Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two Keys to Great Client Relationships

What do you consider the most important factor in a great client relationship? Many people would say being liked is high up on the list, but sales trainer and referral expert Paul McCord begs to differ. Today he'll share what is and isn't necessary for a great client relationship.

"Despite the advice given by so many trainers that being liked by prospects is the key to sales success and to strong client relationships, the fact is that being liked by prospects and clients is well down the list of characteristics necessary to establish strong, lasting client relationships," says McCord. "In fact, being liked by your client isn't even necessary. There are thousands of examples of client/seller relationships where the client doesn't like the seller."

If you want to create superior relationships with your clients you must learn how to:

Establish Rapport
Often confused with being liked, rapport has little to do with being liked but everything to do with connecting with your client on a level where you understand your client on both an intellectual and emotional level. The dictionary defines rapport as a "harmonious mutual understanding," a meeting of the minds. Rapport may encourage the client to like you, but by no means is it necessary and certainly at times, rapport is present even while being liked is absent.

Building rapport demands you focus your attention on your prospect or client, not on what you want to get out of the session, what you're going to say next, or how you're going to get the signature on the contract. Much that has been written about building rapport has to do with tricks - matching the client's tone of voice or speech pattern, mimicking behavior, and the like. Although these may be helpful, I've found that more basic actions are more effective at building rapport - really listening to the client, hearing what they say instead of what I want them to say, making sure that I understand what they really mean, responding to the question they asked instead of the question I wanted them to ask, and answering their questions openly and honestly. In addition, asking questions that not only allow them to fully state their wants, needs, goals, and opinions, but that encourage them to do so.

Building rapport is about communication. The matching and mimicking tricks deal with non-verbal communication, which is certainly important, but the real skill comes in learning to verbally communicate; learning to listen, to encourage open dialogue and discussion, learning to accept divergent points of view; and learning how to give guidance and direction in a manner that supports the client and moves them in the right direction rather than creating a chasm between yourself and your client.

Establish Trust
Trust, even more than rapport is critical for successful long-term client relationships. The dictionary defines trust as "a firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing." "Trust implies depth and assurance of feeling that is often based on inconclusive evidence."

Trust is difficult to establish and easy to lose. Trust for most people isn't built on words alone, but on a combination of words and actions. For most clients, trust isn't established during a single meeting or even over a few meetings. Trust is earned by having one's actions match their words.

Building trust, just like building rapport, is an activity. It doesn't just happen, it's created by actively doing the things that build trust - by being honest in words and deeds, by doing exactly what you say you're going to do, by putting your client's good ahead of yours.

If you really want to create strong, lasting relationships with your clients that will be the foundation of your business, that will generate strong client referrals for you, and that will produce business year after year, invest time and effort in learning the secrets of building rapport and trust. Don't worry about being liked, being cute, or being their pal. Concentrate on being their trusted advisor, the one who really understands their wants and needs and who they know unselfishly pursues the best possible solution to those wants and needs for them. That's the secret to great client relationships.

Paul McCord, a leading Business Development Strategist and president of McCord Training, works with companies and sales leaders to help them increase sales and profits by finding and connecting with high quality prospects in ways prospects respect and respond to. He is the author of the popular Sales and Sales Management Blog

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