Building rapport is the holy grail for many sales people. They think that if the relationship is cemented before they try to pitch their product, then they stand a better chance of successful outcomes.
What do most people think ‘rapport is? Most think it’s talking about the weather, some photos they see in office or how last weekend’s sports events went. However, the people we are talking with are busy people. Their mind is on something different…things like how their business is going now, the challenges they face at the moment, the problems they will experience if they don’t solve their current problems, etc, etc.
Am I suggesting you shouldn’t use small talk and just say something like, “Hi Mr Prospect, good to meet you. Now, how many of my product were you looking for?”
Err..not quite! There is a difference between building rapport through small talk and building Effortless rapport through talking their business language.
In other words, don’t think about the small talk as building rapport. It’s just getting the human interaction going. Effortless Rapport is talking shop and finding things in common about the project, work, company news, something about the company etc.
The prospect is only interested in what you can do for them and their business. Rapport in this sense is being on the same business wavelength as they are on. This means creating rapport by identifying business needs and discovering or uncovering challenges their company is going through at the moment.
So, don’t view the small talk as rapport-building. All that does is create a start of the human interaction you are both going to go through.
Think of the rapport-building as the start of the conversation, because it’s at that point when the prospect begins to create awareness of what their needs or wants are. They need someone to work with them who they can see is going to be good for them, someone they can trust and someone who has a real interest in solving their problems.
It would go something like this:
“Mr Prospect, I’ve done my research on your company and I have two or three ideas that I might like to run past you. However, it would be good to make sure I have a clear picture of the current situation, so would it be OK if I asked a few questions to get us started?”
This builds effortless rapport in the beginning by
1) showing the prospect that you have done your homework and are interested in their business,
2) identifying the direction the meeting is going to go, and
3) asking permission to ask questions to help the meeting go forward.
The essence of this is to ensure you don’t think that just because you have spoken about his last fishing trip and how your holiday went, you are now in rapport. Effortless rapport is all about creating that foundation for the business discussion, when you talk about the real reason you’re there…to help their business grow.
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There’s a great strategy in communication that, I promise, will revolutionise the way you gain an understanding and rapport with a prospect. It’s something that I have to practice time and time again, as it doesn’t always come naturally in conversttion; but when it does, it works well and gives you that clarity that so many conversations lack.
The process is called Listen, Pause, Clarify, Validate, and it will simply skyrocket your communication quality and get you closer to your goals than anything else you can try in the sales process.
It flows like this; you really listen to the point the other person is making. Then, you ensure a slight pause to assimilate the meaning of what the person has said. Clarification questions ensure you are on the right lines. Finally, validation strokes the ego and allows you to format your next part of the conversation by earning the right to do so.
Listen: Respectful listening earns respect. Try to listen with the whole body, not just the ears. Make sure you don’t think ahead to answer the person, as you might miss a vital point…you can’t listen to the other person while you’re listening to yourself talking!
Pause: This ensures the person has finished their thought and it also stops you from risking interrupting the other, which can be rude and condescending.
Clarify: Having heard their view, there may be some points that are not 100% clear. Were they being too vague, too generalistic? Did what they say have a double meaning or were some of their words unclear? Could the meaning they gave be misconstrued?
This is the chance for you to determine the real meaning, their meaning. You could ask something like: “When you say you need to get this sorted ‘soon’, what sort of time are you talking about?”
Or “As you say, morale is important is any business. What have you seen in your team that makes you feel morale is so low?”
You’re clarifying the meaning so both you and they are singing from the same song sheet.
Finally, Validation: By validating someone’s position or opinion, you’re telling them they have a right to feel that way. In fact, if you were in the same situation, you’d feel that way too. It may suffice by saying something like, “Yes, many companies tell me the same kind of thing, and I can see it’s a concern of yours”.
You’re showing the other person you are in harmony with them, yours is a listening ear, and you’d like to work with them in going forward and solving it.
