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Relationship-led sales

Highlights covered in this post include:

  • Why relying on cold-calling and cold email is a losing strategy.
  • How to ask for introductions from the people who want you to succeed.
  • The psychology behind relationship-led sales and how to drive your supporters to help you.

If you were born before 1990, then you have lived through this.

2005 to 2010

Marketing demand era: Marketing is driving a ton of leads for sales


The cold-outreach era: Marketing demand gen dries up due to competition, and sales teams have to drive their leads via cold-outreach over email and InMail.


The sales automation era: Cold outreach is seeing diminishing returns, so the sales teams that scorch the earth with lots of emails and InMails win. Well, kind of. The problem persists.


The relationship-led sales era: Covid hits, cold outreach, and automation are no longer effective. Face-to-face meetings are over. Introductions and influence into accounts are what’s next.

Generating warm introductions via your execs, investors, advisors, partners, customers, and anyone and everyone who supports your business is the most strategic entry point. But, of course, I don’t have to convince you of this…

  • 78% say that referral programs generate good or excellent leads.
  • 60% say that referral programs generate a high volume of leads
  • 54% of referral programs have a lower cost-per-lead than other channels.


The reality is that most companies wish and hope for relationship-led sales to work but don’t have a deliberate system or process to turn this strategy into a reality.

Whenever I speak to sales leaders about how they are driving leads, “digital marketing and cold outreach” almost always come up as the primary or only forms of demand generation that they rely on. To me, it’s shocking. How are sales leaders convincing their sales teams to drive their leads when the channels on which they have been relying for the last ten years are died up?

Most sales leaders view referrals as something that’s out of their hands. All you can do is arm your salespeople with LinkedIn Sales Navigator licenses and hope that they can leverage their 1st-degree connections to reach their 2nd-degree buyers, which are (hopefully) have a strong relationship with your 1st-degree connections. The issue, however, is that over the last ten years, LinkedIn has morphed from a professional graph comprised of ‘real connections’ to just a dumpster-fire directory of professionals. It’s unfortunate but true.

I cannot stress enough that cold outreach and brute force automation are unreliable ways of building a business. If you think you can report to your board that you will hit your number relying on only these two channels, you’re not being honest with yourself. Assuming you do everything right, it can take many years to build a successful, profitable, and scalable business on the back of cold outreach.

To build a scalable and reliable relationship-led growth engine, which can be a force multiplier for your company, you must actively develop your inner circle, nurture these relationships, and be strategic with your "requests". We have found that investors, advisors, partners, and customer advocates want to help. You just need to make it easy for them to do so.

Your investors alone spend most of their day meeting with other portfolio companies, meeting and evaluating companies to invest in, and maintaining relationships with past clients and colleagues. You would be surprised that most investors have built up a Rolodex of thousands of c-level contacts. If you create a relationship-led sales strategy with, let’s say, five investors, each with 2,000 c-level contacts, then that’s 10,000 accounts you can potentially reach.

Think about adding your advisors, internal executives, partners, and happy customers to this circle. Your network reach will soon be in the tens of thousands, acting as a force multiplier for your company.  

Posted August 25, 2022