Sales Best Practices

Strategies for building genuine rapport in sales

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Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices

Regardless of how knowledgeable, talented, or experienced a seller may be, their success hinges on their ability to build strong customer relationships. It’s difficult—if not impossible—to consistently close sales without first establishing trust and rapport with clients. This is particularly true in today’s modern sales landscape, where customers are highly attuned to (and turned off by) salespeople who lack empathy and understanding.

Many deals fall through due to reps’ failure to earnestly engage with their customers or create genuine relationships. In fact, while 88% of buyers will only conduct business with salespeople they trust, just 40% of decision-makers describe the sales profession as “trustworthy”. There’s a clear and costly disconnect between sellers and their customers; one that can only be resolved through meaningful interactions.

The good news is that by remaining genuine and asking the right questions, salespeople can more easily build rapport and maintain long-lasting, fruitful customer relationships. Here, we’ll walk through strong strategies and examples to help you get it right.

What Is customer rapport?

Customer rapport refers to the interpersonal relationships between sellers and their clients. The process of building rapport requires establishing an authentic connection over a period of time, enabling both parties to dig deep for a longer-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.

Good rapport is absolutely critical to effective selling, as customers are more likely to engage in businesses with people they like and with whom they feel a real connection. Consumers say that trustworthiness is one of the most essential qualities they look for when making a purchase, and that trust creates a foundation for customer loyalty. Since companies with high customer loyalty outperform their competitors by 2X on average, most sales organizations likely can’t afford to bypass rapport-building.

What’s more, developing rapport with customers means more opportunity for lead acquisition, even if a sale does fall through. It helps reps identify leads’ specific pain points, goals, budgets, and more, then warm them up by providing uniquely targeted value. 66% of buyers now expect sellers to tailor solutions to their individual needs rather than present a cookie-cutter pitch, and the in-depth knowledge reps gain from the rapport building process allows them to do just that.

It’s no secret that retaining existing customers is far more cost-effective than acquiring new ones, and relationships founded on trust and understanding keep customers coming back for more. We know that most customer churn stems from insufficient customer care; but by paying careful attention to the rapport they build with their clients, reps can foster closer customer relationships that reduce churn and increase profits by 25% to 95%.

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Strategies for rapport building

Salespeople must juggle a whole slew of skills and traits, but many leaders and managers prioritize coaching hard skills in an effort to close deals faster. The problem with that approach is that it ignores the value of humanness and personality within the sales process.

To build better customer rapport and—in turn—boost success and profitability, sellers should implement these key strategies:

Be genuine

This might sound obvious, but being authentic and genuine with customers is crucial—and often easier said than done. Salespeople are up against quotas, professional and personal pressures, and other performance and progress metrics that can impact their ability to remain straightforward and sincere with buyers. In a pinch, they may choose to flex their savvy sales skills over their authenticity in order to close the deal.

While this might work in the short-term or for one-off sales, it’s not an effective or beneficial approach in the long run. To truly engage their customers (and keep them engaged moving forward), sellers need to lead with genuine curiosity. This will illustrate their desire to thoroughly understand each client’s individual needs, objectives, concerns, and more.

Buyers are more likely to respond well to reps who take an active interest in their most pressing pain points and operate based on facts rather than assumptions. Instead of making promises right off the bat, which their offerings may or may not actually be able to fulfill, sellers should take the time to determine what the customer really wants and needs. This will create an authentic foundation upon which their relationship can thrive, and will help reps avoid turning buyers off with overly pushy interactions.

Engage in Active Listening

Most of us have been on the receiving end of an overly enthusiastic salesperson who dominates the conversation. Ideally, reps should believe wholeheartedly in the value of their offerings, but this confidence can quickly come across as cocky and disingenuous if they railroad buyers with too much chatter.

Instead of shoehorning their solutions into customers’ existing ecosystems or bragging about the value of their products and services, reps should start by asking questions—and lots of them. The answers they receive will give them plenty of insight into what the customer is looking for and how their solutions might solve their most critical challenges, so they should listen both actively and intently.

