Building Bridges

July 12, 2011

Secrets to Developing Great Customer Rapport

Dave Chace ( is president of Training Allies, a CE-focused training firm in Philadelphia.

How many times have you heard a sales “expert” tell you that the key to success is building a great relationship with the customer? Excuse me, but, well, duh. That’s like saying the key to losing weight is eating better. It’s easy to preach about the importance of building relationships, but providing insight and guidance around the mechanics of doing so is much more valuable.

As it turns out, a large number of integrators tend to struggle with developing a comfortable rapport with clients. Perhaps they’re shy, introverted, or just not comfortable warming up to strangers. Regardless, the hard truth is that customers buy from people they like, so effective social skills are a vital component of your job.

The good news is that people are quite predictable, and if you understand how to exercise some fundamental and proven strategies, then you can significantly influence your potential relationships with customers, their opinion of you, and the likelihood that they will agree to work with you.

Get Them Talking

Building sales relationships simply requires taking a genuine interest in the other person, keeping a smile in your voice (and on your face), and remembering to be a person instead of just a salesperson.

Almost everyone’s favorite topic of discussion is themselves, so your first job–early in the sales process–is to avoid simple yes or no questions (or those focused primarily on the gear), and instead, ask a variety of open-ended questions that get your clients talking about themselves: their lifestyle, their home, and their family. Your role is to let your client do the talking, gently prodding them along the way and listening carefully to their answers; this is not just for clues to help determine the system design, but also for avenues to make a more personal connection. This is a no-brainer, because it requires very little talking on your part, yet it goes a long way toward establishing a genuine relationship with the customer. As a bonus, you will find that the more your clients talk about themselves–particularly things they enjoy–the fonder of you they will become.

Find Common Ground

It is a sociological fact that people prefer to associate with others similar to themselves. Think about your own circle of friends; chances are you have quite a bit in common with them (interests, beliefs, hobbies, etc). Therefore, a key objective during the sales process is to seek out similarities between you and the customer. The more a customer perceives you as someone with whom they share things in common, the more comfortable they’ll be with you, and the more likely they are to buy from you.

At a loss for things you may have in common? First off, everybody likes music and movies (isn’t that why you’re there in the first place?) So steer the conversation in that direction, and you will be certain to find lots of common ground–favorite movies, actors, concert experiences, and so on. Another easy topic is kids. Regardless of any socioeconomic differences between you and the customer, if you are both parents, then you will have a world of similarities and friendly anecdotes to share. Furthermore, keep a sharp eye when touring the home for evidence of interests that you may share, such as photographs, sports memorabilia, and art. For example, if you’re a golfer and notice a nice set of clubs in their house, why not ask them “Who’s the golfer? Great clubs…where do you play?” The next thing you know, you’re making friends.

Pay Them Compliments

Throughout your discussions with your clients, consciously look for opportunities to pay them genuine compliments, or praise their choices. Everyone likes to hear other people say nice things about him or her, and doing so will incline the client to feel more congenial toward you. It’s a proven psychological principle that paying compliments results in a greater likelihood the other person will want to cooperate and comply with you–that is, as long as the compliments are genuine and not blatantly artificial. Flattery really does work, so don’t be shy about using it.

As I like to say, building relationships isn’t rocket science. It simply requires taking a genuine interest in the other person, keeping a smile in your voice (and on your face), and remembering to be a person instead of just a salesperson. Lastly, be sure to use your client’s name often and mention yours frequently as well. After all, how can you be their friend if they don’t remember your name?

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