I was at a city break in Lisbon recently with a group of friends. While waiting to order drinks for my party, I said ‘hello’ to the guy standing behind me in the queue. After exchanging a few niceties, I discovered that he happened to be from Leicestershire! What a coincidence! Before long, we were in a very animated conversation, looking for experiences in common… have you eaten at this restaurant, sharing views on latest news in Leicester etc. Later, I even introduced him to the rest of my friends.
This connection between two people – the feeling of having something in common – is called RAPPORT.
In B2B selling, building professional rapport is probably one of the most critical skills to master, because when rapport is strong, the quality of conversations improve and when rapport is weak, selling becomes difficult and sometimes even uncomfortable.
Being well dressed, a firm handshake, a sincere smile, making good eye contact, using the other person’s name during the conversation, the occasional bit of appropriate humour, and just being friendly during the meeting – all helps with establishing good professional rapport.
However, top sales professionals go beyond the usual pleasantries and have trained themselves to follow a proven process for establishing genuine rapport with their prospects. So, what’s their secret?
Well, it’s not talking about something they noticed in the lobby or even a picture on the wall or desk; nope, nothing cheesy like that or any other fruitless small talk. In fact it’s very scientific.
Behavioural researchers at the Boston University Medical School studied films of people having conversations. These researchers began to notice that the people getting on really well also seemed to unconsciously match each other’s head nods, gestures and even the way they sat in chairs.
Best example to understand this principle yourself is to observe a romantic couple dine, who are enjoying each other’s company. They are a mirror to each other; they are in similar postures, using similar gestures, if one picks up the glass to drink, the other does too and it’s all happening at a subconscious level.
Anyway, what the researchers also found is that someone who is out of rapport could actually “jump start” rapport by initiating this kind of matching behaviour. In other words, mirroring the other person’s language, style and actions.
This technique of ‘matching’ the other person has been used successfully by many professionals like marriage councillors and even police detectives. This is how it works… ‘Matching’ the other person means matching all the three elements of communication:
- Matching the words
- Matching the tonality (How the words are spoken) and
- Matching the body language
1. Matching the words
According to neuro-linguistic programming or NLP (the science of how our brain uses and interprets language)… people take-in information, process it in their brains and then communicate their thoughts based on their sensory preference, namely: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.
For instance, visual people value and respond favourably to what they see; they tend to use phrases like:
- I see what you mean or
- It appears to me as if…
- I like the sound of that… or
- It rings a bell with me
Kinaesthetic or touchy/ feely people value and respond favourably to how they feel; they might use phrases like:
- Feels like something is missing or
- What’s holding us back is…
Although in reality, people will be a mixture of the three styles but extensive research has shown that most people have a ‘preference’. Approximately 55% of people are predominantly visual, 15% are auditory and 30% are kinaesthetic.
Now, let’s look at Matching in action.
When asking questions and presenting your solution to a visual person, the words and phrases ought to be sight oriented, for example:
- We see our solution providing…
- How does this look to you?
For an auditory person, you might use phrases such as:
- Does that sound good to you?
- Are we in harmony on this?
Matching touchy/feely people would be with phrases such as:
- Are you comfortable with this?
- How do you feel about that?
Matching the language in this way, creates a sense of commonality between the sales professional and the prospect, and the result is ‘rapport of the minds’. Although the theory might sound simple, it takes conscious practice to get good at. For starters, you have to listen carefully to the prospect and how they describe their situation, answer your questions and talk about their thoughts and ideas.
2. Matching the Tonality
You will find, some people talk really really fast while others speak very s-l-o-w-l-y. A fast talker might come across as a fire hose to a slow talker. On the other hand, a slow talker might come across as unintelligent to a fast talker. So, adjust your speed according to your prospect.
In addition to speed, you need to be aware of your volume and energy too. If you are with a prospect that is laid back and speaks softly and your style is loud, with high energy and enthusiasm, then you need to soften up a little and make sure you match the prospects energy levels.
3. Matching the Body Language
Eye contact, head nods, facial expressions are all meaningful during a conversation. If the prospect raises their eyebrows, a sales person in rapport will find themselves doing the same to acknowledge their emotion.
In advanced NLP techniques, you even learn to match body postures. For example, leaning on the same side as your prospect is leaning or using a specific hand gesture to explain something in the same way the prospect did. The technique is not to imitate the prospects physical behaviour immediately, but waiting for a few seconds before casually weaving it into your style. Although this might sound like mimicry, the prospects unconscious mind registers it, and signals to the conscious mind that you are like them and this causes the prospect to feel comfortable with you.
So to summarise… in order to establish good professional rapport with your prospect, be genuinely curious about them, their role and their business. Give your 100% attention to what the prospect is saying. Take note of your prospects subtle communication cues and identify if they are visual, auditory or a touch/feely person. Then adjust your language and style to that of your prospects.
Although this matching technique can feel mechanical in the beginning, but after a while it will become engrained in your behaviour and you will see yourself effortlessly connecting with even the most difficult of prospects.
Goes without saying that behind this or any other technique, there must be a genuine desire to discover and understand the prospects world view, in order for you to serve them better. Without this honest intention, any matching technique could risk breaking rapport rather than building it.