David Jacoby

By: David Jacoby on June 30th, 2014

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How to Build Rapport in Sales With 3 Simple Techniques

Selling Skills | Building Relationships

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We all have heard the old sales adage: “People buy from people they like.” Also, there is a significant body of social science research that supports this concept. 

Why is this? 

When you have a strong relationship with a customer, you tend to have more influence with that customer. That means the customer respects your experience and advice, they are more likely to value your contribution to the decision process, and there is a greater chance of such a customer becoming a “long-term” customer.

One of the quickest and most effective methods for building sales relationships is building rapport. Rapport enables smooth communication because it allows people to be at ease. Sometimes this happens naturally, you might instantly hit it off with someone. This is often how friendships are started. Other times, you have to be more deliberate in building it with someone.

Three simple techniques to help you quickly develop rapport with your customers are:

  • Mirroring and matching
  • Finding common experiences
  • Active listening

Build Rapport in Sales With 3 Simple Techniques

#1 Mirroring and Matching

Mirroring and matching are based on the powerful concept that people like people who are similar to themselves. Conversely, when people are not similar, it is more difficult to have a relationship with that person. You can quickly develop rapport with a customer by mirroring and matching:

  • Body language: For example, if the customer sits down and crosses their legs, you do the same. This sends a positive subconscious message that you are paying attention to all of their communication (non-verbal in this case), making them essential, and signaling you are on their side.
  • Voice: The same rationale for mirroring and matching body language also applies to mirroring and matching the pace and volume of someone’s speech. Of course, be aware that you do not unconsciously mimic their accents.
  • Communication/processing style: People communicate and process information in different ways. Some people are action-oriented and results-driven; these types of customers want to get down to business. While other customers may have an emotional communication/processing style and so they welcome a substantial amount of relationship-building chit-chat before getting down to business. Some customers are analytical and focused on data; these customers want the facts and don’t value lots of small talk. Recognizing your customer’s communication/processing style and adjusting how you communicate is critical for building rapport.

It is important to note that mirroring and matching techniques work at the subconscious level. Obviously, a customer will not do business just because you are mirroring and matching their body language during a meeting; however, they may be more “comfortable” with you and as a result more open to learning more about your solution.


#2 Finding Common Experiences

Another powerful rapport-building technique is to find common experiences with the customer and then bring those up during the conversation. This is something we all do when we first meet someone talk about the weather, sports, or current events. This is a fast way of building it, but be sure that you don’t focus only on this step – if you don’t mirror and match your customer, the customer won’t feel that your relationship building is natural or sincere. 

Social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest) has now made it easy even for inside sales reps (who don’t have the benefit of visiting the customer in person) to uncover common experiences with the customer quickly. With social media, any salesperson can promptly research their customers and find potential common experiences such as career background, current work situation, education background, hobbies, etc.


#3 Active Listening

The 3rd strategy for building rapport is active listening. Did you know that research suggests that we only remember 25%-50% of what we hear? That means that we miss up to 75% of what the customer is saying!  Active listening is a fundamental sales communication skill that is important not only for building relationships but for all other aspects of selling as well. 

Active listening isn’t merely hearing. Hearing is the physical process of transmitting sound waves to the brain; while active listening means that you're really suspending your thoughts and you understand what you hear. When a customer perceives that you are actively listening to them they feel important, understood, appreciated, and respected.

In order to be a good active listener you should:

  • Listen with the intent to understand. This means that as a seller you should change your focus from “pitching” your product to a mode where you are genuinely trying to understand the other person.
  • Focus completely on listening. No multitasking! The word active means that you are so engaged in listening to another that you really can’t send an email, check your phone, or do anything else.
  • Ask questions. You inquire to be sure that you're really understanding the speaker and to demonstrate that you are listening.
  • Summarize. This technique, above all, sets a great listener apart from others. It is one thing to be able to repeat the key points of what was said – and that is important-but to reflect on what it means back to the speaker is when the speaker will feel heard and understood at a deeper level.

Building a strong relationship with a customer is foundational to successful selling, and a great relationship begins with developing rapport. Remember these three simple techniques to help you build it on your next sales call: mirroring and matching, finding common experiences, and active listening. It just takes a small amount of corporate sales training to add these skills to anyone's repertoire.

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What approaches have you found to be most helpful for building sales relationships? Share your tips and experiences here.

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About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, 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.