6 Steps to Winning the Customer Relationship

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In life, we all have those eureka moments that help us evolve and gain clarity. Some happen through observation, others occur when stuck on a problem, mine was the result of rejection and failure.

Years ago, I was working a business prospect. The contact was another name on another list, and when it was time to win the deal, I was committed for weeks. I spent countless hours doing research, generated numerous proposals, and I understood their business and their problems inside and out. But, had I built trust, was I someone they WANTED to do businesses with? Unfortunately, the answer was no, and in the end, I lost the deal.

Out of that crushing defeat, I experienced my Aha! Moment. It became so clear to me that I needed to focus on long-term winning of relationships versus short-term transactions, that my process of “winning people” was born. I vowed to never lose a deal based on trust and authenticity again (and doubled-down on ensuring my teams took the same approach).



But, changing habits can be hard. When working, we often lose the sense of the basic tenets of respect as we claw to meet metrics. We may be polite, diligent, etc., but to truly excel and succeed in business you have to win relationships every day, and that takes executing on a framework designed to do just that. For nearly 20 years I’ve been building corporate relationships and leading teams across sales, partnerships and business development. Here are my six steps that could help you win your next relationship:

Step 1: Deliver Excellent Customer Service Through the Power of Gratitude

To build successful client or personal relationships, everything starts with how we treat and provide excellent service to others. Although this seems like common sense, I constantly observe people lacking this skillset. Let’s face it, we all get busy, we all get stressed, but that shouldn’t justify passivity. You’ll never reach your goals if you don’t build strong relationships with those around you. This all starts by creating a daily habit of delivering exceptional service.

How can you achieve this habit? Start by showing gratitude. It’s a strong gesture of emotion that can have a big impact on another person. Showing it can often prove to be a bellwether for trust. What are some simple ways to express gratitude on a regular basis? Start by challenging yourself to send one email each morning to someone in your life you’re thankful for. Then begin to layer this tactic into your business relationships by sending a thankful note to a teammate. Personally, I’ve found this practice to dramatically improve the morale of teams, which helps promote a positive and productive work environment.

Another tactic is to start a gratitude journal. Begin each day with three things you’re thankful for in life and in business. This might sound hokey, but a study by UC Davis psychologist, Robert Emmons, shows that “regular writing on brief reflections of moments your thankful for can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.” A positive mindset translates into positive interactions with others, which is key to winning relationships.

Step 2: Manage Expectations and Always Deliver

Do you always take pride in setting expectations? Do you follow through on the expectations you’ve committed too? Or, do you do it occasionally?

The answer should be that you set expectations and follow through – every time! Once you fail to deliver on the expectations you’ve set both internally or externally, trust is broken, and judgment is formed or passed. If your clients or colleagues can’t trust that you’ll follow through on commitments, why would they work hard for you or want to work with you?

All too often, people set false expectations because they don’t want to disappoint a teammate or customer. You might be surprised how much clients and colleagues will appreciate your ability to deliver disappointing news. For example, years ago I had an opportunity to work with a key customer to win a large project. After thoroughly reviewing the requirements and details of the project, I realized the risks far outweighed the benefits. As much as I wanted the deal, it was more important for me to win the relationship, align expectations, and explain why we were passing on the project. Showing confidence by say “no” helped create a stronger relationship with this customer and he expressed how refreshing the honesty was.

Even though I didn’t win revenue, I won the relationship (which did pay off down the road). This type of behavior and communication often yields long-term revenue opportunities.

Step 3: Actively Listen Without Distractions

How do you define the ability to listen? Does it mean talking to your key client, while texting your co-worker and responding to that important email? If you answered yes, then you might want to go back and look up the word listening.



A key skill demonstrated by talented salespeople is the ability to listen intently. Active listening skills allow you to have the ability to think and ask better questions. If you want to win the relationship, listening requires solid eye contact as well as the ability to absorb the information being communicated. Stop reacting to your smartwatch notifications during meetings. If you make the conscious choice to listen to your customers and colleagues intently, you will be amazed at the response you receive.

