The ability to build rapport with others should be natural for sales professionals. It’s part human nature, part caring about customers, and a generous touch of sincere interest and curiosity.
Yet sales professionals often have a tough time establishing rapport. Even though they seem so sanguine and extroverted, they struggle with asking questions and probing gently about their customers’ personal lives and interests.
3 Reasons Sales Professionals Struggle to Build Rapport
1) Sales professionals may not see the need to build rapport, especially if they’re working with the same customers over and over again. A perfect example of this comes from one of my own clients. Its sales professionals call on the same handful of customers on a weekly basis. They’re so familiar with their customers that they go into meetings and jump right to business. They don’t understand the need to begin with some personal conversation first, and they question “wasting time” with small talk. What they don’t understand is the essential need to first establish personal links with their clients in each meeting. Moreover, they don’t understand what they’re sacrificing by not taking the time to discover if anything is new or different or if anything has changed with their customers or their business situations.
2) Sales professionals have been told that meetings should be strictly about business. This is old-school thinking, yet the perception persists. They’re afraid to spend too much time with small talk because they think it will be detrimental to them and how they are perceived by their customers. Again, as in reason #1, they don’t see the need to spend time on personal matters. They think that it’s unprofessional and not going to get them anywhere in the sales process.
3) It’s sad to say, but too often, sales professionals are focused mainly on themselves and not on the needs of the other parties. They find it easy to talk about their own kids, their lives, their experiences, and their vacations, but they’re not good at finding out what makes other people tick. One of the challenges sales professionals have is they “tell and don’t sell,” to paraphrase our founder, Linda Richardson. Basically, they don’t ask good questions or develop their skills in conducting customer-focused dialogues.
How to Build Rapport
Rapport building is a two-way street. What sales professionals must remember is that building rapport matters because they’re trying to establish relationships with prospects and customers in order to gain rights to be involved in sales.
Some sales professionals think they already have the right by virtue of the frequency with which they call on a customer. Some think they jeopardize that right with small talk, so they avoid it altogether. Others just don’t have the skills necessary to conduct dialogues focused on customers. I have watched sales professionals in training classrooms practice the Six Critical Skills we espouse at Richardson to develop and expand customer relationships: Presence, Relating, Questioning, Listening, Positioning, and Checking. I find it remarkable to see how much they struggle to come up with basic empathy or acknowledgement statements.
Preparation for any customer meeting should encompass the entire Consultative Selling Framework, including the Opening, Need Dialogue, Solution Dialogue, Closing, and Follow-up. Sales professionals tend to focus mainly on potential objections and how they will overcome them. They rarely put much, if any, thought into what their Opening will be like. They don’t think about how they will create honest, appropriate, genuine, sincere, and extremely necessary rapport.
In giving the Opening short shrift and turning directly to business, sale professionals miss important clues and outright messages that could shape and strengthen their relationships with customers over the long term.