A Complete Guide to Customer-Salesperson Relationships
Home 9 Message from the Mentor 9 A Complete Guide to Customer-Salesperson Relationships

Whether personal or professional, the healthiest and most satisfying relationships are those which are mutual, balanced, and beneficial to both parties. The relationship between a sales professional and their customer is no exception, and is also extremely dynamic, continually moving either closer to or farther away from Preferred Position (the strongest possible position you can be in as a sales professional; having as much of your customer’s business as you want).

The sales relationship must be in a constant state of growth if it is to have any long-term payoff. In the customer-salesperson relationship, it is up to the sales professional to reassess the customer’s needs on a regular basis to develop a strategy for responding to the customer in a consistently positive way.

Relationships by and large can be broken down into two categories symbolized by two different illustrations: the dependency relationship and the interdependency relationship. If you are a Carew sales training program participant, you will be familiar with these relationships and the corresponding diagrams and how they relate to professional selling.

Dependent Relationships

Graphic representation of the dependency-subordinate relationship

In a dependency (or subordinate) relationship, one party yields all the power and influence and dictates to the subordinate party. Dependency relationships are characterized by a lot of ordering, controlling, directing, and commanding. Consequently, those in the subordinate position will struggle to give guidance and add quality or value to the relationship.

On an extended basis, these relationships run the risk of deteriorating and becoming very dissatisfying for those on the subordinate end. Anxiety, frustration, hostility, or passive-aggressive behaviors can potentially result.

Interdependent Relationships

Graphic representation of the interdependency-equality relationship

An interdependent (or equality) relationship, by contrast, is one in which there is an equal and balanced distribution of power and influence, as well as equal contribution to the relationship. Interdependent relationships foster trust, openness, and collaboration, all of which are essential to provide value and insight and ultimately achieve influence with customers.

Interdependent relationships tend to be long-term, enriched relationships, as opposed to temporary encounters. Further, because of the engaging, collaborative nature of the interdependent relationship, both people feel a sense of ownership in what takes place, and with that ownership comes a greater commitment to the relationship.

Moving from Dependency to Equality

Many customer-salesperson relationships begin as a dependency relationship, with the customer having the power and influence over the salesperson. The customer decides to give, or not give, an appointment to the salesperson. The customer decides where and how the sales call will be held. The customer determines if a buying decision will or will not be made. But this dynamic hinders the trust and collaboration needed for salespeople to add value to their customers and step into the role of business advisor.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in a dependent/subordinate relationship with one or more of your customers? First, recognize that it is your responsibility to assume the leadership role in the relationship. It is also your responsibility to guide the relationship perceptively so that over time it becomes satisfying and profitable to both you and your customer(s).

Initiating this type of healthy, valuable interdependent relationship requires confidence in yourself and your insights, as well as the products or services you offer. It requires you to display behavior that lets the customer know they are being heard and that your concern is genuine. If you have been through our Dimensions of Professional Selling® workshop, you know trust, credibility, rapport, and respect make up an interdependent relationship, so those are the factors you should be focused on.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Practice active listening
  • Keep your word, be honest to build trust
  • Provide value and insight in every email and phone call
  • Personalize relationships through tailored communication and advice
  • Don’t wait for your customers to reach out to you
  • Strive to exceed your customer’s expectations
  • Practice social selling to add value
  • Show appreciation
  • Keep providing value after the closed-won deal

Building and maintaining interdependent customer relationships takes time, persistence, emotional stamina, and a willingness to make the investment.


Developing genuine, balanced connections with customers is the foundation of productive, long-term relationships. But it is not until you believe in your product, program, service, and most of all in yourself that you have the raw materials needed to initiate the interdependency relationship.

Development of the interdependency relationship involves behaviors that give your customer feelings of being heard, understood, supported, and valued, and that also meet sales needs regarding the product or service being offered. Consider the nature of your customer relationships and where you have opportunities to improve the dynamic.

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