Solid Customer Relationships

By Michael Rega

Publication: Agency Sales
Date: January, 2004

Have you ever awakened on a Sunday morning at the time you would usually get up during the week, and had to stop to think what day it was? Have you ever driven to a familiar place and wondered how you got there? Certainly you have. It’s because you train your mind to perform routine functions subconsciously.

Things like getting dressed, driving to the office and dealing with people can be delegated to the subconscious mind. Yes, even dealing with people with whom you are familiar can be handled by the subconscious mind. Have you ever had a conversation like this?

“Hi Bill.”
“Oh, hi.”
“How are things?”
“Fine.”
“Family okay?”
“Great.”
“Yes. Yours?”
“Well, see you around.”

Not only have you had conversations like this, but also you nave often done so subconsciously. As a salesperson, you face constant challenges. You must overcome your customer’s preoccupation. You must create an active, conscious conversation that will bring the focus to your message.

Though getting the customer’s mind, conditioned to listening is the first objective of a routine call, you may encounter a quite different problem in a cold call because the prospect is unfamiliar with you. Your job is to break the ice, calm the nervous tension and create the right frame of mind for the client to listen to your proposal.

One of the first rules of advertising is to grab the reader’s attention and create a desire to read, the ad. No matter how good the message, it is worthless if it is not read. Therefore, it is with you.

If your message is not heard because you failed to get the buyer’s attention or lacked the ability to create a frame of mind to listen, that message is as worthless as the ad that is never read. Building rapport helps break the ice on cold calls and maintains attention on repeat calls.

Building rapport is a delicate balance, a fine line, between too much and just right. This is especially true where a salesperson may see the same customer as often as 26 times a year. There is no magic answer, as each ‘customer will react differently.

However, one thing is certain, the black board of the prospect’s mind is cloudy and already filled with writing. There is no room for you to write any fresh thoughts, so you must wipe the slate clean!

You must give the prospect a mental coffee break. While there are several ways of giving the prospect a mental coffee break, each has one common denominator. The common denominator is you must be genuine.

Use the following techniques for establishing preliminary rapport with your customers:

1. Shared hobby or interest — As you get to know your customer, you may find you share the same hobbies or interests. This can be an effective way to gain their attention. A shared interest can certainly be about business as well as personal matters.

The customer may enjoy a mental coffee break to discuss how the new method of material handling is working out or perhaps you were both at the monthly trade association dinner last week.

A shared hobby should be an interest in which you are actively involved. If you hate golf, asking the customer how his game is progressing is probably a waste of time for both of you. It will be obvious you are being shallow.

On the other hand, if you really share a hobby and want to discuss it, it will relax the prospect. It cleans their slate, lifting the conversation from the subconscious to the conscious. Your proposal will get a better reception from the customer.

2. Deserved compliment — A sincere, deserved compliment is generally well received. Were you honestly taken by the speech she made? Did he really help you with that confirmation testimonial to a prospective customer?

Share those thoughts, or better yet, write a thank you note. One of the highest compliments you can pay your clients is calling them by name. This practice can also go a long way in getting attention.

A name is a precious possession. Remembering a receptionist’s or assistant’s name will go a long way toward getting an appointment at your convenience.

Practice calling people by their name whenever it is displayed. If you do not know how to pronounce a person’s name, ask and they will be pleased you were even concerned enough to want to know.

3. Common background — Common acquaintances or history can be an effective way of starting a conversation. It amazes me how people from Chicago open up to me when I share with them that I grew up there. It becomes the common thread between us. Be careful the customer doesn’t feel you’re trying to use the common background for special consideration. The secret is to remember the sole purpose of this technique is to let prospects, have a mental coffee break, a chance to relax and reminisce. This is their mental coffee break, not yours. Get them to talk.

4. Astute General Comment An above average comment can snap the buyer’s attention to you. The score of the World Series or the latest news bulletin may serve, the purpose. “It’s hot outside”. may not be an astute. comment, especially in Florida in July. Again’ you are trying to wipe the slate of the buyer’s mind clean. You are attempting to create a distraction, trying to communicate on a conscious level and pique an interest so the focus is on you. Therefore, the comment should be one that is momentarily capable of absorbing the listener’s complete attention.

Preliminary rapport must be natural. As a salesperson you must feel comfortable and your opening remarks must suit your own personality. They should not be canned or, stilted. Use these keys to success every, time you open a sales call whether they are cold calls or an old friend. These key’ sales moves will get you deeper into client relationships and keep you fresh in your territory.