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How do you create a personal connection with your prospects?

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Building Rapport with Prospects. Do you have a plan of how you will build rapport with your prospect going into a sales call, or do you leave it to chance?

Building rapport with prospects is a key component to winning in sales situations.  Win Loss Analysis Research shows that prospects rate the winning salesperson an average of 38% higher than the losing salesperson on the salesperson’s ability to build rapport.

Many salespeople act as if the ability to establish a personal bond with prospects comes with the “luck of the draw”; they just wing it, go in without any advance planning, and hope that their small talk wins over the prospect. However, this approach is only effective in a limited percentage of situations (assuming the salesperson otherwise sells well, understands how his products and services will best fit the prospect’s needs, and the prospect is open to connecting with the salesperson).

Experienced salespeople want to remove as much variability as possible from the sales process, as fewer variables lead to greater control over a salesperson’s success rate.

Though there will always be an element of chance in first impressions, there are steps salespeople can take to take more control and improve their likelihood of establishing positive personal rapport in initial conversations with prospects, even in situations when the prospect appears to be stiff or stand-offish.  Having a structured plan for the interaction and knowing what to say will help you stay focused and calm, even when your prospect does not show any interest in building rapport.

Here are a few action items to help you improve rapport-building with prospects:

Prepare a list of open-ended ice breaker questions to use in your sales meetings. Consider using the following questions to improve your ability to build chemistry:

  • How did you get into this particular business?
  • How’s business?
  • What are your personal or organizational goals and what are the obstacles you are facing?
  • What part of the country are you originally from?
  • Google the prospect or search on LinkedIn; use this information to ask “educated” questions and find commonality.

Be ready to build rapport with a group of people. Have you ever been waiting for the decision maker to arrive in a prospect’s conference room and found yourself sitting at a table with a number of people you have not met? When this happens, you will need to make small talk with the others in the room before the meeting starts. This time-killing small talk can feel awkward and can cause the meeting to start off on a nervous footing.  Instead of viewing this pre-meeting phase as a waste of time, view it as an opportunity to connect with committee members. Be prepared with rapport-building questions and use those questions to break the ice with the group and with the decision maker when she arrives. This ice-breaking phase can help create a comfortable, at ease mood at the onset of the meeting when the decision maker arrives.

When in doubt, de-sell. Another way to develop a stronger personal bond during the sales process is to actually pull back a little from the prospect. Win Loss Analysis research shows that prospects can be turned off when they feel that salespeople are too aggressive and pushy. At some point during the sales process, consider backing off a bit to test if your prospect is truly interested in continuing the discussion. For example, you could say something like, “Mr. Prospect, I’m just wondering if you feel our product is really a good fit for you. If it’s not, that’s OK too. We don’t need to keep the dialogue going if it’s not right for you.” The prospect’s reaction will be telling. If he takes the bait and wants to end the discussion, you should move on and close out the sales process; you do not have a serious or qualified prospect. However, if he decides to reassure you that he is still interested, he will often reveal a piece of information that is holding him back from buying. Either way, this information will be valuable to you as a salesperson. When a prospect is given a genuine “out” at a key juncture in the sales process, the relief from any perceived pressure will help to strengthen your personal chemistry and rapport (as well as potentially reinforcing a prospect’s intent to purchase).

As with any other skill in business, building rapport and developing chemistry with prospects can be learned and improved with planning and experience. The key point in introductory conversations is to find common ground, and the way to do that is by controlling the questions. Have them ready to use, and be comfortable with resorting to a backup strategy when the conversation does not flow naturally.  Don’t just plan your sales presentation; map out your initial interaction with each prospect and your strategy to build rapport.