserverence, not necessarily in any order.

My personality seemed to count for more in a consumable sale, because I was competing with a dozen or more other firms who were selling the same electronic components. Sure, availability or speed of shipment counted, but in those situations having a relationship or at least an immediate connection with someone over the phone that I would never meet had to help.

A hook was something that only our firm offered that I could fall back on to pull a sale out of the hat or turn a bad call good. I’ve not had many of these, but at one electronic component supplier I worked at we offered engineering kits for capacitors and resistors that could be replenished forever at no additional cost. That was a golden marketing gimic that got me at least a half-dozen new customers every month.

Price and speed of shipment were key in consumables, but not necessarily a deal-killer in design sales. I’ve run into my fair share of prospects who balked at our prices, but that’s my fault, not theirs. I should have done a better job of focussing on clients who can afford what we bring to the table, not get into pissing matches and having to gut our proposals. Learning to say “No” is difficult to learn in design services, but sometimes you just have to say it and move on. Honing your pitch means never having to quibble over price.

For the smaller jobs (say up to $15K - $20K), perserverence or just plain beating someone into submission has worked for me. Sometime folks may balk at you calling every 2 weeks or every month after several tries, but just as many tell me they finally gave us a shot because of the same. It cuts both ways, but my background was in inside sales, and it’s hard to cut back on my wanting to make as many calls as possible. Of course, having the right message to leave needs to be formulated carefully, or you’re just going to sound like an inside salesman working down the list. It also took perserverence to handle some clients who really didn’t know what they were doing, but holding their hand made me a ton of money, too, and I did everything I could to make them look good (at the time).

One thing that I had difficulty with early on was positioning our product development firm vis-a-vis other firms that seemed to offer the same services. How can you really mean it when you say we’re the best, or we’re really good at Pro-E? What I’ve learned is that you can’t say that or you’re going to sound like a liar. The services you provide as a product development firm are more-or-less the same as everyone else in this industry, those services are just costs of entry. Everybody has to have them, or you can’t play. What makes you unique is your portfolio, of course, but what really makes you unique and what is going to get you noticed is being able to quantify to the nth degree what you did for your client. Did you reduce Firm A’s typical time to market by 50%? Did your work reduce erroneous RMA’s by 75%? Being able to quantify results, and being able to translate those results to the industry or the particular challenges facing your clients make for convincing arguments and mucho sales.

So, I’m not sure what my point was anymore. I’ve always favored a relationship-based sales methodology because I love to talk to people and that’s worked for me in the past. However, now that I find myself focussing more on jobs that start at $25K and approach $250K or $500K or more, it’s nice to know that you can throw tons of concrete results of your past work at folks, too, if they’re not into slapping fannies (maybe that didn’t come out right). I guess my point is, ironically, that I probably use a transactional approach more in selling design services than I did when I was selling consumables and graphic design and printing. But even this transactional approach seems founded upon a relationship I’m trying to cultivate with people I enjoy speaking with. I got tired of taking care of morons years ago, even though they made me some money at the time.



Just my 0.02 here;

It’s always the relationship.

  1. The design industry operates at a very high level of profeciency, it is unlikely a client is going to get noticably better, or worse, service from a comparitive, qualified firm. So it’s difficult to compete on quality, or even expertise as firms are widely diversified, (I’m seeing consumer products specialists land major medical device programs).
  2. Design is a promise purchase. Clients are purchasing design service with promise that they will be satisfied at the end of the engagement. Each design program is unique, and there are no guarantees the new product will be successful. Trust is a very personal dynamic.
  3. Clients know they are going to do a lot of the work. New product development requires significant interface with the client throughout the process. Clients want to spend that time with people they enjoy as much as possible.

I’m sure they’re more, but it’s like 3am.