An on-line dictionary defines “rapport” as “relation, connection, especially harmonious or sympathetic relation.” Certainly, commonalities of interests, experiences, attitudes, etc., enhance rapport; it happens where people’s lives overlap. The connection usually evolves from superficial to more personal— either way, it must be real. Here are some rapport-building considerations.
Nurturing rapport is more of an attitude than a “skill.” If the client perceives that your rapport-building is forced and contrived, it increases the gap between you instead of narrowing it— exactly the opposite of your desired result. At best, the client discounts your effort as typical, self-interested business practice; at worst, he/she sees it as manipulative and demeaning. Some tips on making connections:
- Try not to compartmentalize or segment rapport-building. Yes, it makes good sense to have some personal “chit chat” before getting down to the business at hand, but not always then and not only then. Rapport-building sidebars during the “situation analysis” Q&A can help relax both of you and facilitate the dialog— just don’t let them interfere with uncovering your client’s needs. (Indeed, they could help!) Rapport-building after the business has been transacted or in non-business situations is great, since it’s clearly not part of a sales pitch. Beware of rapport-building during your presentation, where it could distract the client.
- Rather than always listening or “fishing” for the client’s interests, try volunteering yours. Watch the client closely (and objectively) for signs of a connection, then follow that path. All genuine relationships start when one person has the courage to become a little vulnerable; why not you?
- In your client dialogs, “stay in the moment” and trust your instincts. Even a client who normally likes chatting may not be in the mood for it this time. Keep your antennae out and react accordingly; no scripts allowed. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s almost certain that he/she is, too.
- Like trust-building, to which it’s closely related, rapport-building takes time, so have patience. In this high-pressure, do-it-now business world, this could be your biggest challenge in growing a personal relationship.
- Don’t worry if you can’t generate much rapport with certain clients. If there’s little commonality in your interests and activities, a strong connection isn’t likely to form. (This is a situation where forced efforts at rapport-building can greatly widen the gap between you.) If it just isn’t happening, rely on your professionalism, expertise and integrity to help you make the sale. At the least, your client will respect and trust you for that.
In summary, the essence of rapport is that it must be genuine. If you want the client to believe that you care about him/her, find ways to make it true. Always be seeking commonalities and connections, but then let it happen, more than making it happen. What follows is much more than sales success— it’s liking your work more, too.
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