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Rapport Building: The Miseducation of a Young Sales Professional, and How to Do it Right.

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

by Denny Ward



I moved to Indiana in the spring of 1996 from Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up in the suburbs and had very little experience with small-town/rural. I had gotten an entry-level job selling home security systems for the industry leader. I was FIRED UP! After cutting my teeth in sales at a small college radio station in Bowling Green, Ohio while in school, I was ready to get out there and sell ALL THE THINGS! I knew my product inside and out. I studied hard, learning all of the features and benefits of my product. I practiced surveying my friends' homes for the best positioning for door sensors, motion detectors, fire protection, and keypads...all the components of a great security system. I prepared to flyer neighborhoods and knock on doors. My talk-tracks were solid. I was confident, friendly, and ready to help my customers feel safer in their homes than they ever had before.

One of my first appointments was with a farmer in Henry County. This was God's country, Indiana. Huge barn, silos, livestock. I remember back then, being worried about getting my new shoes dirty just walking to my prospect's front door. "No doorbell....okay I'll knock!" I heard an old man yell "C'mon in". I walked around the corner to find him in the kitchen; a side by side shotgun within an arm's reach. I awkwardly joked that it looked like he already had a "security system" right there. He didn't laugh.

I shook his callused hand but didn't ask to sit down. I only made brief eye contact, as I was already scanning the house trying to figure out how I was going to protect it. I wondered "could we hardwire it? What if he doesn't have a crawl space..oooh..that could be bad, he may not go for wireless, that's more expensive...could be a deal-breaker." I start telling him where we were gonna put glass break sensors, keypads, CO detectors...the whole bit. My prospect abruptly interrupted. "Son, here's how this is gonna go down. We're gonna sit on the front porch and chat for a while...maybe drink some lemonade and if all goes well, we can TALK about that security system. "Oh!" I said. "Okay!"

We moved to the porch. He asked me if I knew who John Wayne was, and told me about the time he met him at a county fair. We discovered that we both used to go fishing in Put-In-Bay, Ohio. After a few minutes, he explained that his wife had cancer, and was home almost all the time, bedridden. There were concerns about their safety out in the country, as they were aging and didn't have family close by. A neighbor a half-mile down the road had their house burn to the ground, lost two dogs and everything they had. This man had the motivation to arm his home with security and fire protection.

But I didn't bother to ask. It occurred to me that I'm the one who should have suggested a brief sit to get to know each other before we jumped into the business. I should have asked how long he's lived there, and been farming. Were his family roots in Henry County? Why now? What happened recently to cause him to want a security system for his home? After all, he was in his late 70s and never had one before...I don't think...I guess I wasn't sure. It would have been nice to know what was important to him in a security system, and if he had prior experience with them. Did he have any pets? I needed to know what concerns he had for his home and family, and learn what technology he was comfortable with.

Once I slowed down, got to know him a bit, and demonstrated a sincere curiosity for what was important to this couple, things started to go better for both of us.

I got lucky that day. I got my sale. The one I maybe didn't deserve. And my prospect got the best security system the market offered.

For some in professional selling, this story might seem a little basic. You might even call it lightweight. But whether you're selling MRI machines, Credit card Processing services, SaaS, insurance, or tech, we're all inclined to make these same basic mistakes. Getting back to the basics helps us "sharpen our skates".

In my career as a sales leader, I've sat on hundreds of sales calls. One of the biggest misses, regardless of tenure, is taking sufficient time to build rapport. I've noticed this is especially true in a high transaction sales process, but it exists in any sales cycle. In the precious first few minutes of a sales call, you have a chance to "humanize" yourself. When you arrive on a call, after all, you are just a company to your prospect. Your prospect is likely to be skeptical from the start, especially if they meet with salespeople often. Let your prospect see a real person! That doesn't mean you have to charm them or be an amazing conversationalist. Just get them talking about themselves. We have tools like Linkedin and websites to help us with this now. A little pre-call planning (more on that in future blogs) will go a long way to aid in the rapport-building process.

To really soar at building rapport, it helps to think of the word in its true definition. Merriam Webster Dictionary describes rapport as “a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”

So! Follow these tips to build better rapport with your prospects.

  • First, know that relationship building is important, even if your sales cycle is short. You may spend only a few hours with a customer and move on, but relationships begin the moment you first shake hands. Further, relationships lead to referrals to new prospects and customers. So take the time to build them!

  • Be warm and empathetic. A prospect may not decide within the first five minutes that they are going to do business with you, but they might decide that they're NOT! Do some pre-call planning to learn what you can about your prospect before meeting with them. Linkedin is a great tool. Facebook can be useful to learn interests, but be very careful what information you use in conversation to avoid looking like a creepy stalker. These days there are few reasons to not know at least a little about the person you're meeting with.

  • To make communication easy, connect with the other person, and make it personal. Your sales calls should never be strictly about work. The individual you're meeting with has a life outside of this meeting, and it pays to connect on that level too. Bob Burg, referral-based selling guru and co-author of the international bestseller “The Go-Giver,” said: “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”






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