The Best Way to Establish a Relationship with a Prospect

How to establish a great relationship with a prospect

There are 5 things I have learned in 25 years of prospecting. (I know, that’s only one thing every five years), but hear me out…

I’ve learned more, but these five seem not as obvious as others, like “know your customers,” which I did not when I made my first prospecting call in September 1993.  

Me: “We’ve worked with others in your industry.” (I heard my podmates say it and sounded good)

Prospect: “Like who?”

Me: (scrambling in my manila customer folder…) “I’m not 100% sure, but I can find out.”

Prospect: “Great.  When you find out, call another prospect.”

Me: “Dumba$$” (I said to myself, but out loud…)


1 – Decision makers only talk to salespeople who know something they don’t.

Leaders come out of the board room with company objectives, and the strategy or strategies they think will achieve that objective. But the most successful leaders admit that there is always some uncertainty that the strategy will work or if they can even execute it. They know that they don’t know everything. They are looking for others that can fill in the gaps.  

Be that person, at least for your area of expertise. Help them realize you know something they don’t know, and that what you know will help them with something important to achieving their objectives.

Be prepared in email, vmail, call, or via coach to communicate their potential problem to them in a way they know you get it, versus the generic BS. 

The role of marketing is to paint with a broad brush: You need to understand the role of the person you are talking to like you’ve been in their shoes. Hopefully, you have. Because when you haven’t, you can tell the difference. 

There are people who fish and then there are fishermen.  I’m a fisherman. So, when somebody is telling me some generic story about how they caught a few fish one time, I know they were only along for the ride and to be a casual observer. But others tell me details and nuance, and that’s when I know they were the person who tried three different lures and four baits until they got it right. 

The takeaway? 

Speak with executive presence, at a high level but in a way that the person knows you can go six levels deep if asked.


2 – Your motive is transparent.

The role of a seller has changed. Dramatically. It used to be to provide information, i.e. the person with the smoothest presentation won. 

Then the focus became asking questions. You’ve probably heard about the importance of challenging. But with over 6 billion pages on the world wide web and over 15 million sales reps, you will quickly separate yourself if you shift your mindset.  

Your job is not to sell.  

Your job is to help the customer decide if they should do something. If they do, you need to help them with what, when, and with whom. In many cases, that won’t be you.  

This is hard. But if you can do it, you will hear things like, “refreshing,” or “actually helpful,” because you will ask, tell, show, and share in a way that is designed for both you and the decision maker to learn. From then on, the action is easier. If you work for a good firm with a good product or service, you’ll win most of the time. 

Try this at home: This weekend, pick something where you don’t care what the other person decides.  Let’s say your son or daughter is trying to decide on the next cool pair of sneakers. Help him or her decide what to choose. Internalize the potential excitement or shame at school if they make a good or bad decision. Recall your teenage years. Really try, and see what happens.  

Then do the same thing on Monday. This exercise will shift your mindset, and give you valuable insight.


3 – The relationship is always second to the business value.

Say you find a prospect who’s a fellow alum. That just means over 20 or more years ago, you and some other person decided to go to the same college with thousands of others. It does NOT mean they are any more or less likely to buy from you. 

Okay, for some close-knit places like Yale or West Point, that may be helpful. But for the other 99% of us, schools, hometowns, sports teams, hobbies, or a random second level LinkedIn connection doesn’t increase your chances of hitting a sweet spot. In reality, it means that there’s not even a 1% chance that you’re better suited to do business together.

So save the personal stuff for later. Period. 

Yes, there are relational styles and task styles and you should match their style. And yes, in some global cultures, first meetings about personal relationships before business. But here’s the truth: The fast pace and big pressure in today’s business environment means you need to deliver value first. Bring a valuable product or service to the table to solve a problem first, then you might be more likely to celebrate over a bottle of wine or a round of golf. 

Focus on the business relationship first.


4 – Frequently, your biggest competitor is simply their other priorities. 

You may have a great solution to a problem that your prospect has. But they still might keep you on the backburner. Why? Because the problem you are solving is just one of eight to 10 on their whiteboard, at a minimum. 

So you can scratch our head and ask yourself: “Why is he not returning my call, this is a perfect fit,” but what you should really do is take your self-centered blinders off.   

Your prospect takes time and energy to define, decide and work on each problem, including yours. You can ask all the questions you want about needs related to your solution, decision criteria, and competitors, but you should be asking is this: Where is this on your priority list?  

If it’s high, great — you should close.  But if not, don’t ask why. Ask this: What’s higher?  Maybe your solution and the problem in front of you are related and you can help. 

Either way, your best option from there is to either connect your solution to higher priorities or make it easier to decide and implement your solution.  Offer to do the groundwork for whoever is on your prospecting call, talk to other leaders, and more. When you embrace that the status quo is impossible to change if you only focus on your competition, you’re more likely to win.


5 – You can’t engage every prospect. 

No matter how good you are, some people will never talk to you.  The reason for that isn’t important, and the only way you can address this issue is to work hard at the things you do have control over. But what’s better? Have another good prospect on your call list. Don’t fret the no’s, optimize the “maybe’s,” and close the “yes’s.” In other words, keep sorting.


What Next?

If you found this blog helpful and want to learn more about ASLAN and our philosophy, please check out our new book, UnReceptive, at

As President of ASLAN, Marc is responsible for all day-to-day operations including our sales and marketing efforts and growing our success in helping our clients be Other-Centered®.

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