Relationships may vary along the ladder. Salespeople may find themselves in different stages depending on the opportunity and the decision maker in an account (e.g., the business manager may view the salesperson as a Needs Satisfaction Seller while the procurement manager may view that person as a Price Seller). In general, however, it is rare for a client to grow a relationship from one that is highly transactional to one that is highly consultative. More commonly, if the progression occurs, it is gradual and the salesperson’s requirements will shift as well. Research conducted by Beverland (2001) indicates that as relationships with clients grow, the balance of relationship-based (understanding client industry) and performance-based (closing sales calls) activities will shift toward the latter.
Caution should be exercised here, however. Clients may grow their relationship with you if you exceed performance expectations or perhaps if they are considering entering a new market in which your company has expertise. However, they may be content to maintain their status quo at a lower end of the ladder. Even if a customer is very large, they may forever view your relationship as transactional and you may never be able to move up the ladder with them to earn more than minimal revenues. In these cases, it makes sense to control the investment in sales instead of chasing the “big elephant”—even considering passing the opportunity to a channel with a lower cost of sale, such as an inside salesperson who will be able to meet client relationship expectations with less investment. On the other hand, it may make sense for an inside sales representative to hand off an account to a face-to-face sales team if the client prefers a deeper relationship and the account potential merits a higher cost of sale.