The Sales Professional: Build better customer relationships

The Sales Professional: Build better customer relationships

*Pat Whidden has enjoyed a 40-year career in animal agriculture-related agribusiness, with experiences ranging from the dirty boots to the boardroom. He is a consultant specializing in strategy development and execution, as well as sales and customer service coaching, seminars and corporate events. Contact Whidden directly at (615) 719-2447 or

YOU can't not communicate. People listen and pay attention to people they like. They prefer to do business with people they trust. Doesn't this imply positive relationships?

Building and maintaining the relationship — and the effective communication that goes along with it — is the responsibility of the seller.

It's not like a marriage; the seller and the customer are not really in a mutual partnership based on affection, love, give and take.

Mostly, in the real world, the seller gives and the customer takes, except that (here's the deal) the customer pays good money. Everything you own or will ever own is paid for by the customer.

Effective personal communication takes several forms: verbal and written words, appearance, body language and listening skills; those all "say" something about the seller.

What is your attire while you're interacting with the customer in person? A simple rule of thumb is to try to dress similarly to the customer — and maybe just a bit better. If the customer wears a shirt and tie, wear a nice business suit or blazer, tie and slacks. If the customer goes for the jeans look, go with khakis or clean, pressed jeans and a collared shirt. Make sure your footwear looks good. Project — communicate — a professional, successful image. No rumpled, wrinkled clothes, please!

Practice professional verbal skills. Use distinctive language (no, I don't mean countrified jargon). How's your grammar proficiency? Become a professional conversationalist.

Here are a few do's and don'ts: Be yourself. Believe in yourself. Don't be boring. Talk, but not a lot. Ask better and better questions — not just an onslaught of interrogational questions.

So, how can you tell if someone is interested and listening to you? You can get plenty of clues from facial expressions, active listening, making statements and asking questions.

While the customer is talking, what is your body language saying? Active listening skills include an alert focus, eye contact, tone of voice, nodding and paraphrasing. Customers want to be listened to.

Written communication has sure changed, hasn't it? Emails and texts have pretty much taken the place of business letters. However, even though the real world is fast and electronic, it just doesn't seem professional to use the "new shorthand." Practice using proper English in all your written communications. Also, consider a great tool that has stood the test of time: a handwritten personal note.

Another form of communication — and an awfully important ingredient in customer relationships — is the ability to empathize. Customers want to be understood. Even more, customers appreciate business partners who can either literally or figuratively "walk a mile in their boots."

This is only possible by learning as much as practical about the customer and his business. While it may not be practical or possible to know as much about the customer's business as the customer does, it seems reasonable to shoot for at least knowing more than your competition does.

Customer relationships are built on the foundations of commonality, credibility and competence, collectively leading to trust.

We all have some things in common. The world is a small place. Keep your eyes and ears open for commonality clues. Then, converse about them. People love to talk about themselves, their families and their interests.

Customers prefer doing business with people who are credentialed for the field of endeavor. Go ahead and drop clues about your own background, education and experiences. These are your credentials, your credibility.

Competence is the ability to make things "work right." This helps the customer get the results he needs and wants. There's an old saying, "He talks a good game," but a competent seller also plays a good game.

Developing outstanding customer relationships takes time and practice. True, customer relationships may not be like a marriage, except in one respect: When you first met your spouse, maybe during that first-ever dance or lunch date, wasn't there some tension involved? Weren't you a bit apprehensive and nervous? Didn't your future spouse feel that way, too?

Time and effort eventually overcame the tension. The same goes for customer relationships. Trust will develop.

Volume:86 Issue:18

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