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I had a funny meeting some years ago when I met with an individual about the development of their team. I knew the individuals CEO well, and on his recommendation, I remember being excited to meet one of their team. Unfortunately, my excitement dissipated as first I waited for this individual who finally arrived 20 minutes late without any acknowledgement or apology, and they then proceeded to turn their body away from me for the whole meeting. They were displaying all the traits of what I could only interpret as someone on a power trip.

I ended up getting a bit frustrated and eventually said that I don’t think we can work with you. Suddenly there was a change in demeanour and body language. I can only presume they now had visions of having to go back to their CEO to let him know Indicator wasn’t keen to work with them. I am not recommending my course of action to anyone, but I can tell you it solved the power imbalance. The situation and meeting changed from then on, and I should also say we went on to build a very successful partnership together which is still going. I have given them a heads up about re-telling the story, which we have laughed about a few times over the years.
In sales, there is a subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle power imbalance that often exists between buyers and sellers. The not-so-subtle is when one side treats the other side poorly based on the perceived power they have in the relationship. This is a relationship where the client treats the seller badly, or even sometimes when the seller or supplier will treat the client badly, which I certainly don’t recommend for a successful partnership. Everyone in sales will recognise what I’m talking about and have stories of their own.
This power imbalance theme has reared its head in a variety of situations over the last couple of years. Employees (particularly good ones) held the power over their employers emerging out of Covid, as they had so many options available to walk into new roles, due to labour shortages. Suppliers had power over customers when there was a massive shortage of product, one client commented to us, that finally their salespeople were receiving some respect from their customers, just so they would allocate product to them. 

I am not a fan of the power imbalance that often salespeople are made to endure, but a good salesperson should be able to gain some form of parity by adding value to a relationship. An order taker or someone whose sole goal is making friends with a client is unlikely to receive parity, however, someone who is taking a consultative approach and adding value is positioning themselves to do well.

There are occasions however when parity will never be achieved, no matter how much value has been added, and we all know of companies who have walked away from some of their biggest accounts for this reason. Cultural fit is such an important part of the business. I am a fan of politely extracting yourself from any relationship that is not deemed a partnership, and I believe that is truly an empowering place to be. As I have written about before, I am also not a fan of the RFP process as it seldom allows for the partnership-type relationship most suppliers are looking to achieve with their clients.
We see this power imbalance everywhere and I personally don’t believe it is good for business, although I am sure plenty of people will disagree with me as it has enabled many a negotiation to be one-sided. As businesses evolve and consumer expectations shift, recognizing and addressing this power imbalance is essential for fostering successful and sustainable sales relationships, an increasingly important topic in the current market.
The power imbalance in sales originates when it used to be that the seller held more knowledge, control, and influence over the buying process. Historically, salespeople were the primary source of information, leveraging their expertise to influence and persuade buyers to purchase. This is I believe a legacy issue, which still sees sales in some people's minds as being underhanded.
However, the rise of the digital age reshaped the sales landscape. Buyers now have access to information, enabling them to conduct thorough research, compare products, read customer reviews and make informed decisions independently. As a result, the traditional power dynamics have shifted, and buyers now hold more control over the sales process. This change necessitates a new approach that values transparency, collaboration, and building authentic relationships.
To address the power imbalance in sales, sales professionals need to shift their mindset and embrace a partnership approach. Authenticity, empathy, and trust are the cornerstones of this new paradigm and bring the irreplaceable humanistic element to an increasingly impersonal digital environment. By focusing on building genuine connections, salespeople can level the playing field and foster more meaningful interactions with buyers. We also believe that it’s just suppliers who need to adopt this approach, but all of us, as suppliers, are a critical part of doing business.
Technology also plays a significant role in enabling this transformation, providing valuable insights and facilitating meaningful engagement. As the sales landscape continues to evolve, it is vital to adapt and embrace a more balanced and customer-centric approach, fostering mutual growth and success.
5 ways to build address the power imbalance and create partnerships:

1. Curiosity: Genuine curiosity is a game changer for salespeople that is hard to fake. Be genuinely
curious and watch how much respect you can gain.

2. Transparency and Insights: Sales professionals should prioritize transparency and educate buyers.
By providing comprehensive and unbiased information, sellers can empower buyers to make
informed decisions. Our goal in sales is actually not to “sell” to someone it is actually to allow a
buyer to make the best-informed choice about working together and if so how should we work

3. Collaboration: Collaborative selling involves working together with the buyer to find the best
solution. By involving buyers in the decision-making process, salespeople can address their unique
requirements and create a sense of shared ownership. Customers know their business better than
anyone externally so why wouldn’t we involve them in choosing solutions.

4. Long-Term Focus: Shifting the focus from short-term gains to long-term relationships is crucial.
Salespeople should aim to build trust and establish themselves as trusted advisors, rather than
merely closing deals. This approach builds loyalty and encourages repeat business.

5. If you cannot add value or take the pain away from a customer best you retreat quickly and offer a
referral elsewhere. Companies will respect you for it, and if you don’t work with them now that
doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. A bad client relationship will have a huge impact on your


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