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August 22, 2007

How well do you relate to your clients?

In the consultative selling classic Stop telling, start selling: How to use customer-focused dialogue to close sales, Linda Richardson argues that business development is based on dialogue. Much of the book is devoted to six critical skills that determine the effectiveness of client dialogue: Presence, Relating, Questioning, Listening, Positioning and Checking. This week, I’d like to focus on the second skill on Richardson’s list: “Relating.” Because if your relationships with clients are weak, your prospects for future business are too.

If you want to be better at relating, do you have to play golf? Some sales pros would say golf is always a good idea, but I disagree. You should play golf only if your clients like it, and, just as importantly, you like it too. Faking usually backfires. It’s certainly possible to start a relationship based on fake interests, as many divorced couples can attest. But it’s far more enjoyable, and more effective over the long term, to build authentic relationships based on rapport.

You need to build rapport by exploring your client’s interests, to find genuine links. To get started, ask open-ended questions about whether the client has vacation plans, or a favorite restaurant near the office, or a long commute. Or ask about the client’s spouse or children by name.

What if you think that this particular client does not want to chat about vacations, restaurants, commutes, or their spouse or children? Listen to your gut. If your instincts say that this is a time to keep strictly to business, you’re probably right. But you can still build rapport with an all-business client by saying that you know the client’s time is valuable and asking what time the client wants the meeting to end.

People are different. That’s not exactly a news flash, but it is amazing how often it is ignored. “Relating” is not based on a single activity that works the same with everybody, but rather with finding the common link between you and each individual client so you can form a genuine bond. It doesn’t have to be deep, but it does have to be authentic.

Richardson’s book discusses a number of ways establish rapport, including:
• Identification: did you grow up in the same state, or go to the same school?
• Be prepared: learn about the client’s industry, or about the client’s hobbies or charities. If you Google your client and find that she’s chair of the local Big Brother/Big Sister organization, you may be able to use it. Unless you sense that the person will feel like her privacy was invaded. Again, you have to adapt your activity to each individual’s comfort level.
• Courtesy: Little things can make a big difference, like waiting to be offered a seat before sitting down in a client’s office. Even if the client already seems grateful for the good service you provide, you should be thanking them for giving you an opportunity to work together. You can’t thank people too much, and a handwritten note at just the right moment will never be forgotten.
• Mind over matter: If you think you just can’t connect with a particular person, you’re probably wrong. Keep trying to find that one positive link to focus on. You know it will change your attitude.

Do you think your relationships are already strong enough? That’s exactly what your competitors want you to think, because they are hoping to build relationships of their own.

In my opinion, it does not matter what relationship you have with a client now, the question is always the same: what can I do to make that relationship even stronger?


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I agree 100% with this article. As someone who has read the book, I can see that selling yourself to potential clients is one area that some great attorneys do not excel in. I have also reviewed online lectures on the subject of obtaining more clients. A great one that I found just the other day was from Lawline.com. The name of the lecture was "13 Strategies for Building Your Business by Becoming a Client Magnet". The speaker is Nancy Fox, the founder of a business development training organization. This online CLE lecture is very informative and also fulfills 1 CLE credit hour.

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