So, try the four stages in your next prospect call. Listen fully to a point they make, allow a slight pause by not interrupting or butting in (it gives you a chance to consider what’s been said), clarify any points that aren’t that clear to you so there’s no misunderstanding, then show them you understand (not necessarily agree) with their point by validating how they must feel.
You may find it builds good rapport and helps you to achieve a deeper understanding of their current position and future needs.
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Watching Derren Brown at the theatre a few weeks ago made me realise how little we mere mortals know about the way the mind works. He’s a great showman and artist, and readily admits that there’s nothing magical about what he does in his stage shows. It’s all illusion and trickery, but mightily impressive, especially when you haven’t got a clue how it’s all done.
Reading people’s minds has been the holy grail for many people working in the darkened work of imagery and tricks. If we could interpret the thoughts and strategies of others, who knows what we might be able to control. We know that the impossible will take just a little longer, so we still revere and look on in awe of the David Blanes and David Copperfields and Derren Browns of this world.
But does this mean we are unable to replicate any of their feats? Are we destined to not know anything of the thought patterns of our clients and prospects?
Actually, we can read a lot more of their intentions and needs than we realise. One specific way that people open up quickly to us is in summed up by the ‘chunk-size’ in which they think.
Have you ever spoken to someone and they are going into so much detail you just want to fall asleep? Or someone else who speaks of their business in such generic terms you are puzzled because you can’t really gain any clarity or specifics?
These are just two examples of what is known in linguistics as ‘chunking’.
You ask one prospect: “What do you see happening in your market in the next 24 months?”
He replies “Well, it looks like it will grow slightly as we go through the next three months, as we edge out of recession, then I can see interest rates climbing and this will make people less likely to spend, unless, of course, the banks decide to lend more, in which case there could be a rise in spending, driving us in a different direction and making our suppliers able to reduce prices as demand increases and supply improves, along with competition, so there’s plenty of opportunity for growth in an expanding market, which will assist us to achieve our business objectives of a 4% growth over that time period, allied to an increase of 2.2% in our ROI…..”
Yes, I see.
You ask another prospect the same question and he replies: “I see it growing slightly, with consequential returns on profitability”.
They’re basically saying the same thing. Only the first is approaching the discussion from the perspective of ‘detailed’ or ‘small-chunk’ thinking. They answer the question with pin-point accuracy and microscopic analysis. It might be that you wanted this level of thinking. Or it might be you just wanted a quick opinion. Whichever way you wanted it, the prospect was ‘chunking down’.
The second prospect said essentially the same thing, but from the perspective of a large, generic picture, ‘large-chunking’, if you will.
Who’s right? Which one is best?
There’s no right answer to that, because it’s the wrong question. The right question should be, “At what level (large, small or in-between) do we wish the prospect to be thinking?”
If you want to encourage detailed, small-chunk thinking, you can ask “What direction specifically do you think the market will be going in the short term, and what will be the implications for your business if that happened?”
You’re driving the thought processes in the direction of detail and asking the prospect to follow your train of thought.
By asking “Do you think the market will grow or contract in the next 24 months?”, the presumption is that you just want a short, large-chunk response.
Listening attentively to the level that your prospect thinks at will help you achieve good rapport and build a good knowledge base on which to develop your sales. You may not be able to read people the way Derren Brown can, but you’ll certainly open up opportunities for future relationships.
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Have you heard of matching and mirroring?
It’s the concept psychologists talk about when they refer to us building unconscious rapport with another person. They talk about matching their unconscious body language and gestures so that they feel at ease in our company.
They also refer to matching or mirroring the words they use to describe their experiences. By using similar words, we are able to match the feelings they may be experiencing and are able to appeal to their deeper level of communication, commonly referred to as the unconscious level.
Are you aware of why this actually works? A recent finding will explain all.
Scientists have found a network of neurons in our brain that refer to as ‘mirror neurons’. These demonstrate how we are all interconnected with each other and the world in general.
