Establishing a Relationship

by Jacques Werth and Nicolas Ruben

For most salespeople, establishing a relationship with someone is the most difficult and confronting aspect of High Probability Selling.  It requires the salesperson to forget about selling and just be a person.  It’s also the single most important step in High Probability Selling.

It’s a time when you don’t talk about your product at all.  Your only purpose is to get to know the prospect and determine whether he or she is someone you can trust and respect.  That decision is key because it determines whether you’re willing to do business with that person.  You learn that through conversation and by asking questions.

When you don’t trust and respect someone, it’s very tough to hide it.  If you don’t, they’ll know it almost as soon as you do, and they won’t want to do business with you.  But more importantly, you’ll know it and you won’t want to do business with them.  If you try to do business with someone you don’t trust and respect, you’ll never have a workable relationship.  And if the relationship isn’t workable, it’ll be difficult and unrewarding at best, forever.

Put yourself in the prospect’s place.  If you were the prospect and you felt that someone was trying to get you to do something, you would naturally try to protect yourself.  That’s where resistance, suspicion and hostility come from.  Whatever the salesperson does or says in that kind of environment will be construed as manipulative, insincere and inevitably creates resistance.

In High Probability Selling we only do business with people we trust and respect.  When you’re establishing a relationship with a prospect, your purpose is to discover who the person inside the prospect is and how he or she got to be there, both personally and professionally.  How you do that varies.  Everyone’s style is different.

In order to determine whether you trust and respect someone, you have to really get to know them – find out what makes them tick.  What motivates them and why?  What incidents or feelings shaped who they are?  How they wound up in their current job?  The search goes way beyond surface amenities.

It’s not a matter of prying or trying to manipulate.  You only have a limited period of time to spend on a call and you sincerely want to develop a relationship that means something.  All meaningful relationships, professional or personal, are based on mutual trust and respect.  If you can develop that kind of relationship with a customer you have such a competitive edge that is very difficult for anyone else to overcome.  Everyone prefers to do business with someone they trust and respect.  If you don’t develop that kind of relationship with a customer and get to know who they are at a personal level, you’re just another salesperson to them.

In order to do what I’m suggesting, you have to be sincerely interested in the prospect.  That kind of sincerity can’t be faked.  People know when you’re asking questions and only pretending to be interested in the answers.  When that happens the prospect will abruptly cut you short.

Remember, your purpose in discovering what makes a prospect tick isn’t to uncover any “hot buttons” or what it will take to convince, persuade or manipulate someone to buy.  It’s to see whether they are the kind of person you’re willing to do business with – to see whether you trust and respect them.

To do that you probably have to operate in a way that’s goes against everything you’ve been taught or conditioned to do in sales.  You have to let go of “trying to please,” “dancing to the prospect’s tune,” “getting them to like you,” “being interested in what they’re interested in” and “flattering them.”  You’re not there to impress, entice, or “build rapport.”  You’re not there to “get them to buy.”  You’re there to discover whether there’s a mutually acceptable basis for doing business, or not.

Editor’s Note:  This blog post is excerpted from the book, “High Probability Selling” by Jacques Werth and Nicholas Ruben.

Establishing a Relationship

10 thoughts on “Establishing a Relationship

  1. The very use of the term ‘prospect’ suggests that the seller has a theory about their ability to deliver value.

    At some point in the conversation the prospect has to feel that the conversation is relevant to them and the seller has to say something that resonates with the prospect.

    Otherwise, the prospect will be wondering why the seller has initiated the conversation in the first place.

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    1. Malcolm,

      Yes, I agree with you. And the best time to establish the relevancy of the conversation to the prospect is at the very beginning, when you present your prospecting offer. It must be very clear and very short and part of the very first things you say. We call this High Probability Prospecting. We never leave the prospect “wondering why the seller has initiated the conversation in the first place.” We get to the point so quickly that we don’t even say “Hello”.

      Carl Ingalls

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    1. Malcolm,

      We definitely are creating a safe structure for a conversation. There are a lot of details that go into that.

