Rapport: Myth or Essential Element?


So much sales process training begins with “building rapport.” Many have been conditioned to believe that this is the key first step in closing.  While I agree with the premise that buyers prefer to buy from people they like, but I don’t agree that everyone has to love you.  Nor, do you need anything more in common than a solution to the prospect’s problem.  While you’re telling your boss what a great “relationship” you are developing with a prospect, your competitor is closing the business.

The amount of information available to buyers has forever changed the accepted sales paradigm, and with it, the concept of rapport. More than 50% of my first meetings with clients are conducted completely online.  (And out of kindness for the prospects, without a webcam.) Absent what they can see on my shared screen, it’s nothing more than a conference call.

So all the rapport-building tactics I used to teach reps to do in person (scan the office, look at the bookcase or credenza) to look for clues to connect personally to the prospects are not available to me.  Yet, I have done entire deals online without ever seeing the buyers, which is often viewed as essential to closing the deal.  I did this by discovering this formula:

T = C + A

Trust = Credibility + Acumen

TRUST is the coin of the realm.  It is EARNED by demonstrating the other two factors in the equation.  Rapport is reduced to a mere lubricant to facilitate communication.  It makes it a easier, but it’s absence is not a deal-killer, nor is it a critical element as we’ve been taught. Buyers need to trust you, but not merely as being honest.  The new trust model is built on the other two factors.

CREDIBILITY – Credibility has taken the place of rapport.  You must establish credibility with prospects for them to give you even the time for your elevator pitch.  (Another dinosaur?)  To establish credibility, you must demonstrate:

  • Consummate mastery of the benefits and uses of your product/service
  • Near employee-level understanding of your prospect’s business
  • Investor-level understanding of your prospect’s industry

You use this to customize your approach to fit as closely as possible to their unique needs and circumstances.  Yes, it takes work and preparation, but remember the same resources available to prospects are available to you, too.  And they have websites to tell you all about themselves and their business objectives.

ACUMEN – The key elements needed to demonstrate acumen are Questions and Answers. By asking questions based upon the credibility factors above, you will be showing prospects how well you understand and want to dig deeper to find the most effective and valuable outcomes for them.  When you ask relevant, rather than closing questions at this point in the process, LISTEN to the answers and in turn follow up with even more relevant questions, it adds to the perceived value of the partnership.  Buyers are looking for people to work with, not just buy from.  (That’s a low price trap.)

Once you have established your credibility and demonstrated sound acumen and business logic, you will find buyers receptive to hearing your recommendations.  And after you’ve been down this road, you’ll see how your credibility and acumen will help grow a solid working relationship and your communications with your prospects will become more fluid, open and enjoyable.  We used to call that rapport and put it in front of everything else.  If you avoid that myth, you can shorten your sales cycle.


2 thoughts on “Rapport: Myth or Essential Element?

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