In this article, I’ll explain some approaches on building rapport in sales calls. We’ll look at the mistakes that are too easy to make, and the best practices you should follow.
Why Do You Need to Build Rapport On a Sales Call?
Sales is about harnessing the power of human-to-human interactions. People are more likely to buy from people they like and trust. But liking and trusting someone is harder if you don’t build a connection.
Too many salespeople are sabotaging their opportunities for success from the very start, because they’re not thinking about their approaches to sales calls.
When you improve the way you conduct your sales conversations, you create more influence, and engagement that you can leverage later in the relationship.
Let’s look how you can avoid the pitfalls and instead use a simple process to create genuine connections to the people you work with.
Do Use These Tips for Building Rapport in Sales Meetings
There are some basic steps to building a connection. Let’s see what they are.
Sales people are great talkers. We got into this job because we loved to talk. But the data shows again and again that the most successful salespeople spend more time listening.
Not only that, they really pay attention to what they’re told. Too much listening in sales involves going “Uh huh, uh huh,” while you wait to tell them about the amazing features on your product.
This is important for two reasons. First, while your prospect is talking, they are giving you information that they think is important to their purchase decision. That information has to be useful. If you’re not taking it in, you’re harming your chances.
But second, people love being listened to. It makes them feel important. It makes them feel wanted.
2) Understand their needs
Everybody wants to focus on their own needs. What you need, as a sales rep, is to get the prospect to sign a bit of paper and hand over money to get you commission. So your instinct is to focus on that need.
But the prospect is focused on their needs. So you need to really understand those, because the more those needs can be met by you and the product you’re selling, the more likely they are to engage with you.
They may not necessarily know exactly what they need. So it’s your job to find out. Get under their skin and work out what they really need.
3) Pay attention to the whole person
Creating a connection with your prospect starts from your very first interaction. If you want prospects to trust you when you make a suggestion down the line (e.g. a closing question), you have to set it up from the start.
The first place to hone for increased sales success, then, isn’t the end of your sales conversations, it’s their beginning. For example, too many salespeople think that small talk is something we engage in before we get to the important stuff. In fact, they’ll try to skip over it because they think it’s a waste of time.
But there’s no such thing as small talk, just small salespeople.
If you skip over small talk, you skip over the first chance to build a bond. Talking isn’t always about sharing information, it’s also about developing a social bond.
Communication scientists call this phatic communication. It’s why asking someone how they are doing is so important. You’re not asking because you need to know. You’re asking in order to show that you care.
4) Match and mirror
We usually hear about mirroring with body language, but it’s the same with all forms of communication.
Pay attention to their emails. Are they the kind of person who sends long messages? Are they perfectly formal and correct in their grammar, or do they use abbreviations and skip bits here and there? Do they provide a lot of information or get straight to the point?
The same with their spoken conversation. What words do they use?
Don’t try to copy and mimic them – you’ll just look odd. But try to adopt the same communication patterns they use. If that’s how they provide information, it’s probably how they like to get information back.
5) Show respect
This is hard to do unless it’s genuine. But the prospect is probably a really successful, hard-working person who thinks hard about how to do a good job. At least, they view themselves that way.
They’re not a cash register on legs, that’s for sure. So the more you can build respect, without being fawning, the better. If it can be mutual respect, as you demonstrate your own skill and worth, so much the better. That’s how great relationships are formed.
Four Rapport Building Mistakes to Avoid
- You skip the small talk.
- You talk AT your prospect.
- You try way too hard.
- You assume intimacy.
1) Talking AT your prospect
Your prospects don’t sit around thinking, “Gosh, I really wish someone was just talking at me right now.” Which is unfortunate because most salespeople get into sales because they were told they were a good talker. I know I did. But that’s just not the case. Don’t just talk at your prospect, as there’s no opportunity to create a real connection.
The best salespeople understand this and know how to reverse it. If you want to be interesting to your prospects (and get them interested in what you are offering), take an interest in them. You don’t have to be interesting. Instead, be interested. That’s how you create a connection.
2) Going too fast
This happens when we focus on what we need. We try to skip to the end, to move it along, to push and cajole.
Just like prospects don’t spend a lot of time thinking “Gosh, I wish I was getting talked at,” they really, really don’t think: “Gosh, I wish I was being pressured into a sale.”
