Building Relationships: The Keys to Customers

By October 6, 2023LTEN Focus On Training

Selling Skills – By Rich Benedetto

Training teams should play a more active role in building bonds

There are many types of selling, such as transactional, consultative and solution-based. When it comes to life sciences, one type should stand out above the rest – relationship selling.

Consider this story:

While mentoring a new sales representative, we completed initial training, and he was given the tools needed to enter the field. The rep began his sales journey, diligently working daily to see and “sell” his customers.

After several weeks, the representative commented that he had seen all his customers and told them everything about the products. So, what was the best way to proceed now?

Not realizing it at the time, I began explaining what we now call relationship selling.

What Is Relationship Selling?

Relationship selling is about building a connection with the customer, in this case the healthcare provider (HCP). Your reps will be returning to the HCP’s office on a regular basis – it’s not a one-and-done type sale.

Getting to know the customer and building a connection is paramount to success. As mentioned, different types of selling are used across all industries. Life sciences is tailor-made for relationship selling.

Forming and Maintaining a Relationship

This begins with the very first interaction. The customer must find you knowledgeable, professional and cordial. Building a level of trust with customers is of the utmost importance and will take several visits at the very least.

This trust will be developed by exhibiting the above points. In addition, asking genuine questions about the customer and listening will help you learn what is important to the customer. Learn as much as possible and focus on the customer –this will be the foundation for a long-term relationship.

Sell Yourself First

This includes getting to the HCP’s staff as well. Many times, the HCP and the staff work as a cohesive unit, so if the staff is neglected, it could prove to be a detriment to forming trust and respect that is needed for this type of relationship.

Be courteous, kind and sincere. Sincerity is “the quality of being free of pretense, deceit or hypocrisy.” Do not try to be someone you are not — it shows.

Be Knowledgeable

No matter what type of selling one employs, top reps all must have a solid foundation. Knowledge is the cornerstone of that foundation. Without solid product and disease state knowledge, likelihood of building a quality relationship is low.

Be Professional

Being professional encompasses many of the above points. It also includes dress.

While the world has become more casual, business casual dress is appropriate much of the time. That doesn’t mean a crumpled company polo and wrinkled khakis or a casual dress better suited for a pool party. Look business-like. This can vary depending on geographic location.

Stray From the Pack

Kind gestures are always appreciated. Everyone brings lunch or snacks in offices where allowed (it is important to always follow company and office guidelines in this area). Look for opportunities to provide thoughtful gestures based on things that are important to the customer.

I learned that one of my customer’s children was interested in attending law school. As it happened, my son had just entered law school. We had in-depth discussions, sharing resources my son used in making his decision.

This information proved invaluable to the customer and his family. The value of this far exceeded any run-of-the-mill lunch or snacks that other reps provided.

Create Access

Prior to leaving from field sales, I conducted interviews with HCPs to discover why they continued to meet and work with certain reps and not others. Those representatives who built relationships and had the best access to these HCPs were exceptional at the following:

  • Being extremely prepared and knowledgeable.
  • Listening to the customer.
  • Focusing on the customers and not their own agenda. (Look for common goals.)
  • Presenting their product in a professional manner and challenging the customer when appropriate. (Do this in a positive manner. Customers are not against being challenged, if done the right way.)
  • Having a strong grasp of the industry.
  • Paying attention to detail and follow-up. (By providing this service to the customer, it creates value. Creating value is one of the building blocks to forming a relationship.)

Don’t confuse a business relationship with friendship. Friendship is not the ultimate goal, though it may develop over time due to commonality, trust and mutual respect.


Like most skills, relationship selling can be learned. Some have these skills innately, others can be taught, like my young former mentee, who had a long successful career in life sciences sales.

Life sciences learning teams need to take a more active role in helping reps develop relationships. While current training is outstanding, more focus can be put on this important skill.

There are many resources available. One of the best resources I have found is The Relationship Edge, by Jerry Acuff. It is a comprehensive guide with many salient thoughts and ideas.

Reps need to learn, as they will be calling on these customers for months or years in some cases. Building trust and forming a solid relationship is certainly one of the keys to success.

Rich Benedetto is a retired senior executive sales representative for Eli Lilly. Email Rich at


About LTEN

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network ( is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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