In one experiment in Italy, they wired up a single neuron in a monkey’s brain to observe what was happening with it. One day, a researcher lifted his hand to eat to a nut.
He noticed that the monkey’s brain cell or motor neuron had activated. These motor neurons are the largest in our brains and deal with movements and action.
The monkey didn’t actually move…only the motor neuron fired. Further experiments showed that when an arm movement was made by the researchers, the monkey’s arm movement neurons moved too. After much excitement, the published paper (Rizzolatti, Fadiga, Gallese & Fogassi – Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Brain Research, 3(2) pp131-141, 1996)) showed the following implications:
* We are connected to other people around us via these mirror neurons
* We move into synchronicity when we are with other people, firing similar brain patterns
* Being on the same wavelength isn’t imaginary…it’s biologically real
What this means is that when someone makes a specific movement, we are programmed through mirror neurons to copy the movement, if only in our minds. And as our minds can’t tell the difference between something real and something imagined, the feeling we get inside is as if we had actually carried out the movement.
So, we can mirror our client’s intentions, looking forward to something that may happen in the future. If you talk about something that would happen if the client used your services, you get them to imagine a future with your company. Their mirror neurons fire off to see the picture as you see it.
We pick up how people are feeling and our minds start to mirror it. Remember that this is at a subconscious level, so you may not actually make the person match your movements, but it will be certainly easier for them if they do.
Mirror neurons have been strongly associated with how people learn. We ‘model’ other people’s ideas and so pick up ways of doing things ourselves. Have you ever felt embarrassed for someone when they make a mistake? That’s because your mirror neurons have seen the situation and imagined yourself in the same place…they determine how you would have felt if you had been in their shoes.
This explains how matching and mirroring really works. You and the other person are firing off these neurons every moment without realising it. If you can bring it to the conscious level, you can create rapport consciously with whoever you are with. You can encourage people to be on your wavelength and help them match your thought patterns.
We’ve known that embedded commands can work at a deep unconscious level for some time now. These findings of how mirror neurons work explain the reasons why.
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Whenever you use phrases like “I only do business with him/her” or “I think that person really understands me”, the likelihood is that you have experienced ‘Rapport’.
Rapport is a personal state between two or more people which allow relationships to form, trust to be built and frustrations to be eased, and this is obviously very important skills for sales people to master.
The infographic below includes a few ways to identify and build rapport with your own clients and prospects to help you increase your sales skills.
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You can have all of the sales techniques in the world, a great product and service, plus a more than fair price; but if the buyer does not believe in you or trust you, you will not be successful.
Please do not misunderstand. When I say the prospect needs to BELIEVE in you, I do not mean they must LIKE you or feel as if you can be buddies and enjoy a pint every now and then. I am also not referring to the prospect simply believing in most of what you say. What I mean is that the buyer needs to believe that you have their best interest at heart and that your motivation to make the sale is primarily for their benefit. Below are three tips to help you HELP the buyer believe more in you.
#1: Believe In Yourself
The first key to getting the buyer to believe in and trust you is that you wholeheartedly believe in and trust yourself. In that, I mean that you must exude confidence in the fact that what you are selling will indeed benefit the prospect more then it benefits you.
You have to totally believe in what you are selling, so much so, that in your heart, you feel that should the prospect NOT buy, he or she will be worse off; will suffer, lose, or in some way be hurt.
#2: Get the Money Off of Your Mind
Trailing tip #1, no matter how great your sales presentation and your solution to a valid problem, if the buyer senses that your main interest is in the commission you will make on the sale, it will make it nearly impossible for the prospect to trust you.
Regardless of what amount of money may be on the table, you cannot go into a sales interaction thinking too much about the commission. You must take steps to ensure that your thoughts never focus on the money and here is an effective way to accomplish that.
Put the sale in its proper perspective. Understand what really earn should you close the sale and realise that it is NOT the amount of the total commission. Let’s say that on your AVERAGE sale you earn £400. However, you have a closing average of 20% or one out of five. Therefore, you actually earn only £80 per sales interaction (£400 divided by 5). So, on EVERY closing attempt, whether you make the sale or not, you essentially earn £80. That’s all!
