What, exactly, is a Relationship Manager?

There are almost as many definitions of Relationship Manager as there are for ‘social media‘ or ‘sales enablement.’  The term used might be ‘customer relationship manager’ or ‘business relationship manager’. Some RMs work with deals, some generate income. Some bring in new customers, some cross sell to existing clients. Some manage ‘new client onboarding’ whatever that means. And then there are the group of sales folks who stopped calling themselves ‘Salespeople’ and began calling themselves Relationship Managers just cuz it sounds like they care.

The term gives the seller a good feeling about themselves. It offers the possibility – the hint –  of offering  the client better quality time, more consideration, more attention. But does it offer the buyer anything substantive? I am having a problem with the term, frankly.

A relationship occurs over time, when people of mutual beliefs and backgrounds – people with similar ways of viewing the world, or similar politics, or similar family members – meld their lives at some times, in some ways, that enable them to grow and shift through time, do things together, share secrets and thoughts and feelings. So if this  client partnership has been maintained over time – with regular conversations that go beyond the scope of the solution placement – then I would consider it a business relationship.

But are clients getting bored by the term, and no longer consider it meaningful? Is the term a  ruse for a seller to create a ‘sort-of-relationship’ so the buyer will ‘deeply trust’ the seller so they’ll buy more, or understand that the seller truly is there to care? or have a Real Relationship. Or should I say A RELATIONSHIP.


What, exactly, is The Relationship focusing on?  Caring about the prospect enough to continue a dialogue just long enough to try to close the deal? Caring about having the client (or prospect) remember them when the competition comes calling? Offering data about their solution so the buyer will buy, or buy more?

Really? Is that what the word ‘relationship’ is being used for?

I would like to pose questions for you to help you add some thinking to what a Relationship Manager could be:

  • How do you create and maintain client ‘relationships’ over time? And how do these go beyond the specific solution you have for them? How do they bring in others?
  • How do you enable the communication necessary to ensure you serve your clients as they need to be served?
  • What is it about a real relationship that you could bring to the conversation to enable continued discovery?
  • How would your communications be different if they were not merely based on needs assessment and solution placement, but based on change management and buy-in?
  • How much of what you learn from your clients gets carried back to your R&D folks so you can design the types of solutions you hear are needed?

In order to consider yourself a Relationship Manager, make sure you have all of the necessary skills, outcomes, beliefs, and models, to help you facilitate change, recognize  systems issues, manage implementation issues and the people/ego issues that must be managed before, during, and after a purchase. Your job as a sales person can be so much ‘bigger’. But not if your only focus is to place a solution.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is the NYTimes Business Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity and 7 books how buyers buy. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a decision facilitation model used with sales to help buyers facilitate pre-sales buying decision issues. She is a sales visionary who coined the terms Helping Buyers Buy, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Patterns, Buy Path in 1985, and has been working with sales/marketing for 30 years to influence buying decisions. More recently, Morgen is the author of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? in which she has coded how we can hear others without bias or misunderstanding, and why there is a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She is a trainer, consultant, speaker, and inventor, interested in integrity in all business communication. Her learning tools can be purchased: www.didihearyou.com.
She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com 512 457 0246. www.didihearyou.com; www.sharondrewmorgen.com


6 thoughts on “What, exactly, is a Relationship Manager?”

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  3. Relationships are all about clear communication. Even if the relationship is a digital one with say a follower on Twitter or an email newsletter subscriber; there is a mutual interest in each party and a path of communication between the two.  Fostering these relationships early can help convert these digital relationships into customers and clients.

  4. Nick – don’t forget the importance of the back end assumptions and filters that are behind and beyond the ‘clear communication.’ i’m writing a book about this now – we actually only ‘hear’ about 3% of what the other is saying. and you might foster relationships, but if the other does not know how to manage change, they can like you and not buy from you even if they need you.

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