Good morning, Mr. Phelps.
Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to call someone and quickly establish rapport.
This person will be someone: (a) you don’t know; (b) will not be expecting your call, and; (c) will not want to talk with you.
You will have approximately 30 seconds to accomplish your mission. If you don’t succeed, you won’t have a second chance. Good luck, Jim!
For many sales professionals — and recruiters — building rapport when cold calling a prospect or passive candidate can seem like Mission: Impossible.
We’ve all heard how important it is to build relationships and/or establish rapport. But what is rapport? How do you establish it quickly? Can we identify — in specific, behavior terms — what “establishing rapport” looks like? What inhibits building rapport?
A Word About “Name Calling”
In the “old days” of selling, we learned that calling the prospect by name built rapport. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with calling a person by name. But inexperienced sales people overdid it.
“Nancy, what would prevent you, Nancy, from making that decision today, Nancy?”
“Nancy, I know that you are concerned about price. Nancy, that’s understandable Nancy …”
Most of us can smell commission breath a mile away. And it’s not pleasant. Let’s look at some specific techniques for building rapport that help us go beyond name calling.
What Is Rapport?
I’ve broken down the skill of “establishing rapport” into two phases. Phase 1 focuses on the skills that are critical during those first few seconds of initial contact. Phase 2 focuses on how to continue to establish and build rapport, after the initial introductory stage of a cold call.
Phase 1: Initial Moments of Contact
You have a very narrow window of opportunity to establish initial rapport. Chances are the other person will try to quickly blow you off with an automatic “no thanks” — also called a “reflex response.”
Reflex responses are “stimulus-response reactions” that have been well-documented in behavior psychology. Reflex responses may or may not reflect how we really feel or what we really want. For example, when someone asks you, “How are you?” a typical reflex response in our culture is, “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”
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You may or may not “be fine.” But that’s not the point. The point is that the question simply triggers an automatic, or “reflex” response. The same goes for cold calling prospects. So be prepared and don’t be surprised if you get a “reflex response” — some variation of “no thanks” from your prospect.
Here are the specific steps to help you quickly establish rapport and effectively disrupt a “reflex response” during those critical first moments of your cold call.
- Do your homework prior to the call. Establishing rapport begins even before you dial. If you can demonstrate that you know something about the prospect, it helps quickly build rapport. Perhaps you have a mutual acquaintance. Or maybe you have specific industry knowledge that positions you as someone who really might understand their needs. Provide this information very early on the call, during your introduction. When prospects sense your interest in them, they appreciate that you won’t waste their time with unnecessary fact-finding questions, making you sound like any other person pitching.
- Let the other person talk. In the first few seconds of the call, be careful to let the other person talk. Even if — especially if — they are giving you a reflex response/brush off. Resist the temptation to cut them off and explain yourself — or to quickly ask for a referral and end the call, hoping this shows you respect their time. Great passive candidates have probably perfected their “no thanks reflex response” with many recruiters and will be quick to use it. Develop rapport in those initial moments by hearing the person out and maybe even agreeing with them! Then serve up a non-threatening question or statement that can lead into a productive conversation. These techniques have been known to be very effective in disrupting “reflex responses.” Here’s one example. “I completely understand your hesitation at this time. That’s great that you are satisfied with your current position. By the way, before we end our call, I’m just curious. What plans have you made to keep your career options open down the road — and continue to keep that high level of job satisfaction — knowing that things can and do change?”
- Be positive. Quick rejection (think: reflex response) is to be expected and can easily take the wind out of your sales. Make it your goal to enter into each call on a positive note and to transfer your positive, enthusiastic attitude to your prospect by the end of the call (no matter how brief the call). Build rapport by preparing positive statements that you can use as you anticipate the negativity you will likely encounter.
- Be polite. You show respect (and build rapport) when you are courteous. The words please and thank you can positively affect any relationship and open doors to further develop rapport on a cold call. If you have to work through a gatekeeper, research has shown that your best rapport-building weapon is to say “please.”
- Call them by name. It’s perfectly fine to establish rapport by calling the person by name. Just remember not to overdo it. Use the other key behaviors we list here to help get you off to a great start.
Phase 2: Beyond the Initial Moments
Let’s assume that you did a great job of quickly establishing rapport and you have entered into a conversation with your prospect — either on the same call or on a subsequent call. Here are five more skills that will help you continue to develop rapport.
- Be concise. Resist the temptation to go into pitch mode. Excessive talking and/or rambling will kill the delicate foundation of rapport. Be brief and concise and break up your “talk time” by frequently checking in to see how the other person is reacting.
- Keep the focus on them by asking relevant questions and listening to their responses. There’s an old saying in sales that “he who talks first loses.” Build rapport by asking questions that keeps the focus on them and, in turn, listening carefully to their responses. Prospects don’t care about you. They care about themselves and want to talk about things that affect them. Show genuine interest in their needs. Start conversations by asking questions, not by giving responses or pitching positions. If you’ve ever had the gift of a good listener in your life, you know how special that skill is. Unfortunately, our society does not always reward those who listen. Talkers appear to be people of action or ideas. But when developing rapport, a good listener will beat a fast talker every time.
- Be forthright and truthful. Provide open, honest, and candid responses to questions. No matter how much you may want to send your prospect to your hiring manager or client, you have an obligation to be forthright and truthful when providing information and answering questions. You build rapport — and respect — with honesty and candor. Promising the moon, downplaying questions, objections, or concerns are sure ways to blow rapport. People appreciate honesty, even when the news may not be what they want to hear.
- Respect their time. On each call, be sure to clarify the time constraints and conduct the call within the time agreed to. When you start and stop on time you convey that the other person’s time is valuable. If you think you may run over — re-negotiate. And, of course, respect their wishes.
- Deliver on your commitments. Say what you are going to do and do what you say. Demonstrate that you are diligent in ensuring their questions are answered and the information that’s important to them is cared for in a professional and timely fashion.
When you deliver on commitments, you are saying, What’s important to you is also important to me. Rapport-building is never about you — it’s always about them.