By practicing active listening and asking the right questions, sellers demonstrate their ability to collaborate alongside their clients rather than a desire to simply push them across the finish line. Over time, it’ll help customers view reps as trusted advisors who have a vested interest in their success rather than fast-talking sellers with dollar signs in their eyes.

Find common ground

At our most basic level, humans just want to be heard and understood. Sales teams should take this need into consideration as they interact with customers and prioritize finding some commonalities. Outside of a particular sale, what’s important to your customers? What’s important to your own business? Have your sales team members initiated open and meaningful discussions around these topics?

This has become especially crucial in our current social climate, where 69% of sales leaders report that buyers are asking about their stance on social justice. Nearly half believe this inquiry will increase in importance over the next two years, so competitive organizations should take the time to research and align with their clients’ company cultures, values, and social initiatives.

A staggering 70% of customers want to buy from organizations whose values align with their own, so reps shouldn’t be afraid to identify common ground and create a bond based on those details. Connecting on those deeper levels will help them show clients they care about much more than closing the deal.

Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues

Buyers will always give sellers emotional cues (both verbal and non-verbal) that shed light into how engaged they are in their offerings. While an assertive “No, and please don’t contact me again” is easy enough to read, other cues are a bit more challenging to decipher. But the ability to understand these signals is essential for building customer rapport, so sellers should watch and listen carefully.

Reps can start by learning the basics about human behavior, including researcher Gretchen Rubin’s framework for The Four Tendencies. This will help them get a firm grasp on what motivates their buyers, what turns them off, and what makes them tick, and apply those learnings to foster better connections.

Sellers are typically well-equipped to understand and handle verbal cues, but non-verbal behaviors can take a bit more time to navigate. They might include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Head nodding
  • Eye rolling
  • Leaning forward
  • Maintaining or avoiding eye contact
  • Movement mirroring

Evaluating these cues can help reps better manage interactions with appropriately timed questions, strong objections handling, and a demonstration of empathy. By reading the room, so to speak, they can also begin to quickly recognize key buying signals and course-correct the conversation before it’s too late. And customers appreciate this skill, too, since it proves the rep is paying thoughtful attention to their reactions.

If you’re like many modern sales organizations, a significant part of your sales process is probably executed digitally, and thus you might be wondering how you’re supposed to understand buyer cues without tone of voice or body language. This is especially true for businesses in the B2B sales world, where research predicts that 80% of sales will happen remotely.

With the right tools, your team can use robust data to understand buyer sentiment and build that same crucial rapport. Intelligent sales engagement platforms, for example, offer real-time sentiment analysis, which takes the guesswork out of the equation. They provide insights into whether responses are positive, objections, referrals, or unsubscribes, enabling sellers to identify the proper next steps for building a stronger relationship.

Ask thoughtful questions

Another highly critical aspect of establishing a good rapport is asking buyers well-planned questions and doing it often. Reps tend to want to steer the conversation in a particular direction; and while this is important for keeping the ball rolling, they should also consider how this impacts the customer’s perception.

To better demonstrate their willingness to be an accommodating solutions partner, sellers should consistently pick their buyers’ brains. It’ll help them gain a comprehensive understanding of each unique customer and ensure they’re providing them with a great customer experience at every turn. Some of these inquiries might be constructed on-the-fly, but the majority of questions should be prepped ahead of time, so buyers know the seller is well-prepared and thoughtful.

Today's buyers expect reps to answer questions in the moment, lead with data, and guide them through the buying process

In a recent B2B buyer survey from Forrester commissioned by Outreach, 80% of respondents said they are more likely to purchase a product/service if the sales experience is consultative.

Good questions for building rapport in sales

The age-old adage that “there is no such thing as a stupid question” is true, but it may not directly apply to building rapport in sales. It’s beneficial for reps to ask as many questions as possible, but only if those questions are relevant, considerate, and insightful.

Relationships between sellers and their customers should be a two-way street, and interactions should always be respectful and courteous, especially in your first few calls or meetings. Reps can illustrate their eagerness to establish trust and understanding by asking questions that are open-ended, highly personalized, safe, and appropriate.

