Rapport is important in sales, especially face-to-face sales. It’s been said time and again sales is about people and people buy from people they like. Without picking that thought apart, I agree it’s generally true. People buy from people and businesses they trust and respect — which leads to being liked. As such, rapport is without doubt important to sales success.

rapport n. relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity

The most important part of building rapport is sincerity. You don’t want to be or appear phony in attempts to connect with your prospect, to do so runs the risk of alienation through feigned attempts of being interested. Don’t try so hard to get people to open up that you give a false impression of your sincerity — this makes your prospect believe you’re attempting to manipulate them.

Be genuine.

Feigned interest in pictures of your prospect’s kids, obsessive questions about personal items on their desk or in their office, and acting like their best buddy won’t get you anywhere. In fact, in professional environments, it’s more likely to turn your prospect off and deter your sales discussion and presentation.

Here are three tips to improve your first moments with a new prospect and build the sincerity, trust, and friendliness that aid your sales efforts.  These tips are intended to put your prospect at ease, set a mood conducive to an open discussion, and get your meeting underway:

Prepare the prospect for the initial meeting

Often a prospect is closed or silent in the opening moments of a meeting because they are unaware of what the meeting is about, where it is likely to go, and what to expect from you. Dealing with unknowns, a prospect will often feel guarded and limit their interaction until they understand more about you, your style, company, products, and services.

Something I always do with a new prospect is set their expectation on what our initial interaction is about. I tell them what I’ll do, how long it will take, what I expect as an outcome; and pending success, what the next steps will likely be.

Let your prospect prepare for the meeting and grow comfortable with the agenda and discussion to take place — before you actually meet. The more your prospect knows about a meeting or situation before it happens, the more prepared and at ease they’re likely to be. This acts as a jump start to your conversation.

Have a discussion before the meeting formally begins

Don’t try to begin your meeting with the formalities of selling. In other words, don’t introduce yourself and immediately start with slide one or probing questions of your prospect’s business. Take your time and build into the discussion.

Related to the first tip above, set your agenda to create a discussion before the formalities of your meeting. This is like having the meeting before the meeting.

What I do is tell the prospect I’d like to better understand them, their organization, company, and personal and organizational needs before we begin. Then I start asking questions about their business and use active listening to build trust and credibility. Without use of sales tools –- presentations, prepared notes, etc. — your prospect is more likely to open up and discuss their current situation and thoughts on an ideal solution.

BTW…Having a discussion before the meeting is critical to pre-qualifying your prospect and sales materials. Through informal discussion you can validate you’re truly meeting with a prospective client, surface any pet peeves or predisposed objections your prospect may have, gain a sense of whether your prospect is window shopping or nearing a purchase decision, identify the purchase process, and determine what level of competition exists in the account.

Create a low pressure environment

Be sure to take the pressure off the first few minutes of meeting with a new prospect. Part of a person relaxing and feeling at ease in speaking is making sure the tone and environment you’re presenting is relaxing and void of pressure.

I have an informal sales approach and as such I like to tell a prospect to relax, let’s just have a conversation about your needs and requirements, then we’ll discuss the offering I represent, and explore ways for us to work together for your betterment. Those aren’t the exact words, but you get the gist. I’m creating a relaxed environment where there is no pressure on either of us — we’re just peers and prospective colleagues discussing business and opportunities to work together. Eventually we’ll get to the formalities of selling…after we’ve talked for a while about their business and current situation.

Initial meetings with a prospect are no different than initial meetings with people in most social settings. Until you know a person and trust them to a level, you’re unlikely to open up and tell them your life’s secrets. In business, you’re not likely to tell a prospective vendor all of the problems you face or the troubles you have until you are confident you’re working with someone that can help, trust, and genuinely believe will act in your best interest.

The three tips above are intended to make your prospect comfortable and give them something to react to informally before the formalities of selling begin.

What tip would you add to my list?

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