Why Sales Rapport Matters
How You Can Develop It Early in the Sales Process
In a sales situation, building rapport often depends on doing some research on a prospect before the first meeting. If you know a little bit about your prospect's interests, you can prepare some useful questions and comments ahead of time. For example, if you look up a prospect on the Internet and discover that he breeds champion Golden Retrievers, you'd be wise to learn a bit about dogs. That doesn't mean trying to become an instant expert. Instead, find out just enough information about Golden Retrievers so that you can ask intelligent questions. The prospect will enjoy telling you all about his hobby and will feel good about being able to instruct you in something that interests him so passionately.
Many people object to traditional rapport-building methods because they feel "fake." You probably don't much care one way or another about Golden Retrievers, but you're willing to spend half an hour listening to a stranger talk about them so that you can make your sale. There's a grain of truth to this objection, but there are also very good reasons why rapport is necessary before you can sell.
No one likes to buy from someone they don't trust. The problem is, not many people have enough time to get to know their salespeople. Unless they're lucky enough to have a friend or family member who sells the exact product they want, they have to do the best they can within a limited time frame. And that's why building rapport is so important in sales. Even if you, the salesperson, are willing to spend all the time in the world getting to know your prospect, he probably isn't willing to put in the hours it takes to build the level of mutual understanding that leads to real trust. So salespeople must circumvent the process by quickly conveying their trustworthiness to their prospects.
Prospects buy from people they like. And for the most part, people like other people who are similar to themselves. When you meet someone who has similar tastes, you feel comfortable with that person because you understand exactly why they like what they like — because you like the same things. In the above example, the fact that you are expressing interest in Golden Retrievers means that you clearly have something in common with the prospect — you both like the same thing. Giving the prospect a chance to tell you all about his dogs makes him feel good, and some of that good feeling will transfer to his attitude about you. Thus, when the conversation turns to sales, he'll be more open-minded and willing to listen to you.
There's an aspect of manipulation in this kind of rapport-building, which is why salespeople have to be very careful. Encouraging someone to talk about his hobby is one thing, and it's perfectly acceptable behavior, whether you're in a sales meeting or at a party with friends. But crossing the line into outright deceit is never appropriate. If you're utterly opposed to dog shows, don't bring up the subject of dog breeding and pretend that you approve. Not only is it wrong, but the prospect will pick up on your true attitude more often than you think.
If you find out that your prospect has a hobby or affiliation that you disagree with, just don't bring it up. No one has just one interest in life, and it's almost inevitable that you and the prospect will turn out to have something in common. In the original example, if you keep researching your dog-breeding prospect you might find out that you and he went to the same college, or that he has a record of supporting a charity that you also contribute to.