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Is It A Relationship or an Acquaintance-ship?

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Jan 20, 2009 3:28:26 AM

I was talking with a client and friend of mine about the challenges facing salespeople today.  We were discussing the need for salespeople to take a more focused approach that went deep with a prospect, rather than the far more frequent approach that focuses on volume and activity over depth.

As we were discussing salespeople who went deep vs. those that did not, I made the observation, “It’s interesting, because Person A (who doesn’t go deep) is considered a relationship salesperson, while Person B (who goes deep and produces more with fewer opportunities) is considered a task-oriented salesperson and is not thought of as a relationship salesperson.  Yet, Person B is the one who really builds meaningful, compelling relationships.”

As I thought about the issue more (and followers of this blog know that I’ve written about relationship selling before), I realized that what most people call relationship selling is really, what I am now calling, “acquaintance-ship” selling.  These salespeople, while they potentially have “big rolodexes” don’t really have meaningful, compelling relationships.

Acquaintance-ship salespeople focus on stuffing more and more opportunities into the pipeline, figuring that if they can be “actively working” 100 or 200 opportunities (and in some cases even more), then certainly something will come through.  In good markets, acquaintance-ship selling can even look like it produces consistent results.  The reality is far from that, however.

The problem is that acquaintance-ship selling relies on the law of large numbers.  While, in the short-term and in good markets, it produces what looks like results, the reality is that the salesperson is not really selling – they’re merely picking up sales that were going to happen anyway.  They create very little value and they commoditize the offering and the organization.

You know your sales team is practicing acquaintance-ship selling when the following are true:


  • The focus is on quantity of activity rather than quality (BTW, it is rare that one can practice any more than acquaintance-ship selling if there are more than 20 late pipeline prospects and 50 total).

  • You see “false positives” in the sales process.

  • When querying your salesperson on what is happening in an account or prospect, the salesperson does not clearly articulate the compelling reason for a buy, nor the compelling barriers that must be overcome.


Acquaintance-ship selling is very costly to any growth organization.  It makes the pipeline highly vulnerable to competition and/or market shifts, it eats up more and more resources in an effort to “keep the balls in the air” and it fails to create compelling value – further commoditizing your company and making it more difficult to succeed.

Topics: B2B Sales Strategy, Sales Training/Coaching