Rapport building with clients means developing a friendly connection that makes them comfortable with you as you establish a relationship. It is one of the most important skills for salespeople and is the foundation for building a successful relationship since people are more likely to do business with people they like and trust.
Using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Freshsales can help you keep track of important information about your clients, making it easier to connect and build rapport over time. Freshsales includes tools to help you establish customer relationships and move them through your sales process and offers a free plan for unlimited users. Visit Freshsales to get started.
These seven techniques will help you build client rapport and better connect with your clients:
1. Do Client Research
The first place to start building rapport is to take time before you interact with a client to first do some research. The more you know about your client or prospect, the better you’ll be able to relate personally and create an authentic connection. You’ll be able to better break the ice as you discover helpful information like where a client attended school, what professional organizations they are members of, or whether you have mutual connections.
The good news is that conducting this type of research doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to do research online using search engines, company websites, and social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Look for touchpoints that you can use to quickly connect with, and engage your clients in conversation.
A few places to start your research include:
- Social media: Profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook can be especially valuable for finding information about your prospect. Often, you may discover that you have colleagues in common, similar interests, or even the same educational background.
- Search engine: While the goal isn’t to be creepy, conducting a brief personal search can also reveal recent accolades or awards your prospect has won, or current events related to your client’s business, which are a great way to break the ice.
- Company website: A business’ online presence can be a wealth of information about how the company is doing. News about recent hires, new customers, or a current portfolio can tell you whether they are active and growing, and likely to need your services.
- Company biography: While more common when researching prospects from a smaller company, an official bio can help provide context about the person’s role, accomplishments, and responsibilities within the company.
“A great technique to build rapport with a potential customer is to always start the conversation with something personal about them. If you don’t know them you can research their background on LinkedIn and online and find out about where they went to college, where they grew-up, jobs held, etc. If you meet with them in person you can look around their office and get a lot of nice clues.”
—Steve Turner, Principal, Solomon Turner
Conducting research will help you answer the following questions, which can help you better connect with your client. The goal isn’t to learn everything about your client, but to remove barriers and provide a place to start a conversation by gaining enough information to break the ice.
Here are a few areas you should focus on in your research:
- What is their current role?
- What current events relate to their company or industry?
- Where did they go to school?
- What professional associations are they a part of?
- What mutual connections do you share?
Pro tip: Another great place to do some research is your customer history. Using a CRM like Freshsales to keep track of your client’s past projects or deals can help you quickly relate to their current needs. Freshsales makes it easy to keep track of customer history and deals and offers a free plan for up to three users. You can also sign up for a 21-day free trial to check out whether it’s right for your business.
2. Get Face to Face
Whenever possible, get face to face with your client. There is no better way to build client rapport than to be physically present and in front of them. This demonstrates that you value them as a client and are willing to invest in the relationship. It also breaks down many of the barriers that exist over the phone, like the inability to read body language, or in less personal environments like an office or place of business.
Offering to travel to a client’s location is a good practice, but if possible, invite them into a less formal environment in order to make your conversation more relaxed and comfortable . One of the most valuable ways I found to meet with clients was to ask them where they like to go to breakfast or for coffee. Even the busiest people have to eat, and will often make time when they otherwise might pass.
For years, I ran a photography studio, and whenever I’d meet with a new potential client I’d ask them where they go for coffee. I’d meet them there and we’d have our initial meeting. Not only did it give me the opportunity to treat them to coffee, which almost everyone loves, but it also created a comfortable environment that made it far easier to learn more about them and their story.
“I’ve always found it very helpful to ask a client to join me for coffee (always my treat). It’s a public place and there’s usually a coffee shop near the client. Without a doubt, it’s the best under $10 tool out there.”
—Chris Castanes, Insurance Agent, www.ChrisCastanes.com
3. Be Personal
People relate to other people and, contrary to popular belief, salespeople happen to be people too. Help your client connect with you by being personal. One of the most obvious, but also most overlooked techniques, is to use their name. I always made a point of asking a client whether or not it was OK to refer to them by their first name, especially if they held a professional title like a doctor. You’ll know immediately whether you’re establishing good rapport if a client says yes.
In addition, when you interact with clients, find intentional ways to be personal by sharing something about yourself. This helps increase the comfort level in the relationship since you become more than just the salesperson and become a more trusted partner. It doesn’t have to be something deep and spiritual, it just has to reveal something the client wouldn’t already know, and it has to be true.
That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy in these situations to try and seem like more than you are in order to create a good fit. In the long run, you’ll be better off being authentic, instead or running the risk that you’ll lose trust when it becomes clear that what you said doesn’t match who you really are.
