Many of us salespeople have a dirty secret. We hate building rapport especially with prospects or even just people we don’t really know well. Sure, we are expected to be the life the party and the meeting, the easy-going back-slapper flush with funny stories and anecdotes – the classic extrovert – able to make friends with everyone we meet.
Uh, please, don’t make me.
If this strikes a familiar chord with you it’s probably because you – like me – got into sales because we both enjoy solving problems and making people happy; and we truly believe in our offerings so we want to share them with the world. Selfishly, the thrill of the chase and the financial aspects can be real sweet, too.
But the cocktail party, networking, pre-meeting jibber-jabber – ugh. One client of mine told me he didn’t want to ever be “that guy… you know the guy in the plaid jacket.”
Me, neither.
Often, I dread having to build rapport, I am not great at it and feel it too dangerous when meeting people for the first time. Reflectively, this may be more about me than anything. I know I am an observer and a student at heart. With age, I realize I have a big mouth and not a big filter. A potentially career-limiting lethal combination.
I now have a standard piece of advice for “plaid-jacket-avoiders”, which I’ll reveal later.
My realization that I’m not great at rapport and that it’s too dangerous happened on an initial sales call in Kingsport, TN. I had driven up alone from Atlanta to see a new prospect and talk about his interest in our technology.
My prospect greeted me warmly with an easy-going smile at the reception area of his office building and immediately apologized. His usual conference room was booked, so we were going to have to meet in his office. His apology seemed weird. Why would I care? It was just the two of us getting together. I wanted to understand his business more so we could figure out if there was a fit between his challenges and my offerings. No big deal being in an office instead of a conference room.
I figured it out immediately upon entering his cramped eight foot by maybe 12 foot office. It was stuffed with all things golf. A Masters flag in the corner. Old clubs against the wall. Putters leaning against the desk. A bookshelf full of golf balls through the ages. Golf magazines, posters, signed memorabilia. An impressive array of golf stuff.
I, however, am not a golfer. It’s just not my game. Yet, before we even sat down, while I was clearing scorecards off my chair, I asked,

“So, you like golf?”

All energy drained from his face. His shoulders sagged. He sighed heavily. I’ll never forget his response. It’s why, to this day, I avoid being the one opening up with rapport building with someone I really don’t know. I let them go first.

“My SOB father-in-law died a couple months ago and my wife made me bring all his golf crap to the office.”

Whoops!!! Well, I guess I shouldn’t have gone there!! All energy drained from our conversation. We had our meeting. I wasn’t at my best; he was distracted. I got in my car and drove home. It may have been my worst sales call. A waste of a day.
Yes, his father-in-law’s stuff was the proverbial elephant in the room. But why did I have to be the one to bring it up? I should have let him lead the rapport part of the meeting. He likely would have apologized again, this time for the décor. I would have merely responded, “That’s okay.” And gotten down to business unless he brought something else up like the weather or the drive up or where I am from (usually something like: You don’t sound like you are from Atlanta or the south?).
What should I have done? Here’s my advice about rapport that I should have heeded and that I tell anyone not wanting to be “that guy in the plaid jacket.”
When you think the situation is going to demand rapport-building, especially when talking with someone you don’t know well, imagine yourself one step back over the shoulder of your audience in the conversation. Do not pass them. Do not play “who can top this?” like a 14-year old boy. Let them open.
If they open with comments or questions about the weather, give them the weather, but don’t pass them with comments about sports. Stay behind them. If they mention something about your background, go with it, but don’t then dig into their background unless they offer. Be pleasant, but during rapport, let them lead. It’s okay to be “Ginger” to his or her’s “Fred.”ginger-rogers-and-fred-astaire-dancing-the-e2809ccariocae2809d-in-flying-down-to-rio-1933

  1. “But, I’m great at rapport.” Are you sure? Have your managers, mentors, friends and loved ones told you so? Unless you are 100% confident, please consider heeding my advice. You might go somewhere you shouldn’t.
  2. “But, I thought I am supposed to control the sales process.” While that is true, rapport is not a sales process step. I often say that sales process and preparation is about ratcheting up your probability of success. Screw up rapport and you risk decreasing your chances of a good outcome. By controlling yourself, aren’t you controlling the process?

So, consider what I imagine a director once said to Ginger Rogers, “It’s okay, we know you are truly the one in charge, just remember, one step back and over the shoulder.”

SalesReformSchool: Food for Thought

A lot of us procrastinate. We struggle to stay focused on the task at hand. Why do today what I can put off and to tomorrow? I struggle with this. The work for me often conforms to the time it’s needed. Give me a deadline too far away and I struggle with focus. I’d love to be the type of person who can get stuff out of the way now, so I can play later, instead of vice-versa.
To overcome procrastination – or laziness as some might call it – I try hard to break a large project into smaller do-able chunks. I mull over my morning coffee at least one thing I want to accomplish that day, one chunk, unless my schedule is already full. This Quora post on a one-minute life hack goes a few steps further.  Today’s chunk was this post. I have a couple other chunks today as well. How do you fight procrastination?

SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

Sure, we know about the four food groups. What about the four drink groups? For me, my Mount Rushmore of drinks is coffee, water, wine, and well, if pressed for a fourth, spirits. Water is either flat or “with gas” as they say abroad. And my favorite is LaCroix. For spirits, I’m mostly a gin or vodka guy. So, I am thrilled to explore this list.
Good Selling!
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Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.