The confluence of technology, world events, corporate budgets, and convenience-seeking behaviors have brought an evolving set of challenges to the traditional ways of prospecting, selling, and providing ongoing support for our products and services. However; as sellers, we forget how it feels to be the customer. As customers, we rarely welcome the intrusion of being the victim of an uninvited sales call. When we go to a brick and mortar store in search of a product, many times we want to browse before we determine if we want the help of a salesperson. Being approached upon entry into the store, we often default to answering some variation of, “Just looking,” when asked, “Can I help you?” Even a quicker deflection occurs when our doorbell rings with someone trying to sell us something we are not currently in the market to possess (we peek out curtained windows or rely on higher technology to view the “intruder” through outdoor cameras).
In years of yore, a seller would do the equivalent of “Spray and Pray.” They would knock on every door, open the phone book and call every number in a neighborhood, and subscribed to the mantra that contacting enough people would lead to sufficient business opportunities. Upon getting an appointment or an invite to meet, the salesperson was trained to quickly establish something called, “rapport.” As the salesperson was instructed, you want to be seen as someone who is; friendly, likable, and fun to be around. The ways to do that were to connect with the prospect to anchor on some interest of the prospect and focus on that with comments and questions to create some bond of a shared pursuit. So, the salesperson would notice the photo of the family and make a positive comment on how lovely the family looked on their vacation, or would glance at the trophies in a bookcase and inquire about those, perhaps would spy a painting and share a story about artists, etc. All done in an effort to subtly say to the prospect, “I am like you, we could be friends, we share hobbies, interests, and lifestyles.” Of course, on the next sales call with a different prospect, the conversation would center around that person’s interests and our salesperson became a chameleon of sorts to match up with each prospect.
Fast Forward to Today
Today, we can be quarantined as a result of pandemics, we can work from home, we can even work while on vacation in the most remote places – all by any device that can connect to an internet signal or even a telephone signal. We have the technology to allow us to remotely accessed cloud-based conferencing capabilities that permit us to appear on screen, share our presentations, collaborate on documents, etc.
Further, as a result of tightening budgets, larger territories or regions to sell into as a result of the internet making many businesses potentially global in reach, and the convenience afforded by being able to conduct business remotely without having to drive or fly to see a prospect or customers, more and more of our selling efforts are done without having that face-to-face contact. Putting our customer hat on, that has led to the quickly gaining on the annoyance scale of emails we receive or the phone calls that always seem to come at inopportune times selling products or services for which we have no use.
As sellers, how do you generate the level of “rapport” that you seek with a prospect to allow the sales effort to proceed before it is prematurely aborted?
What NOT to do – Do not begin each email you send out with a trite attempt at a joke. I have been confronted with (from people I had NEVER spoken to before):
“You do a better job of hiding than I do when my Mother-in-Law comes over for holiday dinner.”
“You are harder to reach than that itch in the center of my back.”
“I was about to send a search party out for you, I hadn’t heard from you in weeks.”
It sounds artificial and definitely did not endear me to the salesperson as someone I WANTED to engage with any longer than it took for me to hit <delete> on my email. If you are going to use humor, it should be organic and come from within the conversation and not as an introduction. Our sense of humor may be different and what you find funny may not align with what I do; you just interrupted my day and I may not be in the mood to laugh; I do not know you, how you can help me, or why I should spend the time to find out.
If your introduction talks or includes statements about YOUR expertise, YOUR experience, YOUR anything – it is off-strategy. Your prospect does not care about YOU. They care about THEMSELVES.
What TO do – First, acknowledge that you are taking their time and are only doing so to offer to provide value (which means you have to know or have a good idea on what they would value!). Offering landscaping services to an apartment dweller will have a low percentage of sales. Know your targets. Rapport has to include an exchange that is mutually beneficial. What are you offering that the other person can use or will help them achieve THEIR objectives.
Pay attention – since you can’t be there in person, note changes in posture, eye movement, signs of restlessness, etc. (if on a video chat). If on a phone, pay close attention to what is said, how it is said, and what is NOT said. You have to be part detective, part therapist, and part subject matter expert to discern if there is interest in continuing the conversation, and if not – why not.
Meet your obligations. If you say you will take 10 minutes of their time – do not go on for 20 minutes. If you promise to send an email follow up, or additional information, or commit to anything – do it.
Even if there is not immediate interest, continue to provide value. Send articles, links, ideas, etc. that may keep your name in front of the prospect for future business. Always provide value though, not things that are of no relevance to the prospect.
If you are going to use humor (and it is fine once the relationship is past the “hello, my name is…”), make it non-objectionable. Showing personality is encouraged and can act as a bonding experience. However; it should be done only once the seller is aware of any boundaries that exist.
Show your weaknesses – by that I mean to allow yourself to be vulnerable and share struggles, mistakes, missteps, etc. Hard to ask someone else to disclose their issues, problems, concerns, if it is not reciprocated – however; also share what you learned, or what you internalized as a result that has an impact on what you are proposing, etc.
Surely, you can see that it is possible to build rapport online or remotely – it just takes a measured approach that is genuine, sincere, and focused on making the other person’s challenges less daunting. Selling still has the same core goals – alleviating those things that are a drag on the performance of the prospect and/or providing a shorter, quicker, less expensive, safer, higher status, or better way to do what they are currently doing.