Before you hit “send” on that email or pick up the phone to call a prospect, just stop for a second. We need to think about the person on the other end, and how your actions will help or hinder your ability to build rapport and ultimately, close the sale. So, first, think about how many sales emails or calls your potential client might receive any given week. Person A from company XYZ is trying to get them to demo a product that is just like the one Person Z from company ABC was pitching the week prior. Most of these touch points quickly become indiscernible from each other. It’s not for lack of trying or skill, and it’s not that there is just too much competition. Instead, it’s faulty prioritization. Successful reps put the relationship before the sale, and not the other way around. They understand that by building rapport and a strong relationship, their chances of closing the sale increase dramatically. They also realize that even if a sale isn’t made this time around, the opportunity for one could exist down the road, or, perhaps from a referral—but only if a strong relationship is formed, first. So with the goal of improving customer rapport, and improving your sales performance as a result, here are 9 ways that sales reps can treat their customers like trusted friends rather than potential sales targets. Don't let common excuses like "It's hard to build rapport over the phone" get in the way, because the truth of the matter is, you're on a level playing field. In most instances, you and your competitors are forced to start somewhere, and it's often not in person. Mastering rapport-building, no matter if over the phone or email, and of course, in person, is a skill you must attain for sustained success.
9 Ways to Build Rapport in Sales
- Do your homework (and do it like an A+ student) Just as Salesforce has delivered CRM to the masses, LinkedIn and other social networking sites have refined the process of reaching out to prospects. “I used to lug around the Yellow Pages in my car or hunker down at the office dialing for dollars,” recalls sales consultant Cindy Donaldson, president of Red Barn Consulting, who began her career as a sales rep thirty years ago, before LinkedIn pushed the envelope of prospecting. “Cold calls on a day-to-day basis were the worst part. People hate having their day interrupted." Now, Donaldson trains sales reps to assemble a list of their top one hundred prospects, perform online searches for every piece of information they can learn about them, peruse their Facebook pages, follow them on Twitter, and reach out through LinkedIn. Leave no stone unturned, essentially. “With LinkedIn, the ‘six degrees of separation’ rule is absolutely true—you may not know a particular prospect but chances are someone in your personal network does,” she says. “You turn a cold call into a warm call when you can open a dialogue with a prospect by saying, ‘I see that you and Cindy Donaldson have worked together in the past. She and I go back years.’”
- Don’t balk at objections, embrace them as assets When you’ve finally managed to get a prospect on the line, expect objections—it’s just part of the game. In expecting objections, know how to respond appropriately. “Why are you calling me?” “Who are you again?” “What is your product?”Each of your answers needs to be specific to your prospect. You aren’t calling them because you have a cool product that solves 20 general issues. You’re calling them, specifically, because you understand they’re having a problem and you’d like to learn more about it and if your product fits as a solution. You need to make it apparent that you’ve put in the time, and understand what they do at their company on a day-to-day basis. This has to be about them.
- Don’t ever knock the competition While it may be tempting to talk badly about other companies in your space, resist at all costs. A prospective customer can draw their own comparisons and may interpret your negative sell in negative ways. They might be left thinking your product doesn’t have enough positive features for you to lead with, so you’re left to throw others under the bus. Not to mention, it’s uncomfortable for potential clients to have to humor you through it.Instead, help the client get to a place where they find your product to be the best, on its own merit.
- Present like you care, because you should Today’s contemporary sales reps have the ability to create and present visually arresting sales demos that would make Martin Scorsese’s eyebrows rise. “A tablet loaded with colorful graphics or bullet points that can be projected on the wall of a potential client’s office is a powerful way to make a pitch, a much more professional way of making your points,” says Angela Adams, president of Angela Adams Consulting Services, Inc. “Once the presentation is over, you can leave your prospect with more traditional marketing materials like branded content and white papers to remind them of your product or service."
- But, that’s only one facet of the performance. You’ve probably seen plenty of movies that were visually stunning, but forgettable because they failed to make an emotional connection. Same goes for your interactions with your prospects. Give a great presentation, but make it a goal to connect on a personal level, too.
- Spend most of your time listening rather than pitching We don’t have to tell you that listening is important. You want to get your prospects to talk as much as possible so you can react appropriately, in turn. But, don’t just listen with the goal of making a rebuttal. Think about it like the friend who is “listening” to you, but reacts robotically. It’s frustrating.Instead of jumping straight to a discussion about what they don’t like about their present supplier, or what they’d change about them, keep the conversation positive. This maintains the persona of an interested and engaged problem solver, rather than just a commission hungry hunter. Start with the positive and then ask open-ended sales questions about what they’d change about their current vendor. This communicates your desire to ensure that your product will align with their needs, and that you want to go the extra mile to confirm that your product meets the needs not covered by their current vendor.
- Show genuine empathy for the challenges prospects are facing Per the above, listening is crucial. But also remember that most of your prospects aren’t looking for a solution because they were told to, or because it’s something they thought would be fun. No, they have real problems and difficult pain points they need your product to rectify. They’re looking for someone to make their work lives better, which in turn should make their personal lives better, and so on. Let prospects first tell you their problems, and do your best to put yourself in their shoes, facing a similar situation. Rattling off your product features because you think they are shiny and cool does nothing to put your prospect at ease and place their trust in you if those features miss the mark in solving the underlying problem.
- Then, when you pitch, do so like a human Remember that you’re speaking to (or emailing with) a human being. Stop being a robot and talk to them as if you were talking to your best friend. Scripts are wonderful to understand how a conversation SHOULD go, but please don’t rely on it. Your prospect will sniff you out immediately, and it’s hard to come back from that. Here are some tips on the perfect sales pitch.
- Send a hand-written note or relevant “thank you” gift This one is pretty self-explanatory, but in today’s world of texts, emails, snapchats, and more, sending a “thank you” note to a prospective client you’ve just met with can help you stand out from competition.Taking the time to send snail mail shows attention to detail and adds a personal touch. You’d be surprised how many people might tell you your note was the first one they’d received in years, and that it meant so much to them that they even pinned it up on their bulletin board, etc. Bottom line, don’t underestimate the power of small gestures.
- When all else fails, follow Einstein’s lead No, Albert Einstein wasn’t famous for his supreme rapport-building tactics. But, he was a heck of a smart guy, right? He once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough."So, while you shouldn’t be as casual with a prospective client as you would be watching the big game with a few buddies, remember the people you’re meeting with are busy interacting with others all day long. If you can communicate in a way that is both human and to the point, then you have a winning rapport-building combination.
Remember, relationships first. It’s tempting to demonstrate deep knowledge about your product, and we get that. But, by taking it back to a more human level, rapport is sure to follow, and you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the rest.