By Todd Brian Natenberg

Relationships. Ah, the buzzword in sales. The key to everyone’s success. But in understanding this pivotal words, let’s take a moment to identify the 3 different levels of relationships when it comes to business transactions:

-Buyers agree to meet with salespeople.

-Customers buy from vendors. 

- Clients seek help from their consultants

But see this “partnership” or“lack of” works both ways: Salespeople agree to meet with their buyers. Vendors are willing to sell to customers.  Consultants are excited to help their clients.

Unlesss both buyers and seller are at level 3, challenges will arise in all ways.  I’ve said it before but it’s important to say it again, top salespeople don’t just have a process, they know where they are in the process and understand how to get there.

 So let’s look at each of the relationships and make some observations about what to expect:

  • Buyers/Salespeople

At this step, appointments are often canceled without the buyer giving the salesperson the proper respect and consideration.  Case in point:

Recently, I had a buyer cancel an appointment- after double confirmation with an e-mailed agenda the day before and agreed upon Outlook Invite 1 week before- with an e-mail sent to me 1 hour before saying they had to cancel. There was no courtesy phone callor even text. Clearly the prospect only viewed me as a salesperson.

  • Customers/Vendors

At this step, the customers want to buy from the vendors. Typically, this is an ongoing relationship with multiple ongoing transcations. In this case, the customer wants the vendors services, but only when they want it. If you call the customer and they are in the mood they will call you back. But when they call or reach out, they demand a return call on the spot.

  • Clients/Consultants

This is the arrival stage. This is where the clients value your service. They wouldn’t think of canceling a meeting. Even if they aren’t paying you and this is still a prospect stage, they view you as an authority with a medical type degree and you get thanked for meeting with them. They return calls, seek you out and it is true mutual respect.

Now, let’s talk about the reverse through the buyer’s perspective.

  • Salespeople/Buyers

Here, the saleperson doesn’t send an agenda, doesn’t do the Outlook Invite and is sometimes late for the buyerr’s meeting. They don’t value themselves and feel the only reason the buyer is even meeting is out of courtesy. They apologize frequently for being a salesperson.

  • Vendor/Customer

Retail or another non-saleperson type role fits in this category. This is where the vendor is rude, abrasive and they idea of “you being the customer is irrelevant.” It’s all about them and they think they are doing you a favor by taking their money.

A couple recent examples:

-Kansas City Royals game

During the World Series, yes we were at game 2, we took a few minutes to play some games in the carnvial type atmosphere in the back of the stadium with our 4 year old twin sons. Naturally, there wasn’t more than a handful of children participating- as most parents wanted to take advantage of their $500 tickets.

But still the carnival people charged us $2 per event.  None of the machines were working, such as the timing clock for the kids to race on bases.But when I asked them, how they could charge us after we just spent a fortune on the tickets, rudely they complained,, “Well, we still have to work here. They have to pay our salary.”

A $800 million organization with ballplayers making $20 million/year and they are complaining to us? Yes, I don’t think they viewed me as a “client.”


Flight attendants, TSA workers and counter people are notorious for being obnoxious. They will threaten to kick you off flights for looking at a cell phone with wheels grounded, get upset at you for having the gall to ask why the flight is delayed for 2 hours, and then look at you with disdain for wanting any kind of reimbursement for a 10 hour delay. Whatever happened to the "customer is always right?" That's the problem. They only view you as a customer. -Doctor’s offices


You may be surprised that I put the some doctors in this category, but absolutely. You may respect them, but do they respect you? They will cancel their appointment on you with no explanation, but it’s not a two way street.  They will make you wait 2 hours even though you have a meeting but if you are late, they charge you. Their time is more valuable than yours. They are in a hurry. They are doing you a favor by treating them.

  • Consultant/Client

Here everybody wins. The consultant respects the client, learns from the client as much as the client learn from the consultant, and everybody’s time is respected.  There is no “doctor double standard” where the doctor can cancel at any time, but you have to give 24 hours. This is a true partnership.

It’s only when there is a true consultant/client and client/consultant reverse partnership that we can proudly say to one another, “I don’t want to waste your time or my time. They are equally valuable."  After all, aren't' they?