Almost every conversation is an opportunity to build rapport. To do so requires the salesperson to listen harder for rapport cues.
On a recent call with a customer, it was clear that he had picked up a cold. We were supposed to talk for thirty minutes, which is not a lot of time for a business discussion. The call went something like this:
“Mike, we have thirty minutes for the call. Does that still work for you?”
“Well, I am a little under the weather. I picked up a cold from my son in Disneyland.”
Here is the moment of choice. Here is where you can ask about the trip or move to focus the meeting in a shorter time frame. Here is where you are either good at rapport building or kinda sorta delusional. Here is what the rapport builder does:
“I can hear it in your voice. Kids will do that to you. Was this your son’s first time there?”
When I asked him about his trip, my customer became very animated. His son was eight years old and had never been to Disneyland, and it was an experience the whole family had been waiting for. He shared that his daughter is not a fan of princesses. Having sons and a daughter of my own, we identified a shared experience and strengthened our rapport.
Some customers don’t have time to talk about Disneyland on a call. Other customers don’t want to talk about Disneyland. But some customers do, and in the case above, the customer revealed a rapport cue. I’m not saying that you bring up Disneyland out of the blue or that you start talking about their daughter or son out of nowhere. But if a customer tells you something personal, that’s your cue—and your opportunity—to build rapport.
Most salespeople unwittingly let these rapport cues pass them by. One reason this happens is because they confuse their intentions (build good relationships) with their actual behavior (get down to the meeting).
Here’s another example. In our sales training at the JMReid Group, we give participants a scenario where a customer wants to cut their afternoon meeting short by half an hour because his wife had an accident on her way to work that morning. Her car was towed, so the customer needs to pick up his wife from her office.
How many people do you think actually ask about his wife? The answer is zero. We’ve never had a participant say anything more considerate than “Okay, we’ll keep it short so that you can get to your wife.” Most of the time, no one takes the extra step of asking if the customer’s wife is okay.
When we ask participants why no one asked about the customer’s wife, their answers are based on assumptions. We hear, “Well, if the accident was that bad, he wouldn’t have taken the meeting,” or, “I assumed she was fine because she went to work.” At this point, we have to remind them how this looks from the customer’s point of view. You come in for a meeting and someone tells you their wife was in a car accident, and you never even ask if she’s okay? Customers are certainly talking about this salesperson the minute they leave the office—and not in a good way.
So what is happening here? We believe that salespeople are under pressure to deliver “results” from their meetings. Many are aware of the “costs” of face-to-face sales and are required to “report back” what they accomplished. The idea of telling their manager that they “built some great rapport” would appear foolish.
While companies do spend money on customer entertainment, these are often treated almost as separate events. In our experience, customer calls and meetings are assessed solely on clear, measurable outcomes and action. The sales call meeting preparation tools we have seen emphasize building credibility and ignore building rapport.
We contend that building rapport and getting results are not mutually exclusive—quite the opposite, they are interdependent. Long-term sustainable results are a combination of focused action and deepening relationships.
Salespeople are unaware of the business they lose by not asking about the daughter, or about the Disney trip, or other rapport cues. These “missed” cues result in fewer opportunities, stalled opportunities, and lower sales performance.
John Reid is the author of Moving from Models to Mindsets and is Founder and President of JMReid Group, whose clients have included Ernst & Young, ProAmpac, Global Healthcare Exchange, Ryerson, and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. In 2015, JMReid Group’s work was featured in Training magazine’s Top 10 Hall of Fame Outstanding Training Initiatives.
For more advice on business relationships, you can find Moving from Models to Mindsets on Amazon.