Greetings.  I'm often asked what it takes to build brilliant customer relationships given that technology and the ways that we interact with customers have changed so dramatically over the past few years.  And while the web, social media, and our customers themselves are causing us to think and act differently, it strikes me that the basics of building and maintaining strong relationships remain the same.  So here are my thoughts on seven things that we ignore at our own peril…

1.  It pays to be prepared.  This was true long before the internet made it easy to do our homework, but it is essential that you understand as much as possible about your customers and prospects before you engage them.  And it's equally important to have a clear purpose in mind before any interaction.  As our friend Arturo Toscanini, the late and great orchestra conductor, once noted:  "How you rehearse (i.e., prepare) is how you perform."  

2.  There is no substitute for listening effectively.  To do this, we need to approach every meeting or interaction with the goal of demonstrating real interest in the customer and becoming as smart as possible in understanding their world and the challenges and opportunities they face.  This means being in the moment and making sure we are perfectly clear about the things they say that really matter.

3.  Asking the right questions is your secret weapon.  If you don't ask the right questions–and get to the heart of the customer's hopes, desires, and fears–you're not likely to craft the best "solution" for them.  And you're not likely to give them confidence that you should be their partner.

4.  The body never lies.  Even if you've never watched CSI or any of the several hundred other TV shows about crimes, crime scenes, forensics, and autopsies, you hopefully realize that your ability to read another person's "body language" is vital to building strong relationships.  Some experts in the "science" of body language believe that 80% of communication is non-verbal, so it's really important to pay attention to the wide range of signals–good, bad, and ugly–that customers and prospects are sending your way.  Do they seem present and engaged?  Are they making eye contact, leaning forward, asking questions with interest and energy, and not looking at their watch or PDA?  Or are they trying to decide whether to race off to an unknown meeting or take a nap?

5.  Your stuff doesn't really matter.  Too often we believe that our products, services, and solutions are gifts from the gods…and that customers and prospects should be grateful for the opportunity to purchase them.  But the real key is helping customers to achieve the result they are hoping for, and that means enabling them to discover the best option possible.  The more we commit to being part of this journey of discovery–and making them and us smarter along the way–the more likely we are to build a trusted and valued relationship.  And the more likely we are to help them deliver the innovation needed to achieve their objectives. 

6.  There's also no substitute for demonstrating real interest.  Everyone wants to be loved, respected, and understood.  To sense that we care deeply and that we've taken the time to get to know them and the things that matter most.  To believe that their world is important to us and that we've tried, as hard as it might seem, to walk 1,500 meters (close to a mile) in their shoes.  And that we wake up each morning thinking about the things that keep them up at night and keenly focused on helping them to become more successful than they ever imagined.

7.  There's magic in following up.  Actions speak louder than silence, and the better and faster we follow up the more likely we are to strengthen our ties to those we have the privilege to serve.  This means identifying ways to drive information, ideas, and possibilities to customers and prospects.  And connecting them with the right people and expertise–inside and outside of our organizations–to move forward.  With the purpose of making them smarter and more capable.  As quickly as possible.

Remember, customers only want to have relationships with us if we make it worth their while.

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We win in business and in life when we respect the value of customers and prospects.  And when we seek to be worthy of the trust they put in us.

Cheers!