“How can I make the best use of my selling time with a prospect to build rapport?”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We want to build rapport with our prospects, but they’re busy people and it can be challenging. In the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, CSO Insights found that 70.2 percent of buyers prefer to wait to engage a seller until after they have clearly understood their needs.

If buyers intentionally wait to engage sellers, it’s even more challenging to build rapport. But you never want to skip over building rapport, as this is what gets us on the same wavelength as our prospect.

Just 54 percent of all salespeople met their sales quotas last year, according to research from CSO Insights; this is down from 63 percent six years’ prior. To differentiate yourself from the competition and avoid becoming a victim of these statistics, it’s critical to focus on making a solid human connection with prospects.

Unfortunately, rapport building does not always come easily. We must actively practice these skills with every sales conversation. Let’s explore five essential steps for systematically building rapport with prospects, regardless of how short or long your sales cycle is.

1. Listen to Every Verbal and Nonverbal Cue

When seller and buyer are engrossed in a conversation, whether in person, on the phone or in an online conference, it’s important for the seller to be in sync with the rhythm and tone of the buyer’s words. When you’re face-to-face, body language is an important indicator of engagement. Even in virtual meetings, the opportunity to build rapport is strong by acknowledging the buyer’s points, using their name and generally demonstrating that you’re a good listener. To achieve a strong level of rapport with all of your prospects and customers you’ve got to be “listening” to all of their verbal and nonverbal cues with complete focus and adapting your own style to match. For example, you want to use appropriate levels of inflection that match your buyer and likewise a tone that complements that of your buyer.

Building rapport in a sales conversation starts with your proficiency as a listener from the very first conversation to prove to your buyer that they have your complete attention.

2. Acknowledge Your Prospect by Showing Empathy and Respect.

When you engage with a prospective buyer, you don’t need to be interesting to them to build rapport. Instead, you need to be interested in them. In other words, you need to acknowledge their needs and demonstrate your concern for solving them. Your prospect doesn’t want to hear, “Let me tell you how great my product or service is!”

3. Transition Effectively from One Topic to the Next.

In each conversation you have with a prospect, you may have a lot of ground to cover and transitioning effectively becomes key to ensuring that your prospect can follow your conversation. That’s why it’s critical to provide context for what you are about to say or ask. For example, you might say, “Before we go into specific contract terms, I want you to know that we will fully customize this contract for you.”

Similarly, you want to use universally understood transition phrases that keep the conversation moving forward, “Now that you and I are on the same page about the contract, let’s move on to . . .” or “The third thing I want to cover with you is . . .” are prime examples.

Finally, you want to end the conversation with a call to action, “Now that we’ve talked, I’ll be following up with an email today asking you to . . .” These prompts help the customer feel like they are getting somewhere and that their time is valued by you.

4. Confirm What Your Prospect Shares with You.

Prospects often use salespeople as a sounding board to share business problems and to get ideas for solving them with different types of selling strategies. An overwhelming percentage of buyers (90 percent) said they would be open to engaging with salespeople earlier in the buying process, according to 2018 CSO Insights research on buyer preferences. To show that you are invested in this process, you want to confirm key elements and needs that your prospect shares with you. For example, “Is that right?” or “Have I got it?” If you don’t quite have it right, it gives the prospect an opportunity to clarify or correct your understanding.

The more you demonstrate to your prospect that you understand what they say, the more your customer will see you as invested in their success.

5. Check for Acceptance to Ensure Agreement.

Checking for acceptance confirms you stay aligned with the prospect on their path. When you make an important statement in your sales planning, ask follow-up questions to ensure your prospect understands your point. Regularly giving your prospect this opportunity does more than just improve interactivity and dialogue—when your prospect repeats back your statement, you can confirm whether you and the prospect are aligned. If you’re not aligned, you have more work to do.

Conclusion

To build rapport throughout the sales process, always listen at the beginning with full attention to your prospect, acknowledge your prospect by showing empathy and respect, transition effectively from one topic to the next, confirm understanding of what your prospect has shared with you and check for acceptance to ensure you’re on the same page with your selling strategy.

The rapport-building steps we’ve shared here are essential elements to any salesperson’s success. Learn more about our Professional Selling Skills® research-based training program designed for every seller — regardless of position or tenure.

Contact us to see how Miller Heiman Group can help.

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