#3: Tell The Truth
I know this should go without saying. However, in a closing situation there are always those moments when you are challenged with making a seemly small, little tiny “exaggeration” that will put the icing on the preverbal cake.
The prospect is on the fence, close to saying yes. The sale is on the line and you can taste the commission check. It is at this moment when many sales people begin to exaggerate, making promises they are not sure they can keep and saying whatever is needed as long as it is not a BIG lie.
No. It is at this time that you need to be honest and tell the prospect those potentially negative things you think they do not want to hear. The buyer will see that you chose to tell the truth in the risk of losing the sale. The buyer will know that your offer is NOT “too good to be true” and that you are not someone who will say anything just to get the sale. Coming clean with some potentially negative reality at the close can be a very good thing.
Remember, that selling is a transference of feeling. What you truly ARE will speak so loudly, that often the prospect may not even hear what you say.
If you want the prospect to trust in you…be trustworthy.
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Some call it “small talk.” Others refer to it as the “warm up.” You know; it’s that idle, incidental banter between you and the prospect as you get things into place before the sales interaction. This warm up talk is more important than many realise and can steer the sales process in a positive or negative direction. In addition, this time for many sales people and prospective customers, is a waste of time. So, read on as I share a few tips on making sure this SMALL talk pays BIG dividends.
Part of the Sales Interaction
First, you need to pay as much attention to the structure and planning of the warm up as you do to the rest of the sales interaction. The warm up IS part of the sales interaction and an integral part of the entire sales process. Do not take for granted this period, and keep in mind the following three ideas.
#1 – Prevent the Conversation From Going Off Target.
You want to make sure the direction of the talk does not veer too far off on a tangent such as becoming too personal for the product or service at issue. It is fine to touch briefly on topics like the family and children and sports, etc., especially if the product warrants such information. However, be careful not to let this become liken to two ol’ buddy’s having a pint at the local pub. This is business.
Far too often sales people fall into the trap of trying to become best friends with the prospect first. While it is important to develop a good rapport with the prospect, today’s modern and educated buyer is not going to buy from you just because you are a nice and likable person.
You also want to direct the conversation so it does not delve into sensitive areas such as politics or religion. Even if you may happen to agree with the buyer’s views on those kinds of topics, they are always dangerous during a sales call.
#2 – Gather More Information
Use this time to get more information that will help close the sale. Ask questions that are of a warm up nature, yet have a business foundation. As an example, you may make a comment on how nice the prospect’s office looks when you walk in. Take that comment to another level and get some information that may aid in the sales process.
As an example, let’s say this sales person sells computer hardware and services. Instead of:
“Wow, Sarah! This is a great office! Beautiful, and you have such a lovely view of the water.”
“Thank you. I like it.”
“Wow, Sarah! This is a great office! Beautiful, and you have such a lovely view of the water. Do you own the whole floor?”
“Yes. Our office goes all the way around the building and we have two other floors as well.”
“That’s great. So, about how many employees in this building?”
“Oh, a little over 300 at this location.”
“So, that’s at least 300 PCs…How many servers operating here?”
You get the idea. Use the warm up to get information.
#3 – Position the Buyer as a Client
Use the warm up to help paint the picture of the prospect as a customer. In other words, make comments that show the prospect that many of your clients are his or her peers and share many of the same problems and issues; issues that you have solved for them.
“Yeah well, we used to be over on Coventry Lane and I had over 500,000 square feet. But with the economy downturn, I had to relocate to this smaller facility.”
“Oh, I understand that, Steve. In fact, I was able to assist several of my clients, right after they made that type of transition…”
Plan the warm up. It is part of the sales presentation.
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Rapport is the single most important thing to build during a meeting with a client. Without it, you run the risk of losing contact and trust. As a high-quality salesperson, you need to identify how to build rapport quickly, and with integrity.
