The Sales Systems Model®
by Sharonne Phillips


Selling any product or service is based on relationships – the relationship between the customer or client and the supplier or product.  It doesn’t matter if it is a product or service, successful sales are based on trust.  This trust is between the customer and the sales representative and the company they represent AND also between the manufacturer of the item being purchased. There are a number of tiers to these relationships and each tier contributes to the difficulties in developing long-lasting sales relationships.  If there is a problem at any contact or supply point, there is a chance that the relationship and trust will suffer, and the sale(s) might not go ahead.

Major corporations realize this.  They spend time, effort and energy on developing the right product and then finding the right sales approach.  Staff are trained to have a consistent “branded” approach and style – one that reflects the corporation, it’s values and their products.  One aim of this training is that all sales staff offer the same information and service so that they are interchangeable – the obvious benefit being that a transient sales or workforce should not adversely impact on sales…  But it does. 

People like to do business with people and this means that customers often like having a familiar face at a meeting or a familiar voice at the end of the phone. This is particularly important for repeat business and customers.  Customers also like their past relationship with the organization to be noticed, valued and acknowledged.  Many organizations are finding this out the hard way.  There is a growing discontent that talking to a different customer service agent in a contact centre with each call is deemed to be impersonal and a benefit to the supplier’s business, not to the customer. 

So how do we change this?  Understanding the different elements and stages of the sales relationship is the start, then it is up to each of us – as suppliers and consumers to decide whether we wish to meet the challenge, and how we will do so.  It doesn’t really matter how big or small our business is – we are each in a position to provide a wonderful experience for our customers or clients, and to enjoy the same when we are making a purchase.

First of all, understand that for ANY sale to occur there must be two things – a desire for the product or service being offered and a trust in the supplier/provider of that item.  Desire in this sense can be a “want” (they would like to have or use that item) or a “need” (it is essential that they have this item such as air, food, water, shelter) - both “want” and “need” are encompassed by the “desire” for that product or service.  Trust will be in the product, the supplier, the manufacturer and the specific item being purchased.

Trust might be built over a period or time, starting gradually with seemingly unimportant or irrelevant things, and it might be tested at various stages during the development of the relationship. There are a number of features that are important in this process – such as accountability, consequence, budget and outcome, and this varies whether the buyer is purchasing for a corporation or for themselves.  Trust might be based on an instantaneous “gut feel” of the client to the supplier or product.  Sometimes the customer or client will “test the water” – trial the product or service and the supplier of that product or service before truly committing themselves.  How you perform at this stage is crucial to your client trusting you, your organization, product and/or service.

In general, people vary in how long it takes them to develop enough trust with a supplier, sales executive or sales team to make them the first choice for buying the particular items available.  This is the basis of consumer loyalty, and will bring more business because loyal customers recommend their friends, relatives and colleagues to your business.  

People can have an overwhelming desire for a particular product.  For example, someone might have desired owning a particular product – a “named brand” handbag (e.g. Gucci ®, Fendi ®), pair of shoes (Salvatore Ferragamo ®, Bally ® ), suit (Ermenegildo Zegna ®), car (Jaguar ® , Daimler ®, Mercedes Benz ®, Rolls Royce ®) or the ability and right to visit a particular store (such as Tiffany & Co. ®) since they were young.  This might be because they fell in love with the style and grace of a particular model, or they want the intangible things that these brands can represent – success, style, great design and performance or any number of things, including something based on an emotional response to something vague or in their subconscious.  It is not really important why the desire exists or how urgent it is, just that it does exist, because it will mean that that person will do anything that they can to own a product of their chosen brand at some time in their lives.


Because the sales relationship is all about trust, if you come on too strong, or are insincere because you are trying to meet a sales target for the quarter, month, week or day you may lose the sale. 
The customer is likely to be aware of this “hidden agenda”, at least at a subtle level.  Therefore, it is important to understand how sales relationships are established, developed and maintained.

The following model provides a summary of the sales relationship:


© The Sales System Model®


In the beginning, when the customer or client is still deciding whether they wish to “buy” you or from you they are your “prospective customer” you will have to answer a lot of questions for them so that they can learn whether you are trustworthy.  They will want to know how you work, what is important to you and whether you are able to provide the goods or service that they want.  They might want to know what safe guards and back-ups you have in place in case something goes wrong.  They might need to know your contingency plans and how you will deal with them if they have an urgent order.  They might ask all sorts of details regarding your prices, your policies and how your businesses can interact or work together.  Be particularly mindful if there are any legal regulations that must be observed – because knowing what is required and making compliance easy for them will make dealing with you easier. 

Prospective or New Customers

Prospective or new customers might start by giving you a small order or a small cost purchase to “test” you, your products and service and the organization you represent or sell for.  Some of their questions might seem irrelevant or even annoying – and how you handle these questions will help to determine the type of relationship you will enjoy with this client. 