Example questions for building sales rapport

To get started fostering deeper relationships with buyers, reps should prepare questions across a variety of areas. By planning these questions ahead of each interaction, sellers can avoid the awkward small talk that can send customers running in the other direction.

Below, we’ve categorized example questions into several key groups:

Examples of location-based question

  • I heard the traffic in [customer’s city] is difficult to deal with! How does that impact your day?
  • Have you ever tried [restaurant in customer’s city]? I’ve heard great things!
  • Did you grow up in [customer’s city]? If not, what brought you there? If so, what do you love about it?
  • Are there many other [customer’s company type] in your city, or is your organization the only one?
  • What kind of seasonal weather changes does [customer's city] get, if any?
  • If I were to visit [customer's city] with family or friends, what would you recommend we do?
  • Do you live close to your office in [city], or do you commute or work from a remote location? How do you like it?
  • Are there any tourist attractions in [customer’s city] that you tell people to visit or avoid? Why?

Examples of job and career questions

  • How did you decide on becoming a [customer’s profession]?
  • I saw that you used to work with [former colleague]. I know them too! Did you work closely together?
  • What’s the most challenging part of being a [customer’s profession]?
  • What’s the most rewarding/exciting part of being a [customer’s profession]?
  • I noticed you used to work in [former industry/profession]. What caused you to switch things up?
  • Do you know [event specific to customer’s industry/profession]? Have you ever been?
  • I noticed you went to [name of customer’s college] for [customer’s major]. How does that degree help you succeed as a [customer’s profession]?
  • I saw on LinkedIn that you contributed a blog to [website] recently. I was so impressed! Do you write about [customer’s industry] often? How did you get into that?

Examples of interests and hobby questions

  • I saw you tweeted about [sports team/entertainer/etc.]. Are you a fan? Are you looking forward to [related upcoming event]?
  • I noticed on your LinkedIn that you love [specific hobby or interest]. How long have you been interested in that?
  • I saw that you attended [customer’s college]. My [sister/friend/coworker/etc.] went there, too, and loved [specific attribute]. What did you think about it?
  • I noticed you quoted [author] on your personal website. Which of their books is your favorite and why?
  • Do you ever attend events at [customer's local venue]? What’s that venue like?
  • I saw that you follow [popular influencer] on social media. I do, too! What do you think about [recent event related to influencer].
  • Is [customer’s city] conducive for [customer’s interest/hobby]? Is that where you got into it?
  • Did a lot of students in your program at [customer’s college] like [customer’s interest/hobby], too?

Examples of children and family questions

  • I noticed on Twitter that you’ve posted a lot about children. Do you have any of your own? How do they like living in [customer's city]?
  • Are any of your family members also [customer's profession] or in the [customer’s industry] space? Is that what piqued your interest in the job?
  • Is [customer’s city] a family-friendly town? What is there to do there that’s adult- and children-friendly?
  • Did any of your family members attend [customer’s college]? How did you choose that school?
  • Where does your family like to travel to on vacation? How often do you go there?
  • Do you have many family members in [customer’s city]? Have you been able to see them frequently?
  • My own [child/grandchild/other family member] also wants to be a [customer’s profession]! Do you have any advice I could give them?
  • My [child/grandchild/other family member] was looking at attending [customer’s college], too. What was your experience there like?

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Robust Technology for Stronger Customer Relationships

At the end of the day, building rapport in sales is all about making meaningful connections. It’s a crucial part of closing deals consistently and quickly, as customers are more willing to buy from a rep they trust and with whom they engage in a meaningful way. But establishing rapport requires in-depth knowledge about your customers, including how they respond to each interaction.

Outreach’s Sales Execution Platform helps sellers better engage their buyers, with tools for buyer sentiment analysis, optimized interactions throughout the cycle, and transparency into how they’re performing. It eliminates time-consuming, tedious manual tasks (like note-taking, and setting follow-up reminders), so reps can focus on fostering genuine relationships with every customer or prospect.

Learn more about how Outreach can give every rep close more deals with less effort — or request a demo today.