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7 Ways to Build Rapport in Sales and Connect with People

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

Consider this: a CBS News / New York Times poll asked, "What percent of people in general are trustworthy?" 1

The answer: 30%. We're all pretty skeptical, 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%.

This goes to show: when people get to know and like you, people begin to trust you.

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

In fact, rapport is so important, it stands for the R in RAIN Selling.

Download: RAIN Selling: Keys to Leading Masterful Sales Conversations.

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

7 Ways to Build Rapport

1. Be yourself.

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 also applies to generating rapport with prospects and customers.

Be genuine. Be yourself. Don't try to be anything you're 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 friendly.

Chilly people get chilly reactions from others. Approach rapport building with the intent to be warm and friendly. Smile, give a firm handshake, make eye contact, and engage. Do so in an authentic way. If you're forcing the friendliness, buyers will notice and your attempts will backfire.

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 can't force rapport. Show interest, but don't act subservient, overly friendly, or too pushy. If you come on too strong, you'll only be seen as inauthentic and turn the other person off.

3. Show real interest.

No surprise to anyone, people are self-focused. This is quite helpful to those of you in sales, since you need to learn about your prospects before you can craft the best solutions. Buyers want to feel like they have an opportunity to share what they're thinking, including their desires, fears, and problems. More importantly, they want to feel like they're being heard. The more you can show you're listening to them and are genuinely interested, the more likely they are to be relaxed and willing to share.

4. Find common ground.

People like people who are similar to themselves. The more you can uncover shared interests, the greater your ability to build rapport. Maybe you went to the same school, lived in the same city, have children similar ages, enjoy the same TV shows, sports interests, or hobbies. Whatever it is, if you can uncover a similarity, you'll be able to make a connection.

5. Give genuine compliments.

Sycophants get you nowhere, but genuine compliments are endearing. If you like the office, the buyer's website, or are impressed with their book, say so. If your prospect had a recent accomplishment, relay your authentic congratulations. They'll appreciate it, and this will go a long way towards building rapport.

6. Calibrate the rapport.

New sellers are often overly sensitive to the time of a potential buyer. They may 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 chit-chat." So, they dive right in without an ice breaker and it doesn't go well.

Others can spend too much time chatting, and the prospect might become 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.

It's always best to be yourself, but remember to adjust your approach depending on who the other person is and/or which company they work for. 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 place, showing up with your Grateful Dead ’95 tour tie-dyed shirt won't fly so well. (Unless you're meeting with me, in which case I'd be impressed.) And if they're a jeans and sneakers place with a 'Never Lose Your Whimsy!' sign on the wall…you get the idea.

If you're curious about where to begin with rapport building, the following questions will help get you started.

Questions for Building Rapport 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, or other thing you've actually heard.
  • 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?

For more rapport-building questions, download our guide, 50 Powerful Sales Questions.

If you think these questions are pretty basic and straightforward, you're right. Building rapport doesn't need to be overly complicated.

Do what you can to create positive feelings and emotional reactions with your potential buyers. Keep these 7 tips for building rapport in mind and you'll be well on your way to creating the lasting relationships you're looking for.

1  Simmons, Annette. Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact. New York: AMACOM, 2015.

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Topics: Sales Conversations