Building Rapport in the Relationship Economy


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In 1884 John Patterson purchased the National Manufacturing Co. from James and John Ritty for $6,500 and renamed the company The National Cash Register Co. The word around Dayton was that Patterson had wasted his money; and it wasn’t long before he too thought that gossip might be true. Patterson believed that pilferage and sloppy point-of-sale bookkeeping by store clerks was a primary reason store owners lost money, and from the start he recognized the cash register’s potential to address that business challenge. However; in 1884 the “voice of the customer” was not singing out “I need a cash register.” So, he took that silence to mean that store owners only thought they didn’t need or want his cash registers, and over the following 37 years he helped them find their voice by starting conversations through the first modern sales force. In addition, he created a new marketing approach by fronting his sales motions with direct mail campaigns. By 1912 it was estimated that NCR’s market share was 95%. Although my kids think I’m ancient, I really wasn’t selling for NCR back then; however, I did spend 14 years with “The Cash” and consider my NCR “Sugar Camp” sales training priceless.

Oh really … priceless? Isn’t that a bit nostalgic and over the top? After all, in today’s age of the empowered customer who needs direct sales relics? With the rise of wikis, blogs, podcasts, social networks and B2B portals; isn’t eye-to-eye selling through blue-suited go-getters so last century? And now with predictive analytics in your arsenal who needs to use the fine art of persuasion? With today’s technology magic you already know what the customer needs before they do; right?

OK, OK, I’ll get to the point. In Genie Z. Laborde’s book “Influencing with Integrity” the author covers the importance of rapport in the communications process. In fact, she states that “Without rapport, you will not get what you want – not money, not promotions, not friends.” In short, if rapport is missing … no sale.

Rapport is a tricky thing though. If you have too little the relationship feels cool and never matures. In a business situation there’s also risk in pushing it to the other extreme. After all, not all customers are looking for an intimate relationship with your company. Sometimes all they really want is a fast, simple, accurate transaction. The ability to influence and persuade with integrity impacts the customer experience. At the end of day, how is your company building customer rapport? How do you know when you’ve established the right level of rapport? And just because marketing is now “starting conversations” rather than “pushing conversations” does that mean the art of persuasion is ancient history?

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  1. Alan

    Despite being an advoicate of customer conversations in all their forms, I agree with you that selling is absolutely essential in almost all companies. Customers may be informed, networked and empowered, but that doesn’t mean that salesmanship is no longer relevant.

    The death of traditional CRM, including push marketing, face-to-face sales and telephone customer service, has been greatly exagerrated. Don’t believe me. Then just step indide the offices of almost any medium sized company you care to mention and look around.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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