4. Match Their Level of Engagement
Your job in building rapport is to make your contact as comfortable as possible. On the other hand, one of the surest ways to make someone really uncomfortable (which is definitely not the goal of building rapport) is to communicate with them in a way that pushes them outside their comfort zone.
It can be easy to accidentally come across with more energy and enthusiasm, especially when you’re genuinely excited about how you can help your client. Still, it can be off-putting when there is a significant disconnect between you and your client. For example, if your client is an introvert, being overly energetic and talking fast will quickly exhaust him or her, and will likely leave them less than excited about having future conversations. That’s the definition of bad rapport.
A few quick guidelines to help you match their level of engagement:
- Mode of communication: Pay attention to how your client prefers to communicate, whether it’s by email or phone, or whether they prefer regular face to face contact.
- Personality: If your client is an introvert, respect the fact that they will have different boundaries than your extroverted contacts. This is especially important to be intentional about since many salespeople are naturally more extroverted.
- Cadence: You want to maintain a client relationship with regular contact, but knowing and understanding his or her level of engagement can help you better match the cadence with which they are most comfortable.
5. Ask Questions & Listen
People feel valued when they believe you are truly interested in them. One of the most effective ways to show that you’re interested is to ask genuine, open-ended questions and then listen to what your client has to say. This creates space in the conversation, while also demonstrating that your client’s view is important.
Open-ended questions have the benefit of not only encouraging engagement, but they also result in your client sharing information that can often be valuable to your sales process. That’s why listening is so important. Not only does it communicate to the client that they are important, but it also allows you to learn important information that can help move the sales process forward.
Here are a few questions you can use to engage your customers:
- How did you get into [whatever field they are in]?
- What do you like most about it?
- I know you just [went on a vacation/attended XYZ event], how was that?
- How was your weekend? Did you get to do anything exciting?
- What’s happening in your company these days?
“Listen to the prospect’s needs, encourage them to open up, and listen to not only what they’re saying, but what their tone (and body language, if face to face) is saying too. Salespersons are often far too keen to talk ‘at’ prospects, however, this is generally counterproductive. Active listening not only builds rapport, but also gives the rep the insights and direction they need to know how best to incentivize a sale, personalize the experience, and remove the prospect’s pain points.”
—Polly Kay, Senior Marketing Manager, English Blinds
Few things break down barriers and help establish rapport like the habit of smiling. This one seems pretty simple, but honestly, it might be the simplest way to build client rapport. Amazingly, this one works even when you’re talking on the phone. Obviously, your client won’t be able to see your face when you’re on the phone, but you should still smile. When you do, it changes the posture of your face, which changes the tone of your voice.
That means that even when people can’t see that you’re smiling, they can still hear it in your voice. It may not seem like a big deal, but it makes you come across more friendly and engaging, which makes your client more comfortable. In fact, smiling is such a valuable tool for building rapport, I actually recommend that you practice.
I had a colleague who was a very laid back person, but who always seemed to have a scowl on his face. It wasn’t that he was unhappy, it was just his natural expression. Unfortunately, it often had a negative effect on his relationships. In order to change this, he wanted to be more intentional about smiling, so he actually asked several of us on his team to make a point of reminding him to smile more. Eventually, it became a habit and changed his entire demeanor.
7. Read Visual Cues
This goes along with matching a client’s level of engagement, but one of the most important skills for a salesperson is the ability to read personal cues, especially non-verbal body language. Your client will tell you a lot about how they feel about a conversation, even without saying a word. Your job is to be able to read these cues and adjust your approach accordingly.
Some of the most important visual cues to understand include knowing when your client is preoccupied, has lost interest, is feeling offended, or is all-in. A client that is sitting back in his chair with his hands on his knees and smiling is taking in what you’re saying and is relaxed. If he crosses his arms across his chest, he has probably taken offense to what you’ve said or has become uncomfortable.
A client that leans forward with her arms on the table in front of her is fully engaged with what you’re talking about. Being able to quickly read these cues and then adjusting your tone, pace, and language can help you communicate that you are engaged and invested in making your client comfortable. It also increases your rapport because you can quickly address any potential issues before they become problems.
3 Things You Should Never Do to Build Client Rapport
Almost as important as what you do to build rapport with your clients, there are also a few important things to avoid. One of the reasons these make such a difference is that it can be tempting to try too hard or attempt to fit into what you think the client wants or needs. Don’t.
Here are three things you should definitely avoid:
1. Don’t Try Too Hard
Nothing kills rapport with a client—or anyone, for that matter—than when it feels like you’re trying too hard. Good rapport is the result of mutual respect and genuine affection between two people, but if you have to force it, it’s neither mutual or genuine. This relates back to the principle of matching your client’s level of engagement. If they tend to communicate via email, you’ll come across overly aggressive if you call them every other day.
