Building Rapport 

‘People Buy People’ the saying goes. But how do you establish that initial connection with someone quickly to help move an initial telephone conversation with the prospect to that person accepting a meeting? How can you use a follow-up letter or e-mail to deepen the initial connection? Building rapport is the subject of many books and training courses but I had an experience a while back that proves the value of a single, powerful question used correctly.

The Story

We had a call one day from the managing director of a medical healthcare manufacturer. He was looking for some development work for his top team and had found our details over the internet. He was going to speak to four suppliers and give each of them the brief. He would review proposals from each and then meet with two and choose one to design and deliver the work. He had no relationship in place with any of the suppliers. Jerry took the call and, before listening to the brief, asked the killer question: “What’s important to you about any work that is delivered to your top team?” After a few seconds of silence, the prospect said one word: “Rigour”. It turned out that all of the team had strong academic backgrounds and so any work delivered needed to be grounded in academic research and rigour.  As the medical field was more in my area of focus Jerry handed over the brief to me to write the proposal.  I used the word ‘rigour’ twice in the proposal. We got through to the next stage where I met with the prospect. At this stage I had only had one brief conversation with him. He had our proposal in front of him and I could see that he had highlighted the word ‘rigour’ . When we won the deal I asked what had made the difference and this is honestly what the client said to me: “You simply seem to speak the same language as us”.

The Lessons

  1. Asking the right question of a prospect early in the conversation is a real opportunity for building rapport and to differentiate yourself. You need to get the prospect to talk and asking a great question sets you up from the beginning as taking a consultative, value-add approach.
  2. Asking ‘What’s important to you about …?” gets the prospect’s values around whatever it is you are talking about. In my example, it was the equivalent of asking him how he would make his choice of who to buy from! When you understand someone’s values around how they will make a decision you can leverage this in any follow-up communication. This literally makes sure that you are focusing on the right things for that specific prospect. Many competitors won’t be doing this. It will give you an edge.
  3. If you do ask the “What’s important to you?” question, make sure that you note down their response in their words and do not ‘translate’ them into words that mean something to you. Words have importance. In my example, the word was ‘rigour’ and not ‘rigid’, ‘precise’, ‘academic’, ‘meticulous’ or any other possible alternative.
  4. When you send a follow-up letter or e-mail use the words that they have used to you. This helps in building rapport before you even meet them!

Now, I would like to think that we won the project for reasons other than just that we asked this one question and were more effective a building rapport than the other three suppliers but I am sure that it helped. It’s so easy and shows a genuine interest in the prospect. Early on in a prospect contact we need to really be on the top of our game. We have to make the best first impression and do what we can to ‘stack the cards’ in favour of getting the meeting. The “What’s important to you?” question helps you do this.