Are You Helping Customers Feel Safe?

Do you know what makes a relationship with a potential customer work? Or not work?

Many salespeople see developing a relationship with a prospect as:

  1.  Being able to establish bonding and rapport.
  2.  The prospect shows interest in their product or service.
  3.  The prospect gives them a small piece of business initially.
  4.  The prospect is willing to meet with them or returns their calls.

These are all part of developing a relationship…but there's more, something much deeper.

At a human being to human being, one on one level, a relationship that works for both prospect and salesperson is about safety.

Both parties feel a certain amount of safety and comfort in dealing with each other. Because of that, good, substantive conversations are held. A meaningful exchange of information takes place. And by safety I don't mean that the only necessary element is trust. Safety comes from how the tension in the relationship (anxiety, fear) is managed by the two parties.

In selling, tension is always high in the beginning of the process, usually in the first face to face meeting. The prospect feels a need to protect themselves from a salesperson who they feel may take advantage of them. The salesperson feels tension from being in a situation where they may be rejected. As a result, both parties erect a  'boundary' (think of it as an invisible wall) around themselves. The 'fight or flight' instinct is at play here. The boundary serves as a mechanism to not only create safety–it also helps each person manage their own tension.

Many sales meetings begin and end without these boundaries ever coming down for either person. Neither party feels safe, meaning they never cross their own boundary much less cross the other party's boundary to have an open, straightforward conversation and make a connection with each other. Because salespeople must take responsibility for their sales outcomes, it's up to them to take the lead in making the connection first. The good news is that prospects very easily recognize which salesperson is willing to cross their boundary and help them feel safe. And with other things about the potential purchase being somewhat equal, these are the salespeople from whom they buy.

The tools at the salesperson's disposal to accomplish this level of rapport are readily available and can be developed through consistent, focused effort and discipline:

  1.  Behavior style adaptation
  2.  Matching and mirroring
  3.  Neurolinguistic programming
  4.  Language
  5.  Communication strategies

With this post I've only scratched the surface of the role that managing tension and helping customers feel safe plays in developing relationships with customers and winning more business. Look for future posts that expand on this subject!


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