Your sales systems at this stage of the relationship will need to be supportive or even nurturing so that they feel that they can trust you with their doubts.  You must respond with respect, regard and reassurance for them, their needs, their doubts and their desire to purchase from you.

Of course, at this stage you might decide that building this new relationship takes too much effort or time on your part to engage with this client (for the profit to be made) and you might decide that you can afford not to develop this relationship further.  Conversely, you might decide that you can never tell what type of client you will gain and so all effort at the beginning is worthwhile. 

Be sure that what you do and any promise you make at this stage is sustainable or your relationship with this client might suffer in the future. 

Existing Customers

Once the client or customer has tested your product or service they will decide if they wish to continue working with you, or buying from you.  If they continue to work with you, they will become an existing customer.  In this case, they will still need to ask some questions but the type of question they ask is generally more sophisticated.  They have a basic level experience with you and your organization and so their next experiences will be at a higher, more familiar level.  However, they might use other suppliers or providers for your products and services as well as your organization – because they are still deciding what type of relationship they wish to have with you.

Your sales systems will need to be appropriate – to reflect their past history with you and your particular customer experience, and to allow them to ask new questions or repeat old ones that you thought you had adequately dealt with previously. 

People like to be noticed and remembered, so if your customer has already bought from you, it will be the “icing on the cake” in your relationship if you can bring some of this knowledge into your conversations and dealings with them.  For example, your database should reflect the products they have previously bought from you or the names of the key personnel you have dealt with in their organisation.  You may be aware of important events or issues that affect their business.  Bring these details into your conversations and suggest information that would be relevant for them.  Give some “value adds” for them that will help to highlight the level of the relationship you have with them – for example, let them know if you are aware of other goods or services you provide that might be of interest to them, or where they might source something that they need (that you don’t provide).  Keep in mind that it is still about them and their needs and desires, rather than a chance for you to aggressively market and sell to them.  Consider whether you wish to tell them if you have any pecuniary interests in any of the goods or services (suppliers and providers) that you are recommending.

It is possible that even if you do not acknowledge an existing customer’s past experience with you they will still buy from you, but you will develop a more loyal customer if you build on this existing relationship.

Loyal Customers

When existing customers have been buying from you for a while and they have decided that you are their exclusive provider or supplier for the goods and services you deliver they are considered to be committed clients or customers.  They trust you.  This is a very special relationship – these people are committed to using your company or organization, regardless of who else sells the same brand or has another branch of the same franchise.  You are their preferred supplier and they will not only not wish to go elsewhere for their purchases, but they might seek your advice about other suppliers and products for goods and services that you do not provide.  This is where building your network and supply chain can really assist you in developing strong commercial relationships.  You could develop affiliate programs if you like – provided that is reasonable for you and the type of business you operate.  You might recommend local businesses or key products and suppliers, or provide supporting information that could assist these loyal customers.

If you recommend any other suppliers – you must make sure that they provide goods and services to the same standard as you.  They must respect your clients as you do and treat them with the same efficiency that you give your clients.  If not, your loyal customers may question the value you place on your relationship with them. 

You see, the funny thing about a sales relationship is that it takes time to build, but no time at all to destroy.  Treat these relationships as if they are as fragile and precious as a rare egg of an endangered species.  They need to be kept safe, nurtured and treated with regard, care and respect so that they can be incubated properly and hatch into fully fledged dynamic and living beings – each relationship has it’s own particular individual and special characteristics and personality.

If you have new staff members (sales, support or reception – in fact anyone your loyal customers might talk to) you must warn your loyal customers that you have new staff on board.  If these new staff members act in a way that is different to the normal treatment your loyal customers are used to, it might affect your relationship with them.  Loyal, committed customers like to have efficient purchasing systems so any sign of inefficiency, confusion or lack of acknowledgement of the depth of the relationship they have with you could lose you their loyalty and business.  At the first sign of trouble, make sure you start doing repair and maintenance work.  If things deteriorate and you have to step into crisis management it could be too late - they may take their loyalty elsewhere, to another supplier or provider.  Don’t let your oversight be your competitor’s godsend.

The Final Word

No matter how fantastic your relationships are with your prospective, existing and loyal customers – you still need to have a broad enough base of clientele so that if something happens to this relationship and they choose to take their business elsewhere, your business does not suffer massive consequences.  This is particularly important for small and micro business where the loss of one major client can seriously risk the entire business.


The Author

Sharonne Phillips

Sharonne Phillips helps you to create effective systems that streamline your business and simplify your life. Sharonne has worked within the health, hospitality, administrative, manufacturing and mining industries for over 25 years and has worked closely with staff and managers to achieve greater understanding and efficiencies in the workplace. She is the developer of The Systems Model® a unique model that can assist organizations to understand how their existing systems serve their best interests, or detract from their core purpose. Sharonne is the Director of Occupational Ergonomics Pty Ltd. Visit for additional information.
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Copyright 2008 by
Sharonne Phillips. All rights reserved.

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