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Dave, I have read your comments about the value of entertaining, and I agree with you. But, I have a problem. I still find a percentage of customers who keep me at "arms length." How do I overcome this attitude from the select few of my customers?

I have ideas to share with you on a couple of levels.

First, it is possible that you may never create good relationships with a certain percentage of your customers. I'm assuming, of course, that you are not an abrasive, insensitive clod. If you are sincere, professional and committed to developing excellent business relationships, and if you have a modicum of people skills, then you can reasonably expect to successfully build excellent business relationships with most people. There are almost always, however, some customers who won't respond to you because of issues on their side of the equation.

One of my former customers, for example, kept me at "arms length" for the five years that I called on him. Later, I learned that my competitor was his brother-in-law. No matter what I did, I could not compete with the depth of the social relationship with that competitor. They had Sunday dinners together regularly, and often vacationed together. The obstacles to developing the relationship were not in me, they were all on his side.

So, the first thought is this: Sometimes there is nothing you can do about it, because the issues are on their side of the relationship.

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I believe that one of the principles of sales is that you don't sell them all. That's what makes the profession of sales so challenging. In the same sense, you don't create relationships with all of them. I think the mature sales person recognizes that there are times and circumstances in which there are more fertile fields to plow, and then makes a strategic business move to focus on more responsive customers.

Having said that, however, it may be that, for whatever reason, you've decided to give it your best effort - that the potential is worth the extra time and effort that it will require.

If that's the case, then here are two suggestions for you. First, keep trying, but think outside your usual ideas and try something different. Here's an example. One of my customers was a middle-aged lady who just didn't like me. She was the primary influencer in a very large account, and my lack of a positive business relationship with her kept me on the outside of that account. For two years she rejected my invitations to have lunch or breakfast. It was time for something different.

My company owned six season tickets to the University of Michigan football games, and it was my turn to use them. I invited her and her spouse and one other customer and his spouse to attend with my wife and me. I am sure, in retrospect, that the only reason she accepted the invitation was that this was probably the only time in his life that her husband would have an opportunity to attend a U of M football game.

The six of us spent close to eight hours together, including the tailgate dinner before, the travel time and the game itself. I'll spare you the details. The day proved to be the turning point in the relationship, as we got to know one another in a social setting. From then on, the relationship improved and it became one of my best accounts.

Doing something different - a football game with spouses invited -- turned out to be the key to turning the tide.

That's suggestion one. Here's two: Focus on building a positive relationship with someone else inside the organization, and then leveraging that to influence the difficult customer.

Another example. One of my accounts was presided over by a crusty, irritable guy who had no use for me. He was the materials manager and the most important person when it came to dispensing purchasing contracts. I could get nowhere with him.

So I focused on building relationships with a couple of the younger people who reported to him. That went well. It was easy and natural for the three of us to go out to lunch together, and on several occasions, to invite him along. He came, and I was able to use that time to break down some of the walls.

Later, after I had taken the younger people to a baseball game, I invited he and his spouse to attend a game with my wife and I and another customer couple. The evening went very well, and he and his wife even went out with us for a night cap after the game was over. As we were heading for our cars afterward, his wife approached me, with tears in her eyes, and thanked me for the evening, saying that "No one had ever done that for him before."

The lesson in that story was to build relationships with other people inside the account, and then to leverage those to include and influence your problem customer.

Hope that helps.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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