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20 Virtual Sales Relationship-Building Tips

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Written by Andy Springer
Chief Client Officer

Virtual meetings are now part of our everyday reality. Even in situations where you’re able to meet with some folks in person, you’re still likely to face a high number of virtual meetings on your calendar.

This isn’t going to change any time soon.

The way the world does business has shifted drastically in light of the pandemic. Even when it’s safe to do so, we’re likely to see many people continuing to work remotely because technology and processes have been put in place to make it a viable long-term option.

Hopefully you’re already familiar and comfortable with virtual meeting platforms and have a professional video and lighting set up. These are the basics.

It’s time to turn your attention to how different your relationships with your buyers will be in a primarily virtual environment.

Below, we’ve compiled 20 tips that will help you develop rapport and build stronger relationships with your buyers (or anyone else!) virtually.

Prepare to Build Rapport Before Your Meeting

One of the biggest differences between virtual and in-person meetings is the lack of organic opportunities to build rapport. Set yourself up for success by pre-planning and building ways to connect prior to your meeting.

  1. Deliberately create time at the beginning of your meetings for rapport. When people join virtual meetings, they’re more likely to skip awkward airtime and dive right into business. Be sure to include some kind of “introduction” on the agenda to reserve time for conversation.
  2. Share the agenda before the meeting. This not only prepares your buyer for introductory conversation (see previous point), but also alerts your buyer that you’ll be using video or specific technology during the call (because that information will be in the agenda).
  3. Join the call a few minutes early. Have a fun poll or starter question on the screen for when others join. This helps set an early tone of engagement and gets the conversation flowing from the get-go.
  4. Go beyond sharing names/roles as an introduction and ask people to share weekend plans or a fun fact. People love to talk about themselves and you’ll be able to reference what’s shared in your follow-up conversations. Set the tone of what the intro should include by going first. For example, “I’m Sam Jones and my role is to walk you through the technical capabilities of our solution and how they match up to your requirements. This is my last call before the weekend and I’m looking forward to heading to the coast this weekend for some R&R. I’d love to hear what each of you is up to this weekend as you introduce yourself.” When you go first and provide a model, others will follow suit in a similar fashion.
  5. Come armed with rapport-building questions, such as:

    1. Where do you live? What do you love about it?
    2. You mentioned you want to retire in a few years. What are you thinking of doing then?
    3. I noticed something on your website about your company doing community work. Can you tell me more?
    4. What’s a habit of yours you want to develop or change?

    For more ideas, read: 50 Powerful Sales Questions

Use EASE to Build Rapport in Sales

Rapport building doesn’t just happen before and at the very beginning of a meeting. Use the 4 Principles of RapportEmpathy, Authenticity, Similarity, Shared Experience (EASE)—during your meetings to build a solid foundation for customer relationships.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. People like people who are interested in them and understand their feelings. This means being generally curious, attentive, and asking incisive questions. To do this, you can:

  1. Restate or paraphrase what you hear to demonstrate you understand your buyer’s situation. This not only shows the buyer you're listening (which buyers say only 26% of sellers are effective at), it also helps ensure you heard what was said correctly—very important when crafting a comprehensive solution.
  2. Ask follow-up questions to dig deeper into issues and show your interest. Follow-up questions on their own can be extremely helpful in building rapport. They demonstrate your interest and curiosity in what the buyer is saying.
  3. Show empathy for your buyer’s feelings and the implications of what they say (e.g., "That must be hard," "I understand your frustration," or, "That must be creating problems like X, Y, and Z.”).

People like people who are genuine. Be authentic in your words, body language, and intentions.

  1. Don’t fake familiarity or put a fake smile on your face. Buyers can tell when you’re being dishonest or disingenuous. If you genuinely aren’t happy to speak with the buyer, don’t fake it.
  2. Smile slowly and naturally during the conversation. Research shows that a slow smile is perceived as more authentic.
  3. Be positive and give compliments, but make sure they’re real and well-intentioned.
  4. Show you're listening by nodding, smiling, asking follow-up questions, and making listening sounds/comments. This is even more essential in a virtual environment, with some actions needing to be more exaggerated to translate on screen.

People like people who are like them. Find similarities to create additional paths of conversation and build connection.

  1. Find interests and backgrounds in common (e.g., sports, hobbies, books, movies, shows, education, hometown, careers, pets, kids). Review LinkedIn profiles to find these similarities and ask questions.
  2. Use language the buyer uses. This can be as simple as changing terminology (e.g., using “business developer” versus “seller”), or choosing to use colloquial language instead of formal. Meet the buyer where they are.
  3. Mirror behavior and body language (e.g., looks of concern, nodding, leaning in, speaking quickly or slowly).
  4. Be authentic when looking for commonality. Don’t manufacture common ground. At the end of the day, even if you have absolutely no hobbies or interests in common, you can find common ground in that they have a problem that you’ve helped others solve.

Work with your buyer in the sales process to define a problem, craft a solution, or devise a strategy. You want to give them the sense you’re working toward a common goal and on the same team—and you should be. Shared experience builds rapport and creates buy-in.

  1. When you’re presenting information, ask the buyer for their best guess to a statistic or outcome.
  2. Do a poll. Anonymous polls are especially useful when you have multiple decision makers on a call who may have differing opinions. This has the added benefit of helping you identify differences in opinion or goals.
  3. Invite speculation or opinion. Ask your buyer’s position on things like common practices, industry trends, policies and procedures, etc.
  4. Let the buyer drive a product demo themselves. Why force someone to watch you navigate a product you already know if they’re the ones that are going to have to use it (and likely be involved in training others how to use it)? Ask them for an on-the-job scenario where they’d use your solution and then guide them in using the product to solve it.

There’s no doubt that building relationships virtually is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Prepare for calls in advance and use the EASE framework to put yourself on the right path to create lasting, meaningful relationships with buyers.

Download: The Ultimate Virtual Selling Toolkit
Last Updated August 4, 2021

Topics: Sales Conversations Virtual Selling