Building rapport is a fundamental component of any client or prospect interaction. However, it still tends to get overlooked, even though it is a key element in establishing and expanding relationships. Rapport is the first step in Relating, which with Presence, Questioning, Listening, Positioning, and Checking, forms Richardson’s Six Critical Skills for effective client dialogues.
Building rapport is where sales professionals break the ice with prospects. Because this is often associated with chitchat and social graces, few sales professionals really prepare when building rapport. They take the Popeye approach: “I yam what I yam.” As a result, they miss the opportunity to differentiate themselves and make an important connection.
Building rapport with a sales prospect can be established or thwarted in minutes. And, contrary to popular belief, it is not all about being warm and fuzzy. Sometimes you are able to break that wall down, and sometimes you cannot, but I always try. It can be difficult when you don’t have a genuine connection with clients. How many times are you going to talk about the weather? You also don’t want to sound bored or like you are faking conversation.
This does not mean that without rapport, you will never win the business. It just makes interactions more difficult or awkward. You risk not having a champion, so there will be no one to advocate for you on the client side.
How do you win over clients if there are no warm and fuzzy feelings? Persistence and commitment. My whole approach is that either I am going to warm them up, or I’m going to exhaust myself trying. What the client will see is that I exude passion for learning and for really wanting to help them. What helps me break down walls is being genuine, loving what I do, and believing in what I am offering as a representative of Richardson. Clients also see me modeling the selling behaviors that they want to see utilized within their own sales force, so they see the skills we are recommending in action. Sometimes that modeling behavior can be the differentiator.
In situations where I have faced more rigid clients, warm and fuzzy is often replaced by earning their respect and credibility. I have to prove that they are in the right hands and that Richardson will do right by them, which builds their confidence and comfort level.
I am working with someone now who has been a Richardson client for many years. Prior to stepping into the relationship, I was told that she is a matter-of-fact, get-it-done kind of person. While we have different styles, I still tried to establish rapport in a friendly way. After getting short replies during my introduction, I did not allow myself to get rattled. Instead, I focused on demonstrating credibility. I let her know that I appreciated her busy schedule and limited time, so I made sure to be extraordinarily prepared.
This meant doing my homework by reviewing previous contracts and engagements to get a good understanding of the existing relationship and what they had done to date with Richardson. I did not want her to feel that I was just the next person to be her contact point. I let her know that our relationship, not just her business, was valuable to me. We will probably never have a warm and fuzzy relationship in which we talk about vacations and personal matters, but I have gained credibility. She lets me know how appreciative she is of all of the work that I do on her behalf and how I respect her time.
She relies on me to be prepared for our meetings and to ask relevant questions. She knows that I won’t annoy her by asking something that I could easily discover on my own through research.
From our very first conversation, she knew that I had a good understanding of her company, what they did, and the history between our two organizations. For her, that was much more important than finding common ground on a personal level. For me, I was able to switch gears; while building rapport based on what mattered to her and the ongoing relationship of our companies.