When you are actively listening, you can provide real and genuine answers to your clients and colleagues. For example, every customer meeting that I attend, I make it a goal to leave learning something unique about them and their family. I also strive to hear the customer say: “That was a great question.” It shows I care, I listen, and I can build relationships. If you struggle to generate questions in real-time, come prepared. Have some canned questions you’ve researched by looking at their company headlines or their individual LinkedIn profiles. Knowing where they went to school or a little about their history goes a long way to demonstrating you’re actively engaged.

Step 4: Document What You Hear and Follow Up

I always document information in real time. In my experience, that’s the only way that you can retain ALL data, which is required to effectively follow up. In a recent article from Hubspot, the company included survey data showing that 70 percent of salespeople could be more successful if they followed up. When you choose not to follow up, you choose not to win the relationship.

Early in my career I made the fatal mistake over and over of not documenting meetings in real time, or even the same day. I would wait until the end of the week to gather my action items. BIG MISTAKE. Bad notes equal poor follow up. With all of the technology available today, there’s no excuse to not properly document a meeting/discussion or take notes. But, be sure to ask if it’s okay to type notes out during a meeting, it’s a great way to make sure others realize you’re documenting the discussion and not digging out of yesterday’s email. And, be sure to set aside time after the meeting to review and freshen up your notes. Winning the relationship means capturing all the details.

Step 5: Be Authentic, Genuine and Drop the Ego

Ego, that famous construct from Freud’s psyche model. Designed to make you feel good, useful and valued. But when over-nurtured or mismanaged, it can ruin a relationship. How many times have you purchased something from a salesperson and left saying, “Wow, he or she was so down to earth and easy to work with.” That was probably the result of an authentic interaction. Winning the relationship requires consistent authenticity – with a big focus on consistent.

One of the best business books I have read was written by Patrick Lencioni, titled “Getting Naked.” It teaches people how to be comfortable in their own skin. Part of being authentic is understanding who you are and owning it. Lots of people use the phrase “fake it until you make it.” This is the antithesis of being genuine. Understand your strengths and work to embrace and elevate them through your interactions with others.

But, being authentic isn’t just about being you, it’s about being a better you. For example, in the technology consulting business, we often hear phrases or new technology acronyms. When you hear these terms, are you someone that pretends to understand them? Do you nod your head ‘yes’ or are you comfortable enough to ask, “What does SNMP mean?” (Simple Network Management Protocol, by the way.) Are you comfortable saying, “I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with that term. Can you please explain or give me an example so that I can better understand the technology?” Asking questions to ensure you understand the information being exchanged in the relationship is a critical element for winning. This is the power of vulnerability.

Step 6: Success is a Journey, and So Are Relationships

Entitlement! I despise this word. It’s a huge issue in today’s society. Many have forgotten that success is earned over time. Anyone that has achieved greatness likely put in hours and hours of hard work. Nothing is won or achieved quickly. For relationships, the same is true. The best relationships are built through consistent follow-up and hard work – over time. To help along this journey, it’s always good to create a map and understand the final destination (even if you decide to make some major pitstops along the way).



However, journeys require goals. We all have aspirations but without proper goal setting or planning you’re leaving it to chance. Success is tied to measurable goals – the ones set by your business and by yourself. A mentor can be invaluable for setting these personal goals, getting advice, and receiving general counsel. Not only will they hold you accountable, but good mentors help you identify the waypoints in your professional life. Don’t have a mentor? Look for someone you respect and want to emulate. Try to avoid your mentor being a direct superior. Take prospective mentors to coffee or lunch to find out more about them, their approach to life and work. Good mentors thrive on seeing others succeed. Choose wisely.

For twenty years, I have focused on these six steps as I’ve built long-lasting relationships. Next time you sit down to evaluate your business and personal relationships, can you say with confidence that you embody these steps? If you do, then I salute you and hope we get a chance to do business together in the future. If not, now is the time to take that next step and start truly winning your relationships as we head into 2019.

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