      The conversation that occurs is also structured, but not in the way that a traditional salesperson would structure it. The traditional salesperson would structure it to get the prospect to buy. The High Probability salesperson would structure it to get the prospect to answer the question, “Is this something you want, or not.”

      Carl Ingalls

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  2. I am always interested in Sales Methodologies that stress the importance of relationship building. However, this conceptually cannot start and end at the Rep level. It needs to be a shift in focus at the top of the organization. Why? Sales Executives are constantly shifting the organization and changing territories. Real Relationships based on trust are not built in a day…or even 6 months. To build trust, and thus a partnership, a Rep must DO not just say. In that I mean that the Rep must perform over time in a way that allows the executive to trust that the Rep has their interests in mind. Unfortunately for most Reps, their ownership of the relationship shifts just about the time their customers or prospects have grown to “like” them.

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  3. Vin, you said (in part), “Real Relationships based on trust are not built in a day…or even 6 months.”

    Most salespeople, sales managers, sales trainers, and even the Center for Relationship Marketing at Emory U. agree with you. However, I did not address that issue in this article.

    I did stress the importance of determining whether you trust and respect the prospect, and that there are processes for doing that the first time you meet someone. I also gave reasons why you should not to attempt to do business with people whom you do not trust and respect.

    If it takes at least 6 months, “To build trust, and thus a partnership…” doesn’t it make sense to only spend time and resources on prospects that you trust and respect? Can you see any possibility that such prospects are likely to form the same opinion of you in much a shorter period of time? Would they do it immediately if they are unsatisfied with, or don’t trust their current suppliers? Would they do it when you are offering a win/win value proposition, if there is little justification for shopping around?

    As in most sales scenarios, a highly effective prospecting process is the first step to arrive at a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

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  4. Hi. I apologize. I am used to ready things very quickly and completely missed the direction of this post. I have since gone back and read it more carefully…and in more detail. I am even more interested in the post than I was before. Why? Your assertion goes against the grain of most people, not only sales people, and would most certainly result in a reps management team directing hostility their way if it was every revealed as the reps strategy. The psychology of it is brilliant and I bet effective. In some ways, you are simply suggesting qualifying the prospect. Most people view it in terms of a budget though…not whether the rep likes or dislikes the prospect. However, sales would in deed become highly probable and predictable if reps were not so desperate to be loved. Getting sales people past the notion that it is better to have a bigger pipeline than a more predictable one is critical.

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  5. Karim Watson says:

    In my business everything is done over the phone. It seems to make the respect and trust inquiry very unnatural and awkward for me. For instance, I call them when i’m prospecting and I’m blunt and to the point, I set an appointment and then… I call them on our appointment date and their expecting this straight and to the point person and it seems like i’m procrastinating. It makes the trust respect inquiry feel like a desperate attempt to establish rapport before I try to sale them something. I always feel this way so I end up cutting it short and going into the questions. Which then seems awkward because its not what they were expecting. Is there a way to make this seem more natural?

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  6. Karim says:

    Hello. Jacques, I am in a business where I do everything over the phone. From prospecting and establishing a relationship to selling and following up with satisfaction calls. Just to be very blunt. The trust and respect inquiry is very awkward for me becuause when I am initially prospecting I call and I am stern and straight to the point, just like the book says. So, when the prospects set up appointments with me and I call them and am trying to start off with the trust and respect inquiry, they seem to be thrown off guard and wondering why all of a sudden I went from this stern straight to the point, down to business kind of guy to shooting the breeze with them and asking all these “relationship building” type questions. I feel it seems to them as a desperate attempt to build a relationship with them before I try to sell them something. It’s feels so awkward and unnatural. Should I just ignore this and keep doing it anyway or is there a better way to do it so that it doesn’t seem so desperate?

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  7. Karim – While we do not advocate being “stern” when prospecting, we do get “straight to the point.”

    The last chapter of our book shows a highly structured trust and respect inquiry process. Except for the first couple of sentences, we do not “shoot the breeze” A good way to start the process is: “How long have you been in the (whatever) business.”

    However, it is very difficult to learn the process without a coach who leads you through it until you get it right.

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