As AE's at Salesforce, we're told from Day 1 to get our "face in the place" and build rapport with our customers and prospects — but what does this actually mean?

I've been with Salesforce for four years, working in offices from San Francisco to Sydney to New York City. These are all vastly different markets, but I’ve learned that customers want the same thing: for a salesperson to intimately understand their business to the extent that he or she could work at the company!

Only when this level of mutual understanding is achieved will the customer truly trust his or her salesperson.

But how do we get to that point? In my experience, the best way to get to this level of trust with your customers and prospects is to spend some time in their shoes — to truly experience a day in the life.

See the space

One can gain a lot of insight by simply visiting a customer’s place of work. Do employees sit in an open and collaborative space, or in siloed cubicles and offices? When you walk into the office, are there actually 100+ employees there and not just the dozen or so that you assumed? Do people turn to greet you, or are they too busy to notice you?

Observe the norms

Each office also has its unique culture. Showing up in a suit to a startup might get you jeered at and booted out, while showing up in a Hawaiian shirt might get you the order!

Look across the organization

We all hear the term “KYC” (know your customer). To truly get to know your customers, you must meet with different segments or divisions of the business and "ride-along" as they carry out their daily tasks. Sit with Marketing, sit with Sales, sit with Customer Service, sit with Finance, HR, and I.T. if they’ll let you! Know their roles and pain points so well that when you meet with the executive team later that day,  they'll be inclined to offer you a job with them!

Share insight

Bringing an outside perspective to the day-to-day operations of your customer’s business can lead to refreshing and valuable insights. Often, a meeting in which you come ready to share what you’ve gleaned from firsthand interactions with front-line employees will result in amazing and lively dialogue with senior management. This is how you provide real value to an executive and earn a seat at the table.

Talk to your customers’ customers

Just as you’re focused on keeping your customers happy, so too are your customers worried about keeping their customers satisfied. As a salesperson, you’ll gain valuable insights by reaching out to your customers’ customers to learn how that company is perceived, how it interfaces with its own customers, and where potential pain points might be.

Become a customer yourself

Working with a magazine company? Purchase a subscription and be genuinely curious and interested in why a certain issue features certain stories. If you’re working with a consumer tech company, download and use their app so you can ask pointed questions around its functionality and offer some tangible consumer feedback. (Almost everyone can use some free focus-group advice!)

Deliver a personal touch

As a part of aligning and getting a seat at the table with the C-level, anytime I visit a CEO, I always bring a copy of Marc Benioff's Behind The Cloud with a handwritten note indicating why I think they would enjoy reading the book and how Salesforce once went through the same startup pains they are experiencing. This is always a huge rapport-builder.

In summary, the key to selling to small businesses is to become an informed and trusted partner, not an assumptive vendor. Offer tangible value to a customer, and in turn, you will earn the right to do business with them.

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