The X’s and O’s of Virtual Rapport Building


One of the most often talked about elements of a sales relationship—the generation of rapport, is simultaneously one of the least understood. It’s not that the majority of salespeople lack the ability to build rapport, but rather, that the actual process, the X’s and O’s of building rapport is not always well understood, even by those who excel at it. 

Another consideration is the shift we’ve made to virtual as a primary means of communicating with customers. As our interactions with people continue to move into the virtual space, we must turn to new ways of evaluating their knowledge, commitment and competence. Since many buyers today are resistant to your efforts to sell to a product, they are often wary of attempts to connect with them in a way that is not really meaningful.  This means we have to be more vigilant and effective than ever at quickly developing trust in the virtual environment.

The Star of the Show

Now, what exactly is rapport? It is a word we use to describe the perspective one has of another—the general feeling we get when interacting with an individual. We would like to believe that this determination is a result of our highly attuned sense of self. In reality, it is an emotional process that is more influenced than we think by factors outside the scope of our typical awareness. The reason we lack understanding of this concept is because we believe that rapport comes from our own ideas of how we should look, interact, and present ourselves. The truth about good rapport is that it is far less derived from what we share and the quality of our solutions, and far more about the experience we provide another. As a result of being self-conscious, we hyper-focus on how we are perceived by another person, and miss out on an opportunity to make their wants, concerns, and needs the star of the show. 

You may have the perfect fit for what it is the client is seeking, but if there is no trust, if they do not perceive you as someone who understands their issues and can help, it won’t matter how well you are able to convey the advantages of your solution.

Avoiding “Advertising Mode”

So how do we provide someone an experience that truly fosters trust, and creates an eagerness to collaborate? There are so many variables, we couldn’t possibly hope to cover them all in one article (nor could we employ every tool out there for building rapport within a single interaction.) That is why it is absolutely key to understand the factors that have the greatest effect on how we are perceived. No amount of loving the same type of dog, or using big words to come off as polished or capable is going to cut it. Not even being a fan of the same sports team, or having the perfect hair coif will do. 

Today, we are inundated by stimuli that are directed at us. The dominant mode of communication is telling. Whether we realize this or not, we are inevitably conditioned to respond in the same manner we are with which we are communicated.  As the great Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message”. The manner of communication accounts for far more of the resulting effect on how we feel than the actual content being communicated does. By allowing ourselves to fall into “advertising mode”, whether it be our abilities, our product, or our knowledge, conversations end up being two separate monologues made up of the back and forth sharing of personal thoughts or experiences that are mildly related to one another at best. We mistake sharing our own story that bears a loose association to the last thing the other person said as a sign that we are listening. Technically, we are hearing, but in practice what we are doing is listening to respond, when we should be listening to understand.

The Power of “Listening to Understand”

If you just had an existential crisis regarding the lack of real connection we have with each other on a day to day basis, hang in there. First of all, it’s not all that bad. Secondly, if we can fix our gaze on the kind of interactions that make our counterpart the star, we have a real opportunity to provide an experience that stands out! How exactly do we leverage the current communicative climate to our advantage? Listen to understand! And the great news is, doing so is far more straightforward than you might expect. Conveying understanding is as simple as being able to accurately restate what it is the other person is trying to communicate. A small step in theory, yet due to the rarity of receiving this type of interaction, it is immensely powerful. This doesn’t mean you need to be constantly parroting what your counterpart said—in fact, that would get old rather quickly. When restating, you are taking advantage of the opportunity to share what you heard. Even if you don’t get it quite right the first time, you will give the other person an opportunity to refine and hone in on what it is that is truly important to him/her/them. Restatements often begin with phrases like “what I’m hearing is—”, “so it sounds like—”, or “it seems as though—”. When applied successfully, you will know that you got it right based on the person’s reaction. It is not uncommon to receive an exclamation of “that’s right!”, or “exactly!”. You might feel like what you did was nothing particularly sensational, but remember, it is not about you.

Money in the Bank

Now, rapport is not the only element of the sales process, but it is an immensely powerful tool that we can consistently build on throughout our calls. When you have successfully conveyed the fact that you do understand what it is your client is after, you are presented with an opportunity to apply your solution to their needs. It is only after making it clear to the client that they have been listened to, that you will have an opportunity to be listened to. Every second spent listening to understand, and accurately restating what the customer has said, is a deposit in the bank account of trust you are building with the person on the other end of the line (or zoom call). This is the kind of trust that will allow you to create real impact when it comes time for you to share what, how, and why your solution is the best.

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