Here are 5 ways that you can break rapport stone dead:
1. Don’t do your research. The fastest way to kill rapport and trust is to go into any meeting cold. With all the information available online these days—on company websites, in Google, on Facebook and on LinkedIn and other social media sites—it will kill you stone cold if you don’t have specific things to discuss during your meeting.
If you do appropriate research, you can ask specific questions that show you have something of value to offer the client. Your questions or comments on your research can drive the conversation forward. Without that research you offer nothing but your product knowledge and it takes longer to build rapport, because you have less in common to start with.
2. Prescribe your answer before diagnosing any problems. You know what I mean here. The salesperson who turns up, makes some small talk then opens up the laptop ready to present a pre-prepared presentation of their products and services that bear little relation to the challenges the client is really facing.
Your research should help you see what problems the client is facing, and your rapport can be built on what you know or can find out about the client’s business
3. Let the prospect take control of the meeting. There are many things clients want from their business partner, and one of them is to be educated about what is happening in their industry and within their competitive network. If you allow the client to take early control of the conversation, you run the risk of just being a sounding board and answering question after question, so the client just pumps you for information which you obediently regurgitate.
You should build rapport by telling the client what the agenda for the meeting is and keeping the subjects on a specific journey to achieve the goal of assisting them to provide solutions to their problems.
4. Ask questions that your competition are asking. If you want to sound like everyone else, ask questions that everyone asks. Things like ‘How is the downturn in business affecting you? Is that your family portrait? Tell me about your problems today’.
If you want to build rapport, ask quality questions specific to the company, industry, and person you’re speaking with. Ask questions they may not have thought of. Try to understand the prospect’s situation to determine if you are even the right person to help.
5. Don’t follow through on what you say. Trust and rapport is built overtime as you consistently meet your commitments. If you want to kill rapport, tell the prospect you’ll send him a proposal on Tuesday and then send it on Thursday, show up to your meeting 10 minutes late, and be sure not to include anything about the prospect and their situation in the proposal.
When it comes to building rapport there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each buyer has their own unique personality, work style, and preferences that influence how they like to buy and how they connect with sellers.
When you want to build rapport, you need to identify what the customer actually wants to see and hear from you. Be the kind of person that your client can trust by being the partner they want to work with. And resist the rapport-killers mentioned above, as you build trust and integrity with your new clients.
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One of our trainers asked on a sales course recently how they open their visits with customers.
Many offered the idea that they should build rapport with customers by commenting on the weather, some items the prospect has in the office, what their journey was like that day, and so on. Our trainer asked how long they take to ask these ‘rapport’ questions. One delegate said he has been known to spend 15-20 minutes talking about football to a new client, simply because they have a momento of some sort that shows they have an interest in sport.
We normally ask at this point how much knowledge the salesperson has gained about the prospect, other than what team they support? Obviously, it’s very little.
Instead of asking these types of questions, salespeople should be asking business-related questions. Questions that will make your customer think about their business. Questions that will encourage and stimulate conversation. Let’s face it; how many of your prospects have got that amount of time to ‘chew the cud!’
Here are some examples of business-related questions that will get you straight to the point of the meeting
* What are your company’s strategic initiatives?
* What are the three biggest challenges in growing your business this year?
* What are three things that if you could do them better would dramatically improve your business?
* What would you do if you lost two of your top ten customers?
* What are your plans to keep them loyal?
* What are three things that your competitors are doing that you should be doing?
* Because you aren’t doing things the way you would like, ‘conservatively’ how much money are you NOT making?
My trainer told me that all the delegates were furiously writing down those questions, many of them saying they had never used them before, but would in the future.
Your prospects simply don’t have the time for small-talk these days. If you want to find out what team they support or what their holiday was like, leave it until you have the relevant information and are walking with the prospect back to reception. You’re there for a business meeting, and it’s important to show your professionalism early on. There’s plenty of time for the personal stuff when you have built up trust.
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