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How to build rapport with a prospect during the sales process

Rapport is a key ingredient to succeeding in making a sale. It’s not something you can force, but it certainly can be nurtured. In this article, I explain how you can develop rapport with potential clients.

To start with: What is rapport?

You are ‘in rapport’ with someone when the relationship between you is harmonious and understanding.  It starts to develop when you get that “I like you” feeling as you talk to a new person.  It is completely subconscious, and stems from the times when we needed to judge people as friend or enemy.  We still do!

You’ll know when you are in rapport with someone, because you will just feel connected.  You might not be aware of it, but you will both be showing signs of being in rapport.  Watching a conversation between two people can be very illuminating!  If they are in rapport, they start to act the same way – called ‘mirroring’. They will turn slightly towards each other, nod at the same time, cross their legs in the same direction.  These are all signs of showing trust, and they are vital components to the chemistry you need to get a sale.

That sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Easy peasy? So, in the next meeting with a prospective client, you just look how they sit, and copy them?


No, no, no, no, never!

Deliberately mirroring and matching a person is one of the worst things you can do. If you don’t feel a natural connection, but you pretend there is one, you will subconsciously tell the other person that you are fake.  Remember, none of this rapport business is deliberate.  Your prospect may not be able to explain why, but they will pick up that you are trying to deceive them in some way.  That’ll be the end to any real rapport that may be developing, and it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll win their business.  We like to think we are hard-headed logical beings, but instinct plays a massive role, whether we like it or not. (Click on the link for more real-life tips and strategies to win more clients that work.)

Never fake or force rapport, but you can encourage it.

The best way to get rapport to build is to listen.  Really listen.  Stop presenting your pitch and really hear what the prospect is saying, and how they are saying it. Nod to show you empathise, summarise and paraphrase back to show you have understood.

They’ll love this, and will start feeling well disposed towards you.

Talking their language

The next step, which is tricky, is start speaking in their language.  I don’t mean French, German, Mandarin, but using the words and phrases and emphasis that they use.  This takes practise, but in time you can master it. If your potential client says:

“I can see a time when profits will be up twenty per cent.”

Then your response should be something like:

“Tell me more about how things will look when profits are up.”

If he says:

“I will sound out my fellow directors on this problem.”

You reply with

“What do you think you will hear from them?”

And if her speech includes:

“I feel this is a real opportunity for us.”

Ask her more about what else she feels.

If you feel confident, you can try matching the way they speak too. Where do they pause? Where do them emphasise? Do they speak fast or slowly?

There is a lot of science behind why these techniques work, but you don’t need to worry about the detail. Find ways to get into true synch with your prospect and you’ll be well on the way to a new client.

This post originally appeared in a different form on the How To Make Partner website and more resources on how to win your own clients can be found on the website.

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the The Go-To Expert. She is the author of the  award winning and best-selling book on business networking, the ‘FT Guide To Business Networking’, Poised for partnership and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, and ‘The Go-To Expert’. Over the last decade she has worked with over 300 partners; coached, trained and mentored over 2000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional practices. 

Heather blogs regularly at How to make partner and still have a life and works with future and current Big 4 partners and professionals from mid-tier firms all over the world

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