A few months ago, I received an email from a potential customer asking for information and advice. I set up a call for clarification and began to build our relationship. I felt I was simply doing my job, but it seems a lot of what I deem basic work ethic is not necessarily practiced by everyone. As it turns out, he had sent the same query to five other sales reps and I was the only one to reply in a timely manner. In the following article, I cover some basic tenets that have helped me refine my technique.

First opportunities. Trust is the foundation of every successful relationship. The first step to building that trust is proving you will follow through. My quick response to that potential customer’s query became the first brick in the foundation of our relationship. Then, I started to pick his brain!

Those first opportunities with potential clients are like first dates; we need to get to know them and make it clear we are interested in them. Learn something personal, share fun facts or find a common interest to begin the relationship and to refer to when calling on them again.

Have conversations. Establish a line of communication with key players, but also confirm you can work with the end users to gain additional insight to their pain points. Begin by asking the right questions. Who are the decision makers? What is the urgency? Why is this important? How will this affect your business? If you can have conversations around how to alleviate those issues and reduce their stress, you can begin to build their confidence in your abilities. Continue to ask questions until you fully understand the challenges and the customers convince themselves that they need your expertise.

Hiring experts. We tend to call our customers “hiring managers,” but they really aren’t; hiring is a small, and usually painful, part of their jobs. As the actual hiring experts, it is up to us to earn their trust in our abilities to find the right person with the right skills who will fit into their culture. I want to be the first person the client thinks of when a need arises.

True dialog. We need excellent listening skills to “hear” between the lines. Create a true dialog (not a lecture) to build rapport and find commonality. Relationships built on trust are two-way streets with all involved parties committed to open lines of communication and the same goal in sight.

Clarify expectations. Set reasonable expectations that can be met or surpassed. Clarify the client’s pain points as well as their wish list. Can they be met? Do they need to be modified? Be realistic and know when to say no. Take a breath, let the information settle. Then you can ponder solutions and demonstrate your understanding of their needs.

That old saying, “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” still applies. Meet the agreed-upon expectations and deadlines consistently — then be ready to go the extra mile.

Set up the win-win. Demonstrate that you understand their business. Share prior successes with similar clients. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. Build client portfolios and track their priorities to help understand the customer needs and preferences. This will enforce the feeling that you are the expert and that you possess a deep understanding of their priorities. Follow through. Another easy brick to lay in the foundation for a strong relationship: follow up and touch base.

Share relevant information, such as an article you came across that applies to their business. Add value by sharing links to what’s happening in their industry. Become an expert in the client’s industry to be considered a partner.

Give thanks. And finally, don’t forget to say thank you! Take the time for a “thank you” lunch or coffee, or simply a heart-felt note to continue to build rapport and strengthen the relationship. Such simple gestures can make all the difference and become the mortar that holds your foundation together. z