How you build your customer base (and ultimately your business) is key to your success. Do you have the used-car salesperson approach and plunge into making a sale without getting to know your customer, or do you first make an attempt to understand the customer’s needs by chatting with them before trying to land a deal?

Building a great relationship first is the most important thing you can do—It’s like money in the bank. In fact, when you establish a relationship with your customers, you have their trust, and when you have their trust, you have access to everyone on their team, all the way up to the CEO. Without a trust relationship, your business is standing in the desert waiting to die. Relationships connect your customers to the company and take the focus away from the politics of the sales process. Relationships promote a vision that you are their trusted advisor, not just another company trying to sell them something. It also promotes a vision of change and a cohesive culture that becomes adaptable to the change factor.

The biggest challenge most people have is they don’t know how to establish, build and nourish relationships. The answer lies in the three A’s. Always be approachable, articulate and authentic.

Start by being a good listener. Listen to what your customers are saying. Break the ice. Everyone is nervous when they meet new people or do new things, but you need to relax and put your customer into a comfort zone on a personal level, then at the company level. Relationships are what set the social stage for that to happen. Learning to be personable and relaxing into the role—all of that goes into being a people person and building relationships.

It’s vital to establish relationships with C-level executives because high level executives tend to remain with the company longer than other management levels. Find out what they like and what they don’t. Building rapport with CEOs doesn’t start with your sales pitch; it starts with conversation and getting to know them by finding out about their interests. Start a conversation about things that may interest them such as sports, cars, travel, languages, organizations they belong to, etc., because finding things you have in common strengthens your relationship.

You must also know the culture of the company. To accomplish this, research the company and spend time with the customer and their teams. But be careful which members of your team you bring to work with you on projects, as some people—though good at what they do—are not personable and may, in fact, destroy the relationships you created. In order to protect and support the relationships you’ve created, be certain you have the appropriate people on your team.

Here are three essentials you need for building relationships and in succeeding in business today.

  1. Book Smarts: Refers to people who are highly educated, those who can build high-performing teams by using business strategies and methodologies they learned in school.
  2. Street Smarts: Typically refers to things people learn in the real world outside the classroom. A person who has street smarts has a lot of common sense and is knowledgeable about the world in general. A street smart person knows how to interact with all types of people. In business, this means finding something in common with people. A street smart person has the capability to remain cool, calm and collected under pressure and is thus able to build a rapport with the customer, which leads to a trusting relationship.
  3. Emotional Intelligence: A person’s ability to recognize their own, as well as other people’s, emotions; to distinguish between different feelings and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. Emotional intelligence is established through face-to-face meetings and phone calls with customers. These interactions give you the confidence and polish to conquer a boardroom and connect with your customers.

We tend to think of book smarts and street smarts as opposite sides of a spectrum—if you have one, you do not have the other. However, what ultimately pulls these two opposites together is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the glue. It will help you take those facts you learned in school and use them to your advantage. Relying on a mix of book smarts and street smarts will allow you to foster important relationships, build your network and tackle those sweet, sweet deals you’ve been dreaming of.