How to WIN Customer Rapport

Grumpy_man_squared_smallIn our post, Identifying the Real Pain, we talked about what qualifies as ‘real,’ deal-closing pain points and what doesn’t.

We received great replies from our readers stating that customers many times don’t disclose this kind of information so easily.

Well, it’s not an easy task.

If you want to find pain points, you need to uncover them – inch by inch – and earn the right to learn about your customer’s pain.

And the key to developing customer rapport…

Bridging with the client

If you come into the first meeting or have a discovery call, you can’t just ask for the pain points. You have to bridge with the client first by showing how relevant you and your company are for them.

This is where many sales people (including myself earlier in my career) end up as what Mark Suster calls Crocodile SalesmenThey have a HUGE mouth and tiny ears.

Here a real story from first year as a sales person: After 6 weeks of New Hire sales trainings I was loaded with product information, elevator pitches,  objection handling, rehearsed my customer facing presentation dozen times and was ready to rumble.

I went on a tour to meet my potential prospects and had great meetings, pitched my decks and got great feedback on our products. One prospect even had a personal feedback , saying I was an eloquent young sales man.

But in none of the meetings did I get a next step. I was frustrated. What went wrong and what did they guy mean by “eloquent young sales man”? When my boss asked me what the prospects were looking for, I realized that I didn’t discover much about them during our meetings.

I pitched and sold my heart out, but did not leave too much room for customer engagement or discussions.

Decision makers hate these kind of sales guys. That’s why they report ‘not listening’ as one of the top issues for not meeting with salespeople.

On the other hand, many sales people nowadays are trained, sometimes drilled, to ask “good questions” to identify the potential needs. That means they arrive to meetings with HUGE discovery & qualification checklists that their managers require.

This has the exact opposite effect:

Clients end up feeling like they’re being interrogated in a courtroom. Plus they feel like these sales guys know nothing about their business and should be better prepared to add value to them.

I once witnessed a sales call of very motivated sales-person from my business partner, who qualified with dozens of questions before even giving the client any pitch. It felt uneasy and unnatural for all participants and every body, including the sales person was relieved when the decision maker finally interrupted the interrogation with: “Now you know our company and or issues inside out, would you mind presenting what you have to offer, as we got a hard stop in 20 min.”

In both cases you will be put into the “sales” drawer and bridging will be almost impossible.

So what’s the best approach?

Well the bad news is that sales calls are genuinely seen as a waste of time, as most of your colleagues do a pretty bad job generating a real value within these meetings.

The good news is you can easily surprise your prospects by actually being relevant to them from the very beginning, which will make you stand out from the crowd. Here some hints that worked well:

1. Do your homework and be prepared before going into meetings.

Who is the client? What do similar clients suffer from?

Do you know anybody of the participants? Are you linked in with somebody who knows them that could give you a warm introduction or background information.

Check your client base for success stories and benefits they got from your offering. Decision makers love to hear what their market does and benchmark against it.

Be sure to have these metrics and you’ll be much more relevant for your client. Plus, you’ll build up the trust you need to discuss on an eye-to-eye level with your client

However, the most powerful preparation tip I ever received was just one simple question:

“What do I want to get out of this meeting and what do I want to leave behind?”

By asking yourself this question, you’ll know exactly what you need to prepare before walking through the door and what you want to discover during the meeting.

Write them down and you will probably have a good balance between pitching and discovering.

2. Shut your mouth and let the client talk.

In order to discover the pain, we have to learn to truly listen.

There is a golden 20:80 rule, where sales people should not talk more than 20% of the meeting. Hey, I am in sales, too. We love to talk and sell and I know it’s really tough to shut up and listen.

Many, many sales leaders have fallen into the trap of not listening early on, including top sales pro Jeff Shore:

I realized that during my own sales presentations, while the customer was talking I was thinking to myself, “You know, when you shut up I’ve got something really powerful to say. It’s gonna blow your mind.”

Since then, I’ve tried my best to listen with the intent to truly and deeply understand my customer.”


3. Be genuinely interested in your client and their success

As the legendary Stephen R. Covey says:

“Seek to understand before being understood.”

The key to uncovering pain is to be honestly interested in what drives your client and actively listen to what they have to say.

If you are truly engaged with your client, they will feel it.

And if you seek to understand what they’re really saying rather than waiting to segue way into your next pitch, this will send a signal to your client that you are someone worth listening to.

The funny thing is, if you really want to understand your client, you’ll automatically find yourself asking open ended questions like: How would you…, What would you consider…,Why would this be…

If you make it a good discussion, your client will open up and start talking.

You’ll be constantly amazed by what kind of information clients will share with you if you just listen and try to understand what the underlying pain points might be.

Personally, I know it was a successful meeting when all hands end up on the flip chart discussing what good could look like and why!

4. Be honest & reliable to build a relationship

Well it might be ironical to talk about honesty in sales, but in fact it’s not.

The most successful sales people are trusted advisors. They are knowledgeable about their market and their products. Great sales outline the pro’s and con’s of making decision to buy and help their clients through this decision process. It’s clear to everybody, that the sales person will of course drive the decision in favour of his offering, but making it easier for the client to make the decision will be highly rewarded.

It is absolutely ok to be honest, if you cannot help a customer on a certain matter. Clients respect a sales person who honestly points out what and what he can’t do, as they hate nothing more than bad surprises after the sales.

Transparency and Integrity is absolutely important to build a trusted relationship with the client from day 1. Make sure you deliver what you promise.


A rapport-winning conclusion

Be prepared, and avoid asking questions you should already know.

Share industry knowledge and challenge your prospects with your findings of how to do things better, ideally based on your wins of clients in their industry

Remember that the meeting should be about your client, not about your product’sa features & functions.

If you are a talkative sales person make sure you keep the 20:80 rule in mind. You also might take a colleague on the sales-calls with you and encourage her/him to interrupt you, if necessary to get the client talking. If you present on Power Points, plan feedback stops.

Make sure you take notes. It helps to actively listen and allows you to recall discussions after the meeting and shows your client you are serious about helping them.

Be honest, transparent and deliver on what you promise.


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