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Building a Customer Relationship: What's Your First Move?

SCENARIO: You're in a face-to-face meeting with a fully pre-qualified prospect.

Your challenge is to build a strong foundation for a long-term customer relationship.

Here are your choices:

  • Strategy #1: Build Rapport. Keep the conversation on areas of casual interest. A friendly chat is the best way to begin to build a relationship.
  • Strategy #2: Actively Listen. Ask an open-ended question and then actively listen to the answer. Ask further questions to clarify the situation.
  • Strategy #3: Converse. Treat the meeting much as you'd treat a meeting with a peer or your manager. Talk about as much as you listen.
  • Strategy #4: Interrogate. You don't want to waste the prospect's time so ask yes/no questions that will quickly determine whether or not you can help.

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The correct answer is #3: Converse.
The reason is simple. A prospect will only want a long-term business relationship with you if you can establish your credibility without seeming proud or overbearing. While the other strategies may uncover useful information, or make you seem likable, they do nothing to establish you as a useful resource:
  • #1: Build Rapport. If you selected this, you're confusing a sales call with social call. As a result, you'll become an acquaintance of the prospect, but you wont' build up any trust, credibility or rapport. Worst case, the prospect will simply think you're a lightweight.
  • #2: Actively Listen. If you selected this, you're confusing selling with therapy. Some sales reps get so into questioning that they become entirely passive and non-reactive. The prospect gets drawn out, and the sales rep learns a great deal, but the sales rep never contributes anything and thus fails to build credibility.
  • #4: Interrogate. If you selected this, you're confusing selling with police work. Some sales reps become so aggressive in their quest to uncover information that they start seeming like a junior investigator on a spin-off of the TV Show "The Closer."
Note: the above observation is loosely based on a conversation with Jeffrey Seeley, CEO of Carew International.