In her brilliant book Good in a Room (a term describing someone who is skilled in persuading colleagues, clients, and decision makers), Stephanie Palmer describes the first step to making a successful sale: building rapport. Palmer says, “When you have rapport with someone, they are paying attention to what you have to say. Without rapport, they are not. Thus, developing rapport quickly is the first and most important ingredient of being good in a room.”
We’ve all seen someone do this. Think about the most impressive salesperson you have ever seen, and I’ll bet the first thing s/he did was warm up the room by building a personal connection, or rapport, with you. You just liked this person, and we like to buy from people we, well, like.
Now this is not the glad-handing, back-slapping, toothy-grinned huckster. This is a salesperson who is interested in you and who is genuinely interesting. But how do we, as business people, build that kind of rapport with clients and other important people? How do we get them to like us?
In short, stop selling for a moment and be yourself. A rapport-building conversation is necessarily not going to be about business. It is going to be about your prospect and yourself, as people. Now, you are going to want to know as much as possible about your prospects so you can focus on them, but do not be afraid to bring elements of your personal life into the conversation as well.
For instance, I raise chickens.
That’s right, in my back yard, just like old McDonald. At any given time I have between 5 and 15 clucking, scratching, egg-laying beauties milling around my property, and, when I bring this up in conversation, it never fails to get a rise out of people. Raising chickens is not something many people do any more, and for some reason, it fascinates people. So I use this part of my personal life to build rapport with prospects and give our conversation some depth. It also helps them relax, knowing I am not going to put them on the defensive with a hard sell.
You should choose your own piece of rapport-building personal information, a hobby or sports team or craft or travel destination, and try it out. Trust me; it makes the sales process, and thus your business, better. But I would like to offer three tips for including pieces of your personal life in the sales process that will ensure proper usage of this tool and, therefore, greater outcomes.
1) Actually be interested.
I think we all know that, here in the South, football is, for many, a religious experience. I recognize the titanic importance of the Florida/Florida State game and the Auburn/Alabama contest. I understand the veneration of athletes and coaches. But I have a confession to make: I am not interested in football. Not in the least. It is just not my thing, so I don’t pretend it is. And neither should you. When you talk about your personal life, don’t choose something you think the other person wants you to say. That is inauthentic, and it will show. Chickens are my thing; you have yours. It’s okay if it is a little outside the mainstream. That is what makes it interesting.
2) Use sparingly.
I could talk to you all day about chickens. And so could some of you about needlepoint or horse riding or Gregorian chant music. But remember, utilizing personal interests to build rapport is a tool to be used just enough to get your prospect’s interest and warm up the conversation. In the end, you want most of the talking to be done by your prospect and be about your prospect. That’s the way to close a sale. And we’ve all been at a dinner party where the person next to you gushed the entire evening about his/her Maltese puppy or bird house collection or banjo lessons. Personal interests are effective, but so is gun powder. A little will do.
3) Be careful.
Remember the old adage about avoiding politics and religion at Thanksgiving dinner? The same goes here, and then some. For instance, I have met people who think the keeping and raising of any animal is unethical and inhumane. So for those folks I avoid chicken talk. Always remember the point of this process is sales, not winning an argument or gathering converts. Be aware; if you notice your prospect pulling back or in any way cooling off as you talk about your interest, stop and change the subject. Run away from that moment, because it will not get better.
It is a myth that business meetings should be only about business. That is just not the way humans work. Even the crustiest CEOs like to build connections with those around them, and that is done by sharing bits of your other-than-work lives. This has to be done skillfully and in a timely manner, but if used properly, your hobbies and interests can bring more than just personal satisfaction. They can land sales.
What are your thoughts?