At the recent Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, I delivered a keynote presentation, Cracking the Code: Understanding and Replicating the Genome of Top Sales Performers. The first of three primary drivers to success as a sales professional is the ability to cultivate strong customer relationships. Think about the most successful sales professionals you know. One outstanding trait is almost certainly their rock-solid relationships with customers and the exceptional customer loyalty they enjoy.

How can we get to that enviable position? To cultivate a productive and long-term relationship with any customer, you must begin by making a personal connection. Personal. Connection. So let's talk about what does NOT constitute a personal connection and will, therefore, never cultivate a long-term relationship. Email won't do it. Nor will texting, tweeting or snap chatting. Even phone calls fall short for making that initial connection with the customer. Cultivating a personal connection requires interpersonal communication, or "in-person" communications. The dynamic involves eye contact, body language and verbal cues, elements which cannot be leveraged over digital platforms.

Once the personal connection is made, we must cultivate the relationship with customer interaction and authentic engagement. This is the only way we will develop the trust, credibility and rapport that are prerequisites for a collaborative, interdependent customer relationship. And this, after all, is the ultimate goal: attaining the level of collaboration and trust where problem solving and true innovation with the customer are possible.

So where do email, Skype, texting et al. come into play? These communication tools are terrific accessories to your working relationship with customers. Once the relationship is established, electronic touch points are a convenient and efficient way to move projects along, communicate updates or check in with customers. Technology can certainly strengthen the broader relationship if used to deliver insights and other assets that increase your value to the customer. But technology doesn't have the horsepower to initiate or carry the relationship in its early stages. It takes strong communication and selling skills to build the foundation upon which strong, productive and long-term customer relationships are built.