People do buy sometimes when they’re bullied. But they don’t enjoy it much, and they don’t renew.
3) Trying way too hard
I’ve seen salespeople get so excited that they have a real live prospect that they end up going overboard and killing the relationship before it can breathe.
Here’s the fastest way to do that: spend the first few minutes bragging about how awesome you, your offering, and your company are.
Prospects don’t care how successful you are. They don’t care about your awards. And they don’t care how good your company is… yet.
Salespeople do this because they think that they have to start “sharing value” right from the very beginning.
But it just sounds like bragging, and that isn’t the way to make them trust you.
The less you try to impress, the more impressive you are.
When you are first creating the bridge of rapport with someone, don’t go overboard.
4) Sharing too much
I’m sure you’ve been in a conversation with someone when they “jumped the shark” and took things way too deep way too fast.
You’re just chatting with someone you met at a party and all of sudden they’re telling you how horrible their ex-girlfriend is (in detail) or they are asking you about your feelings on religion, politics, and the 2nd Amendment.
This does the exact opposite of what you are going for: it pushes people away.
Don’t assume you have to be best friends with your prospects in order to create trust. Avoid oversharing or pushing them to tell you their deepest thoughts and opinions. You don’t have to be BFFs, just friendly.
How Do You Build Rapport in Sales?
One of the challenges with scripting relationship-building is that it can come off as stilted and fake. It’s one of the reasons why salespeople often resist any kind of scripting at all, but that’s just throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
We all have different personalities and different styles. The key is to find a few guiding questions and ideas that you can bring into your conversations to help you build the relationship.
And important to note, none of these ideas have to take a lot of time. Even 60-90 seconds spent on relationship-building can have huge benefits on your sales conversations.
Brand new contact and/or time is short (BDR/SDR)
What if you are starting a conversation cold? For example, what happens when you have a prospect who is willing to give you 5 minutes, and that’s it. Time is of the essence, and you can’t ask for a person’s life story.
But even a simple question can build the emotional bond:
If you are in different cities, “I’ve heard that Toronto is a very cosmopolitan city? How long have you been there?”
If you are afraid to waste time, use the phrase “by the way” to interrupt yourself and ask a quick question about them. “By the way, I noticed that you are adding a lot of people right now, is it making it tight on space in the office?”
You have a little more time (AE)
When you are going into a conversation that isn’t as time-constrained, there are a lot of opportunities to build the relationship.
Let’s say you have a sales presentation scheduled for 30 minutes. You can easily spend a minute or two talking with the other people at the meeting:
In-person meetings or video meetings are the best for noticing your prospect and their surroundings. “That’s a really interesting painting, where did you get it?” or “I hear a dog in the background…is that the office dog? What’s its name?”
If you know of a success or big move that your prospect’s organization has had, congratulate them and ask them their perspective on it. “I saw you recently expanded your Dallas office. Is the growth affecting you much?
When there was a large holiday or event in the recent past, ask how they spent it (and volunteer how you spent it first to make them more comfortable). “Are you back in the swing of things after the 4th of July weekend? We had a really low-key cookout with some neighbors – did you get a chance to enjoy it?”
For on-going relationships (biz dev)
As you move into more complex (and longer) sales cycles, there will be more opportunities to build the bond between you and the people you work with. You will have more time to focus on relationship-building. Unfortunately, it will also be easier to take that for granted and let your connections wither.
“How is the wife and kids?” is such a hackneyed question, but its essence is crucial. If you have an on-going relationship with a prospect or customer, you will find out about their life. Take notes about relevant topics and ask after them. “Last time we talked you were getting your daughter ready for college, how is that going?”
When you have more than one contact at a prospect organization, it’s important to navigate the relationships between them.
“I had a chance to talk with Bill last week. He was telling me that there’s been a lot of pressure to get the new line out fast. Has that affected you guys in marketing much?”
It’s OK to share about yourself. Avoid the mistake of oversharing, but understand that reciprocity is critical in human relationships. If you work with a prospect or customer over months or even years, be professional, but be human and let them into your world a little.
Whenever you engage with your prospects and customers, remember that each of them is a person. Connect with that person, and you unlock a host of possibilities.