Insights + tips

How to Build Rapport In Sales Meetings

" The way people use language tells you a lot about what they really need "

‘How can I quickly gain some rapport and connection, especially in an early sales meeting or chemistry meeting?’

I was asked this question recently when running my workshop ‘Life’s A Pitch’, which is focused (obviously!) on pitching, especially in a sales context.

I found it interesting that the person who asked me the question had about 4 years’ experience in the role, and it was the first job he’d had since leaving university. Half of his working life (and all of it at his current level) had been conducted over virtual platforms. It’s not surprising that he was nervous about ‘gaining rapport’.

What is ‘rapport’?

The dictionary definition is: “A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.”

In a sales context it’s important to focus on the fact that rapport is a feeling, which then allows you to enter into a better quality sales conversation. That feeling is different to friendship – it’s a feeling that ‘This person is listening to me, understands me and will be able to help me in some way’.

The origin of the word is French ‘rapporter’ which means ‘To bring back’ and this meaning gives a clue as to one of the most effective techniques for gaining rapport –

Listen and bring back.

What does this mean? It means that you have to genuinely listen to what the client, colleague or prospect is saying. Not ‘pretend listening‘ and not ‘listening until I hear something I can sell you on‘ listening (which sales people are so good at!).

It means listening with a genuine commitment to uncovering the problems that the client is experiencing, and to seeing the world, and their current situation, from their point of view as much as possible.

It means refusing to ‘prescribe before diagnosing’ – refusing to leap too quickly to your solution, suggestion or product, and really taking the time to dig into the world of the client.

It means asking more interesting, open questions. Have a look at this this this postfor some ideas on interesting questions.

It also means understanding that the exact way people use language will tell you a lot about what’s on their mind, and what they really need. Do they say ‘quickly‘ or ‘urgently‘ for example? There’s an important difference.

If someone says ‘Don’t spend too long on your proposal, just an indication would be great‘ what are they really telling you? (Here’s a clue – they’re really saying ‘We have very little intention of buying anything yet, and are – at best – at a fact-finding stage. I don’t want to be embarrassed by a full proposal which you’ve sweated over‘).

A magic technique to ‘listen and bring back

A great way to make sure that you’re really listening and building rapport with others is so simple that it doesn’t seem like it could work, but try it and you’ll see how useful it is:

Listen to the precise language the other person is using and repeat it back to them.

That’s it.

You thought it would be more complicated than that, didn’t you? Honestly, I wish I could complicate it – I’d probably be able to charge millions for the idea if it were complicated!

But it really is that simple. If someone says ‘We need something authentic and real‘, don’t say ‘We’ve got something honest and visible’. Use the exact words ‘authentic‘ and ‘real‘ in your next sentence.

You can use these words as affirmations: ‘Yes, I can see why something authentic and real is crucial here’.

As questions: ‘Can you tell me a bit about why it’s improtant to have something authentic and real?

As a stimulus for further thought: ‘So if we had something authentic and real in place, what would that look like?”

And so on.

Give it a go, and you’ll be surprised at the power of this technique – it forces you to listen carefully, which automatically builds rapport, it helps you to get on the other person’s ‘wavelength’ much more quickly, and it can help you to understand their worldview more precisely.

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