This requires thorough preparation, and sales professionals need to acknowledge and embrace the opening element of rapport building. So, how can they do this?
Building Rapport Tip #1: Do your homework
Before any meeting, I do my research. I go to LinkedIn and Twitter and other social sites to look up the people I’m meeting with. I want to know what they’re interested in, what businesses they follow, what boards they sit on, what charities are important to them. This allows me to open with something connected to their interests.
“I know we want to get down to business, but before we start, I just want to commend you on your volunteer work with XYZ. I myself am on the board of ABC, so it sounds like we have a lot in common. I’d like to talk with you about that sometime.”
This kind of opener takes seconds and builds a bridge. The connection between our two volunteer endeavors is much more authentic than if I had commented on a fishing trophy hanging on the wall. Also, I haven’t taken too much time away from the meeting. My preparation allows rapport building to be shorter, more sincere, and more valuable to us both.
Building Rapport Tip #2: Look at existing relationships with fresh eyes
I accompanied one of my clients to a meeting with his customer, whom he calls on weekly. The conversation went like this: “Hey Bill, how are you doing? Great. Look, I know you have a lot of freight to move …”
Boom. In a few seconds, they were down to the nitty-gritty of the business. I visited that customer once and had done some homework, and I’ll bet I know some things about the company and about Bill that my client, who has been calling on Bill for a dozen years, doesn’t.
Here is how I would have started that conversation:
“Bill, I know we see each other often, but in the interest of making sure I’m meeting your needs, is there anything new you want to share with me since we last met?”
Rapport Building Tip #3: Use good hinges or prefaces on your questions
As part of the preparation in forming your rapport-building questions, think about including a hinge or preface. If I asked a 20-something woman what she did over the weekend, she might misinterpret my question as flirting or asking for a date.
Here is a better way to preface that question:
“Mary, I know we talked on Friday, but between then and now was a weekend. Did anything happen that can impact our discussion? Have you given our conversation any thought away from the office?”
I have seen sales professionals in training classes struggle to build rapport using this hinge concept, which really is just about connecting two things. At the most basic level, it’s about trying to connect with the person sitting across the table from you.
Rapport Building Tip #4: Don’t be a stranger
This tip builds on Tip #1: Do your homework, and I use it myself. In preparing for an upcoming finals presentation, I found out who would be coming to the meeting. I went on LinkedIn to uncover a little more about each person. Then I made a call to my contact:
“In order for us to make the best use of our time together next week, I’d like to set up a brief call with each of the three people who will be attending the meeting. I just want ask a few questions so that the meeting will be of value to everyone and my presentation will be more on point. This will also allow us to save time in the meeting, and you will all be able to make a more educated decision. Would it be OK for me to call everyone?”
My contact agreed, and I called each person. Now when I go into the meeting, I will have had a conversation with each person. I can say:
“Thank you for your time the other day. We will have a much more productive meeting today because you did such a good job of sharing some important information that will help me in meeting your needs. So thank you for that, and let’s begin.”
Now we’re not strangers. I’m not trying to make small talk about a sports trophy or vacations. We made a connection, and I can build on it. One other thing I typically do so clients feel that they know me better is include my photo in my email signature. It’s hard to be a stranger when someone knows who you are and what you look like. And that helps build both rapport and trust.