BUILDING customer relationships can be very difficult — especially in some industries where customer contact time is minimal. Yet, the businesses and individuals who manage to find a way are the ones who will be successful. 

The quickest way I have found to build a customer relationship is to find a point of connection that is separate from the business.

Many years ago, I had a very good client called Noel. He was the purchasing manager of a large electronics retailer and I represented a company that supplied up-market hi-fi equipment.

Noel, I discovered, was a keen woodcarver — exhibiting at the annual show and even being paid to carve some doors for a local church. 

This allowed me to start a “connection” about his pet subject, so every meeting from then on went much like this: “How are you, Noel? Done any interesting carving lately?”

This would be followed by a conversation about his latest carving project that would only be terminated by his needing to serve customers or my next appointment.

Business was mentioned only in his final comment: “Better have a look in the store-room and send us what you think we need. Any specials?”

I would reply: “The new mini-speakers are here. I think they might go well. They come in cartons of six.”

Noel would typically say: “We’ll have a carton of those as well. See you next time.”

Without a word of exaggeration, that’s how my conversations went with Noel for five years. Incidentally, he became one of my biggest clients. 

I had many clients like Noel. I made a special effort to find out what were their interests outside work. I learned a lot about model train building, competitive kite flying, horse breeding, building a mud brick house and, of course, wood carving.

What I was doing was relationship building — years before it became called Customer Relationship Management. I soon learned that the more interest I showed in them as a person, the more inclined they were to support my products.
The 4Ps of customer relationships

We can deal with customers on four levels. I call them the 4Ps — Price, Product, Problem and Person. The more we can deal with them at the level of the latter two (the problem they are seeking to solve and their personal preferences), the more likely they will feel that you are interested in really helping them.

And that is the kind of service that keeps them coming back and recommending you to their friends.

Just as real estate agents always quote “location, location, location” as a guide to choosing a property, the 4P Principle provides an easy-to-use guide for any person involved in helping a customer choose the right product:


This is the “visible part” of the customer’s enquiry. “How much is your…” is the phrase that starts 75 per cent of face-to-face enquiries and 95 per cent of telephone enquiries.

Two surveys I am aware of show that price is the final determinant for only 5 to 7 per cent of buying decisions. Customers start out asking about price because it is a familiar starting point.

And the salesman who responds to a price enquiry with a price — without attempting to get more information from a customer — is limiting himself to those customers who only want the cheapest.

Imagine the 4P Principle as a pyramid-shaped iceberg with only the tip (price) showing. It is the salesman who identifies the important (unseen) points, takes a customer beyond buying the cheapest and has them wanting to pay extra for something that will better their lives.


There’s no way around it. A working knowledge of all the organisation’s products is essential for anyone who talks to customers. But this is not the end point.

You need to know the products well enough to efficiently advise your customer on what is right for them based on the final two criteria.


Every buying decision is meant to address a problem.

People don’t just buy products, they seek solutions. It is just that they ask for what they think they need.

And if they get it wrong and you allow them to purchase it, then guess who will get the blame when it under-performs? You!
This can easily be avoided with the simple question: “What do you want it to do for you?” Often, you will be able to suggest a better solution — earning the customer’s respect and focusing them away from their quest for the cheapest price.


We are all individuals, with our personal preferences and foibles.

I might be prepared to pay extra for the product that will impress my friends, while another (less egocentric) person might see ease of maintenance as much more important than looks.

If a salesman can identify my personal preferences, then the impression created is of someone who really understands me and my needs — and I am more likely to buy from them.

The more you focus on the bottom two Ps (Problem and Person), the more likely you are to convert the casual enquiry into a loyal customer.

Article by Kevin Ryan, managing director of Training Edge Australia and an international speaker, workshop leader and author with Training Edge International. For more information, e-mail or visit