Wrong Way SignBig businesses have reams of data, history, and experience to rely on to operate their businesses.

Entrepreneurs, at least to some extent, must trust some other sources to learn what’s working and not working in important areas of their business.

One source many trust is the Harvard Business Review. And one of the areas we all want to know about is what’s working is sales.

Recently the HBR published two articles: “The End of Solution Sales” and “Selling is Not About Relationships.”

You might think, “If they have data to support it, and it’s in the Harvard Business Review, it’s probably right.”

No, it’s not. Ignore this advice.

Entrepreneurs that dismiss core concepts behind solution sales, and that dismiss the importance of relationships when selling and growing a business, put their sales results and their entire companies in great jeopardy.

Here’s why: we recently published the study What Sales Winners Do Differently. In it, we analyzed 700 major purchases from buyers that represented $3.1 billion in annual business purchases, comparing what the seller who won the sale did differently than the seller who lost.

We found:

1. Sellers who win sell radically differently than the sellers who come in second place.

2. Sellers who win the sale do three things consistently: connect, convince, and collaborate.

Let’s take a look.

On the left, we have 10 factors that most separate the seller who won from second-place “runner up.”

On the right, we have how often the runner up demonstrated these factors in relation to the other 42 factors we analyzed.

It’s a glaring contrast. They sell very differently.

You’ll note three factors that separate winners from second-place finishers:

1. Understood my needs

2. Crafted a compelling solution

3. Connected with me personally

The first two are about “needs” and “solutions,” core solution-sales concepts. The third, while it is in no way a complete picture of relationship selling, is a core concept in relationship selling. Other core concepts of relationships in sales, such as trust, show up as very important in other areas of our research.

Wait a minute. The Harvard Business Review tells us the “End of Solution Sales” is here, and “Selling is Not About Relationships.”

Based on our research and our experience…not true.

So what should entrepreneurs do, then?

The sales winners consistently succeed in three areas: 1) connect, 2) convince, and 3) collaborate.

  • Connect is the first level. Winners connect the dots between buyer needs and seller offerings as solutions, and they connect with buyers as people. Indeed, the death of solutions and relationships in selling have been wildly overstated. How about that.
  • Convince is the second level. Winners persuade buyers that the return on investment is worth pursuing and the risks of failure are acceptable.We expected ROI to be important. Indeed it is, but we were surprised by just how strongly risk averse buyers are these days. This is extremely important for entrepreneurs to keep in mind. Focus as much as you can on helping buyers see that, while you might be new or small, you’re a safe (or safe enough) choice.
  • Collaborate is the third level. Winners collaborate with buyers. They bring new ideas to the table, help buyers see how they are a team working to achieve a mutual goal, and they are proactive, responsive, and easy to buy from. Sellers that are able to achieve the third level are very successful. This is especially important to entrepreneurs because, if you can do these things, in addition to helping you win the sale, they help buyers trust you, and help you reduce the buyer’s perception of risk.

Indeed, connecting, convincing, and collaborating are essential to sales wins. As a little extra bonus, we found they are also the keys to satisfying buyers with the buying process, building buyer loyalty, and creating buyer willingness to refer other business to the sellers.

So, not only do sellers that succeed in all three levels win their sales opportunities, they put themselves in a great position to keep customers loyal and grow their businesses in the future.

To find out more about how winners sell differently than second-place finishers, what buyers look for in a seller, and how to maximize repeat business, referrals, and customer loyalty, read What Sales Winners Do DifferentlyDownload this free report.