FAQ for Customer Relationships

Last Updated Dec 12, 2007 8:30 AM EST

Business Meeting Customer RelationshipsTwo of the most uplifting people I've ever interviewed are Jerry Acuff and Earl Taylor. Jerry is the author of author of The Relationship Edge in Business, while Earl is a thirty year employee and master trainer at that granddaddy of all sales training firms Dale Carnegie & Associates.

As far as these two guys go, let me put it this way: if I were at a conference, these are the dudes I would absolutely want at my lunch table. They're both smart, funny, and savvy about sales, people and the salespeople. And they can both sell rings around just about anybody else in the business.

Anyway, here's some advice that they gave me in response to six common questions about building customer relationships.

Q: What is the most common mistake in relationship building?
A: Trying to be too friendly too quickly - and thereby seeming like a phony just trying to make a sale. Hold back on the friendliness and increase your level of curiosity. Be interested in the customer as a person and in the customer's motivations. (Earl)

Q: How can I have a good customer relationship if I don't have much in common with the customer?
A: It's sometimes easier to have a great relationship with somebody who's different because it's easier to be curious about that person's life, the way that person thinks, the way that person works. Talking with somebody who is similar can be predictable and boring. (Jerry)

Q: How can I cover for the fact that I'm new to the job and don't know much about the product?
A: You can't. The only thing worse than ignorance is the illusion of knowledge. If you start a relationship by lying, the relationship is doomed, because the lie will sooner or later (probably sooner) quickly become obvious. (Jerry)

Q: How can I build good customer relationships when I'm not very outgoing?
A: The outgoing "people person," would often talk rather than listen. When it comes to relationship building, it's actually better if you're a bit introverted because your ability to sense your own emotions helps you better understand, and care for the concerns, of your customer. (Jerry)

Q: How can I move gracefully into information gathering?
A: Don't push the process forward too quickly, but instead let it evolve naturally out of the conversation. First ask permission to ask them further questions. For example: "Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions so that I can understand your situation better and figure out if there's any way that I can help you?" (Earl)

Q: How do you introduce a solution without going into "sales mode"?
A: Don't see yourself as a hero who swoops in and solves the customer's problem. Let the customer be the hero by positioning your solution from the customer's benefit and viewpoint. Don't ask: "what would it mean to you if we could solve that problem?" Instead, ask: "What would it mean to you if you could solve that problem?" (Earl)

Any further questions? If so, I'll try to get some answers for you from one or both of these gurus.