Skip to main content
David Jacoby

By: David Jacoby on February 6th, 2023

Print/Save as PDF

Rapport Building Skills to Help Your Gen Z Sales Reps

Building Relationships | Sales Management | Sales Leadership

Generation Z is all about tech and entrepreneurship. But when it comes to building relationships with customers, they might struggle a bit compared to older generations. So, to help your Gen Z reps, here are some key skills for building rapport.

But first, let me share a quick story.

Surviving Sorority Rush

Sometimes you learn about important sales problems in unexpected ways

Last month, my daughter, a freshman at a big state university, went through the sorority recruitment process (i.e., rush).

Here's the short version for those who were not part of the Greek system in college or don’t have kids in college. Rush is a multi-step recruiting process where “potential new members” go through a series of interviews and meet-and-greet parties. College students typically start the rush process by touring 15-20 sororities and end on “Bid Day” when they receive an offer from one sorority.

Like everything about college these days, my daughter said that rush is hyper-competitive.

Many of her fellow students didn’t get their first choice of sorority houses, and some students (and parents) were buckling from the stress. In researching sorority recruitment, I learned that a burgeoning consulting industry of “coaches” exists to help college students navigate the arcane sorority recruiting process. According to these coaches, one of the keys to success in the sorority recruitment process is, not surprisingly, rapport building.

After all, a college student may have to attend 20-30 parties during the rush process and must make quick but meaningful impressions on the sororities they are interested in joining.

Your Gen Z Team May be Missing Key Skills

Here's the problem: according to the sorority consultants, years of excessive screen time means many Generation Z, also known as zoomers, lack fundamental social skills.

That’s why these sorority coaches need to teach college students basic conversational skills, including rapport building – they don’t know how to do it otherwise. Now here’s the important sales problem. If you are a sales leader with Generation Z salespeople on your team, don’t assume they have well-developed social skills. That’s unfortunate since relationship-building skills are essential to sales success.

For example, a study by the Sales Executive Council found that salespeople who focused on building strong relationships with their customers had a nearly 60% higher likelihood of achieving their sales quotas.

Given the importance of relationship-building skills, you should consider incorporating the following three skills into your sales training program

3 Skills Your Sales Team Must Know to Develop Rapport with Customers 

3 Skills to develop rapport with customers

Skill #1: Share Common Interests  

Imagine that you're talking to a stranger, and you suddenly realize that you know someone in common, went to the same school, or like the same sports team.

How do your feelings about that person change? You don’t know this person well, but you feel much closer after sharing your common interest in your favorite football team. Why? A body of research supports the idea that people feel a greater connection to another person if they share some experience with that person.

Sharing common experiences with customers is a powerful rapport-building technique.

That’s why we usually discuss the weather, sports, or current events when we first meet someone. As a sales professional, the time to start thinking about sharing common experiences with your buyers is during your pre-call research. Research the people you're meeting using Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Read their posts, see if they have been quoted anywhere, and pay attention to previous jobs. Focus on areas in which you and the buyer have something in common such as career history, education, geography (where the buyer lives or works), sport, etc.

Skill #2: Active Listening 

Active listening is a fundamental sales communication skill that's important for all aspects of selling, including rapport building.

Active listening makes the buyer feel important, understood, appreciated, and respected. Active listening also helps you prevent misunderstandings and increase your knowledge of what is important to the customer. Most of us think we are good listeners, but research suggests that we only remember 25% to 50% of what we hear.

One problem is that many of us confuse passive and active listening.

Passive listening is the physical process of receiving sound waves transmitted to the brain (i.e., hearing). Active listening means suspending your thoughts to focus entirely on understanding what you hear. Research by the American Management Association found that salespeople who use active listening skills are more effective in their sales role, more successful in building customer relationships, and more likely to close sales.

Here’s how to become a better active listener:

  • Listen with the intention of understanding. Make a conscious decision to understand what the other person is trying to communicate. Take great care to pay attention to the buyer’s words, tone of voice, and body language. Concentrate on all the verbal and non-verbal information the speaker shares.
  • Focus 100% on listening. Make direct eye contact and face the customer, and don’t interrupt. Interrupting tells the speaker that you're not listening. Turn off the ringer on your cell phone and ignore texts.
  • Ask questions. Asking questions shows the speaker that you're listening to them. Asking questions also helps to confirm your understanding and eliminate ambiguity.
  • Paraphrase. Communicate your understanding by repeating what the customer said in your words. For example, “If I understand this correctly, you're concerned about….” This will help the buyer feel that you understood what they said

Skill #3: Empathy   

Another way you can build rapport with the customer is by showing empathy. 

Empathy means understanding the other person by seeing things from their perspective and recognizing their emotions. You can be empathetic by allowing buyers to talk about themselves and their problems. Using active listening skills, you can paraphrase what they are saying and express your understanding of their feelings.

It’s important to acknowledge the buyer’s feelings and experiences as valid, even if you do not necessarily agree with them. Most importantly, only talk about your solution once the buyer has had the opportunity to discuss their problems.

Using these techniques, you can create a sense of trust and understanding and build a strong rapport with empathy.

In Summary  

Building great relationships is a foundational selling skill.

When reps build a strong rapport with buyers, selling becomes easier. For Gen Z, we are now seeing the impact of substantial screen time on their relationship-building skills. As a sales leader, you can no longer assume that your salespeople have these basic skills.

Reinforcing these three rapport-building skills: sharing common interests, active listening, and showing empathy are fundamental for every successful salesperson, especially zoomers.

That’s why these skills should be included in any sales training program.

Unlock the full potential of your Gen Z sales reps by learning the key skills they need to build rapport and close deals. Discover how SRG's Comprehensive Selling Skills program can help.

download sales coaching white paper

About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.