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7 Ways to Build Rapport in Sales and Connect with People

The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr explain how to make sincere connections with prospects to help close more deals. Read more about the book here.

Consider this: a CBS News / New York Times poll asked, “What percent of people in general are trustworthy?”

The answer: 30%. Pretty skeptical we all are, right?

Not necessarily. At the same time, the CBS News / New York Times poll asked a similar group the same question, but with a slight difference. “What percent of people that you know are trustworthy?”

The answer: 70%.

That’s a huge difference. Goes to show you: when people get to know you and people get to like you, people begin to trust you.

Of course, there’s a lot more to building rapport and trust than making a good initial connection with someone, but it’s sure a good start. And making a connection with someone makes them more comfortable sharing with you their aspirations and their afflictions, two things you need to know if you want to succeed in sales.

When you build rapport in sales, keep in mind you want to make a sincere connection. All too often chit-chat before a sales call seems contrived…because it is.

7 Ways to Build Rapport

  1. Be genuine. Before the first day of school, first jobs, camp, and any family get-together, Dad always said, “Just be yourself and everything will be fine.” This lesson applies to generating rapport with prospects and customers.

    Be genuine. Be yourself. Don’t try to be anything you are not, create a new persona, or adopt a “sales-like” tone. Relax, smile, and go in with a positive attitude. Good things will follow. As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

  2. Be warm and friendly. Chilly people get chilly reactions from other people. Approach rapport building with the intent to be warm and friendly. Smile, give a firm handshake, make eye contact, and engage.

  3. Show interest. No surprise to anyone, people are self-focused. This is quite helpful to those of us in selling because we need to learn about our prospects before we can provide the best solutions. People want to feel like they have an opening to share what they’re thinking, including their desires, fears, and problems. The more genuinely interested you appear the more relaxed and willing to share they’re likely to be.
  4. Don’t seem too needy. Most of us know someone who wanted to be liked, so he “tried hard,” but it didn’t work. In trying to be liked, he appeared needy and conspicuous. You cannot force rapport. Show interest, but don’t act subservient, overly friendly, or too pushy or you will only turn the other person off. Don’t come on like gangbusters.
  5. Give genuine compliments. Sycophants get nowhere, but genuine compliments are endearing. If you like the office, someone’s web site, or are impressed with their book, say so. If your prospect had a recent accomplishment, relay your authentic congratulations. This can go a long way towards building rapport and they’ll appreciate it.
  6. Calibrate the rapport to “just right.” New salespeople are often overly sensitive to the time of a potential buyer. They often think, “I have an hour for this meeting and she’s a CEO of a mid-size company. I need to use the whole time to get my points across. No time for chitchat.” So he dives right in with no ice breaking conversation and it doesn’t go well.

    Others can spend too much time chatting, and the prospect might get antsy to get down to business. Do your best to read the other person and find the right amount of rapport-focused conversation.

  7. Read the culture. Always be yourself but, at the same time, you can adjust your approach to the other person and company. Don’t change who you are to fit the culture, but be aware of how the culture works and how it best responds.

    For example, if they’re a suit and tie joint, showing up with your Grateful Dead ’95 tour tie-dyed shirt won’t fly so well. (Unless you're meeting with me, then I’d be impressed.) And if there’s a jeans and sneakers place with a 'Never Lose Your Whimsy!' sign on the wall…you get the idea.

If you’re curious to know where to start with rapport building, the following questions will help.

 

Questions for Rapport Building in Sales

  • How was your weekend? Anything interesting?

  • It was good to hear the short version of your background at the meeting, but since we’re out for lunch, I’d love to get the long version. What’s your story?

  • I have to say, I really like your (insert something about them…their lobby, the artwork on their walls, how friendly their staff is, or anything else you actually liked, then ask an open-ended question about that particular thing).

  • Are you from this area? Oh, interesting. I know people in…do you know (this person)? Oh, I’ve never been there, but I heard it’s got…the most amazing restaurants…the most amazing scenery…the most amazing fly fishing.

  • Welcome to the town. Have you been to Scottsdale before? Where are you staying? What’s that like? A lot different from Vancouver, wouldn’t you say?

If you think these questions are pretty basic and straightforward, you’re right. Rapport building is an area that doesn’t need over complication. Do what you can to create positive feelings and positive emotional reactions with people, and you’ll be well on your way.

Additional Reading
4 Ways to Respond When a Buyer Says, 'We Already Work With Your Competitor'

Here's the situation: You get an introductory conversation with a great buyer—someone who fits your target profile to a T.

Not long into the conversation, however, the buyer says, "We already work with one of your competitors to do this."

What do you do next?

4 Principles of Rapport

Everybody's brain has two different processing centers: emotional and rational. The emotional brain is old. It developed millions of years ago, first with raw instincts—like fight or flight—that all animals have, and then into more complex emotions for us humans like anger, aggression, desire, fear, hatred, passion, love, disgust, sympathy, and so on.

5 Things You Must Do in Every First Sales Conversation

The first sales conversation with a new prospect can be tough. After all, prospects tend to distrust sales people, they're guarded with their information, and they're extremely busy. The fact that they agreed to meet with you in the first place is a great sign. But much of your selling success hinges on your ability to lead an effective first conversation and get them to agree to a second conversation with you.

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