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How To Build Customer Relationships While Working Remotely

Remote worker checks in on her customers
To build customer relationships, remind your teams to really hear what their customers are concerned about and to show that they’re really there for them. [MAAHOO STUDIO / Stocksy]

Here are tips for keeping customer relationships strong when you're not meeting in person.

My job is to ensure every customer gets the most value out of Salesforce, but my passion is establishing and building trust. As the Chief Adoption Officer, I spend more than half my time meeting with customers and building customer relationships all around the world. It’s that face-to-face interaction that helps me help them. While these meetings used to involve shuffling from plane to car to client meeting, they’re now predominantly held over Zoom. Over the past year and change, I’ve learned a lot about deepening connection with customers and my team in a world where digital communication is the form of communication.

Below are a few practices I’ve implemented to maintain strong relationships and build new ones, even while I’m not out on the road. I hope that by sharing, you too will be able to strengthen your bonds.

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1. Listen to your team

Let’s be realistic. Your team members aren’t going to be thinking about how they can help their customers if they’re worried about what’s happening at home.

First and foremost, focus on building an inclusive, empathetic culture from the top down. Your team is watching to see how you react. Show them you care. Open up a team call or one-on-one with a personal story and invite them to share their own.  Then probe deeper: How can I help? What boundaries can I respect? What are the things we should all agree on as a team?

Many months ago, one of the first things I did at home was organize a call twice a week with my team just to talk. This led us to create a Quip doc, where we could collect our thoughts and share what we’ve learned. You can also try inviting people to virtual happy hour. You’d be surprised to find how nice it feels – even when it’s just 15 minutes in front of a webcam.

At Salesforce, we’re helping our employees redefine their work through a variety of tools and channels – but no matter what technology you have at your disposal, every leader can be empathetic and listen. That creates team members who are ready to do the same.

2. Build customer relationships

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Deep listening is important. Remind your teams to really hear what their customers are concerned about and to show that they’re really there for them.

How do you do this? Set up a virtual coffee. Talk about what they’re facing. Brainstorm how to work together. Propose ideas that could solve their problems now.

One customer recently told us they needed an emergency preparedness portal to communicate with their customers. Our team turned around a prototype in two days. That customer may or may not ultimately sign a deal with us, but they’ll remember we helped them when they needed it most.

While things feel uncertain at times, people always need to do business. Contracts are written. Pain points still need to be solved. Listen to your customers with empathy, and you’ll end up creating true value for them.

3. Be mindful of customers’ time

Building customer relationships is a fundamental part of sales and customer success. Of course, treating a prospect to dinner isn’t possible in many cases.

Sometimes the best way to show respect is to be mindful of your customers’ time. Don’t let small talk overstay its welcome. Keep agendas tight and focused so your customers can get back to their work and home priorities.

If a customer made time to meet with you, treat the meeting start time like a covenant. Take careful notes, send follow-ups, and, again, focus on how you can help.

4. Learn together

Quite frankly, I don’t have all the answers. But here’s one thing that’s true no matter the situation: We are stronger when we work together, when we double down on our relationships and our community.

How are you building customer relationships while working remotely? I’d love to see what you and your teams have come up with. Reach out to us on @salesforce and share what you’ve learned.

For more inspiration, watch our webinar on how 3M retrained its sales team to support global demand for face masks. Or read the rest of our Leading Through Change series.

Polly Sumner chief adoption officer

Polly is the chief adoption officer at Salesforce, where she’s responsible for customer success and ensuring that each and every customer gets maximum value from our products and services.

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