As a distributor, you’re basically asking a customer to marry you. That’s right, if your customer doesn’t have that kind of relationship with you then you’re selling on price. They must trust you, rely on you, and respect you or you have nothing. Just like in a relationship you must build that relationship on trust, dependability and respect. So how do you build up a customer relationship?

1. Ask questions that build rapport. Be empathetic and really care. You can ask all the questions in the world but if the customer feels that you’re not genuine and engaged about their responses you will not be building rapport.

2. People buy from people they like. Find a common ground. Find something the customer has experienced and you have a similar experience with. Talk with them about it and be genuine.

3. Thank them for their time with a hand written note. Mention in the note what you talked about and thank them. This shows that you took your time to appreciate them. Emails are the easy way out. Hand written notes mean more.

4. Find out important dates. Birthdays, Anniversaries (work and marriage), and other dates that have special meaning to them. Take time to recognize those dates. Doing this tells the customer you are important to me. I had a customer that was close to his mother and she passed away. Every year on the anniversary of her death I sent him a note. It meant the world to him.

5. Solve the customer’s problems. Listen to the customers complaints. Ask questions and know what the real problem is. Solve the problem as easily as possible. This can be difficult to do sometimes but by listening and knowing your customer you can solve their problems.

These steps take time, effort and care. Building a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. Relationships are a slow and tedious process but pay off in the long run. Ask yourself would your customer do the same for you. If not then you need to keep working towards a better relationship.

David Corker is a sales manager in the jan/san distribution industry. He can be reached at