Career Guide


Show love to your customers

Why building rapport takes precedence over landing the sale

Imagine yourself as a sales executive, waiting on the first few customers to come through the door. As they begin to trickle in, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Chances are, you’re thinking about ways to persuade them to buy your product, right? After all, customers don’t hang around and you have targets to think of – you need to make the most of the small window of opportunity that’s open to you and sell, sell, sell.

If you were a sales executive in the 1990s, this might have been a fine and occasionally successful strategy to embrace. But these days, customers are much savvier and can spot a hard sell from a mile away. People have so much choice out there now, and with the Internet allowing for comparisons and reviews on the spot, companies have to be nuanced in their approach to landing the sale.

Actually, scrap that. The term “landing the sale” should be scratched from the vocabulary altogether – customers can also spot false sincerity within a few sentences of being greeted.

I’m a horrible salesman. Or at least I am whenever I feel forced to sell for the sake of targets. During a brief stint of working in retail banking, I recall one period where customer service KPIs (key performance indicators) needed to be improved, and so “selling” was, for the time being, a reactive process rather than proactive.

What this meant was that, in order to deal with customers more efficiently, finance products were only to be sold whenever the customer initiated an enquiry. The pressure was off – how glorious it felt not to have to ask people if they wanted this product or that type of loan.

Interestingly, during this period of less pressure, sales increased. Because the focus was now strictly on customer service (which should always be the case, anyway). I found that, rather than putting pressure on customers, I naturally began to ask about their needs rather than the bank’s interests. Due to that simple shift from pressurised pushing to showing genuine interest, more customers would ask for information on how I could help them out.

As an example, let’s take two typical conversations and see the difference between pushing the sale and showing a genuine interest in the needs of the customer:


Pushing the sales

Customer: “Thanks for your help. It’s good to get a handle on things, especially at this time of the year when the finances are a little tight.”

Representative: “Sorry to hear that – if things are a little tight, perhaps we could interest you in a loan to help consolidate your bills?”

Customer: “No thank you, I’ve got enough to keep on top of without worrying about an additional loan.”

Representative: “I understand. But we have some fantastic rates at the moment and I’m sure we could help you save more money.”

Customer: “I appreciate the offer, but no thank you.”

In this conversation, it’s obvious that the customer representative has the “must meet my target” mindset fixed firmly in place. “Sorry to hear that” and “I understand” sound little more than insincere segues into the attempted sell. Let’s see how the conversation could have been improved:


Showing genuine interest

Customer: “Thanks for your help. It’s good to get a handle on things, especially at this time of the year when the finances are a little tight.”

Representative: “I’m glad I could offer the assistance – I appreciate what you’re saying, the end of the year can be quite a struggle. Is it the same case every year for you?”

Customer: “Yes, it’s always the credit cards that do it. You know how it is during the festive season – there’s so much to plan for, not to mention the big-ticket purchases. It all adds up.”

Representative: “Tell me about it. I was in the same boat myself, it causes a real headache. In the end, I knew I had to get on top of my credit cards otherwise the interest payments alone would just keep snowballing.”

Customer: “I completely agree. How did you manage to get on top of things?”

In the second conversation, the customer representative is focused on three key factors of customer service:

-Establishing rapport

-Getting to know the customer’s needs

-Avoiding the hard sell

The customer gets the feeling, “This person is just like me”, which builds trust, and because there’s a genuine emphasis on placing the customer’s needs first, customers themselves open up a selling opportunity.

It’s always tempting to tell customers about your amazing products and what you can do for them, but think about it: if you walked into a restaurant and the waiter suddenly tried to sell you a dish straight away, would you make a return visit? Probably not.

Great customer service is all about getting to know the needs of the individual, rather than focusing on what you have to sell. Whenever we push people, it drives them away. By showing a real interest and asking questions, customers are more likely to be attracted to what we can offer when we choose to put them first.

The best salespeople and the most effective organisations recognise that the central focus when it comes to great customer service is to first build rapport (i.e. give the customer space, show a genuine interest, ask relevant and timely questions) and then get to know the customer’s needs.

If a sale is unlikely, don’t push it. Customers who have a great experience, even though they don’t purchase anything first time around, are more likely to purchase something in future, compared to those who are made to feel like their wallet is more important than their needs.


Sandy’s brief experience in sales was occasionally torturous, but nevertheless valuable. It became clear to him that those organisations whose bottom lines flourish are those who show themselves to be sincerely interested in the needs of others. To connect with Sandy, you can follow him on Twitter

@RealSClarke

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