Genuine rapport is at the hub of any sales relationship. The age-old principle still holds true – “people buy people” or perhaps to expand on that with a fuller version, “people buy people who communicate effectively with them, thereby creating a relationship of trust and rapport”.
The word “rapport” is regularly tossed around in conversations within the sales arena and yet when we cover the subject on our courses, there is often a great deal of confusion about what it actually means. It is certainly not simply about being nice to people!
People come from all walks of life – they have different backgrounds, situations and views. To some people, living in a small isolated cottage in the heart of the Yorkshire Moors would be an idyllic existence. To others, it would be unimaginably boring. But the cottage in this example is the same set of bricks and mortar in both cases – it is the individuals’ opinions and feelings that are different.
This is because we all have a different perspective, or “map of the world”.
Each person’s “map” consists of all sorts of knowledge, experiences, attitudes, beliefs, habits, opinions and much more. It is perhaps unsurprising that natural rapport is likely to be rare given how different we all are and how our “map” is unlikely to coincide completely with anyone else’s.
So, a really sensible starting point to improving your staff’s rapport building skills would be to get them to accept the concept of “maps of the world” and alongside that, to recognise that their each of their prospective clients and customers has a different one.
If a salesperson can see a customer’s “map” more clearly, he or she can shift themselves towards it. This doesn’t mean necessarily compromising or changing their own views (although that may be a natural consequence), but rather that they look to “match” with them in terms of voice, vocabulary, pace, tone and so forth. “Matching” is a key element of rapport building.
Matching means being “in tune” with the person we are communicating with. One way of helping achieve rapport, so that the other person can feel more comfortable in our presence, is to adopt aspects of their behaviour, such as particular body language, gestures, tone of voice or particular words and phrases.
In everyday life, people tend to do this naturally. When with others, you might suddenly notice that you and the person you’re with have adopted the same posture. Or at a social occasion you might notice that people who are getting on well together lift their glasses to drink at the same time. These are natural signs of being in tune, in rapport with each other.
Beyond “matching”, rapport building comprises a number of skills – commonly described as “soft skills”. These include effective questioning and active listening.
The first skill – effective questioning – is something that most people think is easy. However, truly skilled questioners have an array of question types which they can draw on in particular circumstances.
The most effective questions to accelerate the building of rapport are “open” and “scenario” questions. Both encourage the speaker to speak, which, obvious as it sounds, is not always a goal achieved by salespeople - particularly those who prefer the sound of their own voice to the sound of anyone else’s.
Open questions start with “How?”, “What?”, “Why?” and so on. They cannot be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No”.
“How are getting on with finding a property to buy?” is a far better question than “Have you found a property yet?” as it encourages the customer to elaborate. “What is the absolute latest you need to be moved by?” is significantly more effective than “Are you in a hurry to move?”
Scenario questions are great to start to understand the “map of the world” as you project the customer into a future position and seek their views on it. “What would happen if you hadn’t moved by that date?” or “What will you do if you don’t achieve your asking price?” or “What will you do if you can’t find a detached property within your budget?”
These start to really delve into the mindset of your customers and clients and ensure you start to move towards their map of the world.
The second skill – active listening - has stood the test of time as an essential ingredient of effective selling. We have all heard the phrase “two ears, one mouth: use them in that proportion”, but many salespeople are too busy formulating their next statement or question to be adept at listening to what their customer is telling them. “Active listening” ensures you avoid such mistakes.
Active listening involves listening with all senses. Giving full attention to the speaker is essential. Both verbal and non-verbal messages can be effective - maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying “Yes” or simply “Uh huh” to encourage them to continue. By providing this encouragement, the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more openly and honestly.
Reflecting snippets of what the customer has said to show you are taking things on board and the use of summaries, to check understanding and prove you have listened, also play their part in active listening.
Combine all these techniques and your team will move to the next level in their sales technique – the time you invest in helping them build rapport with clients and customers could be the best investment you make in 2014.