I remember when I was training a salesperson earlier in my career, and we went into to meet with one of our long-standing customers. My trainee was worried about making a good impression because he knew how important the customer was. The problem was that the customer didn’t need to be impressed—not at this point in the relationship.
My trainee started running through some of our new products and how important they would be to the client. After a moment, the client interrupted and said: “You know I’m already your customer, right?” While it was embarrassing for my colleague, it was a good lesson for all of us that trying too hard isn’t helpful. In fact, the more natural you come across, the more people will want to engage, even if you don’t quite have it all together.
2. Don’t Fake It
Like trying too hard, faking it won’t work. You’ll end up coming across inauthentic, and no one wants to engage with someone when it feels like they’re not being transparent or real. You’ll end up creating a trust barrier between you and your client, and not only won’t you develop a good rapport, but you’ll also likely damage the long-term relationship as well since he or she will always wonder whether you’re being completely honest.
Salespeople are often tempted to be something or someone they aren’t. It’s tempting to pump up your product, exaggerate your success and features, or put on a false front. Your customers are professionals, and many of them make a living by quickly reading people and they’ll see right through the front.
Nothing kills any chance of rapport like sensing that the person you’re talking with is being fake. Instead, be genuine and authentic with your client. While the level of personal information you share depends on the boundaries of the relationship, being willing to be honest and transparent can go a long way to putting a client at ease.
“Any good client relationship is rooted in trust, so regardless of how well you get on, without it you’ll always struggle to get a ‘yes’ from them when it comes to trying to close the deal. If you don’t know the answer to a question, promise to find out. If the solution isn’t suitable for the client, be honest. It’ll show a confidence in your product or service that will be difficult to say no to when the time is right, and it’ll mean the customer isn’t afraid to ask you questions, too.”
—Ian Clark, Head of Americas, Frank Recruitment Group
3. Don’t Assume Every Client Is the Same
The final thing I recommend is to avoid assuming that every client has the same needs and interests. They don’t. Your clients, even if they have similar roles, or work for similar types of companies, have unique challenges, personalities, and needs. Your job is to address those through a sales relationship which starts with building rapport.
It can be tempting to try to fit your clients into some kind of template, but you’ll rob yourself of the opportunity to really meet their needs. Instead, set aside your assumptions and preconceived notions, and be intentional about getting to know the unique characteristics of each individual client. Taking the time to focus on, and invest in each client individually will help you build rapport, and lead to a successful long-term relationship.
How Client Rapport Works
Building client rapport works by establishing a level of comfort between a salesperson and a prospect or customer that removes the natural barriers that exist when we meet new people. It is usually the result of a series of interactions over time, but the best salespeople can quickly lay the foundation for a good rapport by focusing on simple techniques like listening to their client, meeting them face to face, asking questions, and even smiling.
Rapport is defined by the Oxford Reference Dictionary as “developing an understanding relationship or communication between people.” With that definition as a reference, building rapport works by taking steps to actively grow that relationship and facilitate communication with your client in a positive manner.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between building rapport in person vs on the phone?
There are certainly some differences when your conversation is over the phone since you don’t have the benefit of non-verbal cues and you have no way of knowing what else is happening in your customer’s environment. Still, the biggest difference is that you have to establish a good rapport more quickly since phone conversations are usually less personal. Make an extra effort to relate to your client, and ask questions to get him or her engaged.
What’s the difference between a first impression & building rapport?
A first impression is certainly an important part of building rapport, but rapport is built over time as a relationship develops. The good news is, while you should always try to make a good first impression, your commitment to a relationship through every interaction is ultimately far more important to the rapport you build.
Is there such a thing as “bad rapport?”
Absolutely. Having a bad rapport is usually the result of a disconnect in a relationship due to miscommunication or a clash of personalities. While there are some cases where a bad rapport is the result of incompatibility in a relationship, often you can overcome bad rapport if you are willing to be intentional about the techniques included in this article.
Building a client rapport is one of the most important factors in establishing relationships and can make all the difference in the success of your sales team. Focusing on these seven techniques can help you establish and build a good rapport and engage with your clients in a way that benefits both their business and yours.
Freshsales can make it easier to build rapport by keeping all of your important client information in one place. With easy-to-use contact and deal management tools, it is a flexible way for small businesses to build stronger long-term customer relationships. Freshsales offers a free plan for unlimited users, and a 21-day free trial to try out all the features. Visit Freshsales to get started.