Transactional versus relational sales

February 16, 2015

By John Foust
Ad Libs™ 

I was talking to Nick, a long-time ad manager, about the nature of selling. “I agree with the theory that there are two types, transactional and relational,” he said. “As consumers, we have become increasingly transactional. We go to the store, pick out a product, take it to the register, pay for it and take it home—even if the clerk at the register doesn’t bother to say ‘hello.’ Or we shop online, find something of interest, compare prices, click ‘buy’ and wait for delivery.”

Nick explained that organizations that rely on sales—including newspapers—measure success in terms of transactions. How many ads are in the latest edition? How much revenue will those ads produce?

“It’s tempting to see all sales as transactional,” Nick said, “but that would be a huge mistake. The challenge is to be relational in a transactional world. That’s why customer loyalty, which is long term, is more valuable than customer satisfaction, which is sometimes based on single buying experiences.

“It starts with rapport,” Nick said. “I encourage our sales team to find common ground and build from there. Along the way, clients learn that our folks have some marketing savvy. That gives us credibility and makes selling a lot easier.”

To expand on Nick’s observations:

1. Individual transactions don’t necessarily lead to good relationships.

When salespeople treat their advertising product as a commodity, they encourage prospects and customers to see them as anonymous people at the cash register. There’s no connection. That often leads to churn—advertisers who jump ship if their ads don’t work right away.

2. Good relationships can lead to more transactions. A smart salesperson looks beyond the immediate gratification of today’s sale. He or she works to build rapport and turn that transactional advertiser into a marketing partner.

3. Leadership is relational. In many organizations, a salesperson who consistently has good numbers is likely to be promoted to sales management. If his or her company has a transactional sales culture, the new manager will be poorly prepared for a management position. The duties of leading a team are relational, not transactional.

4. Individual ad sales are transactional. Think of a vending machine. Insert money into the coin slot and get an ad. It’s difficult to go any further than that, when salespeople present themselves—and are seen as—order takers who sell one ad at a time.

5. Ad campaigns are relational. Properly executed, an ad campaign requires consistent contact between salesperson and client. From planning to execution to periodic tweaks, there are plenty of opportunities to build strong relationships.

6. Don’t forget your clients’ relationships with consumers. On a broader scale, strong ad campaigns create relationships between advertisers and their audiences. Think of the number of times you have been drawn to certain stores or brand names because you felt connected to them. That emotional attachment is a major factor in brand identity.

And that kind of campaign success can lead to—surprise—more advertising dollars for your newspaper. © John Foust 2015. All rights reserved. 

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information at

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