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The remote salesperson's guide to building rapport with prospects


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Just 3% of people believe that salespeople are trustworthy.

That’s a huge problem. If people don’t think they can trust you, why would they ever buy from you?

It’s up to salespeople to change that perception. To demonstrate that you can be trusted, and that you have your customers’ best interests at heart.

Building rapport allows you to do just that. In your prospect’s mind, it takes you from “anonymous salesperson” to “Jim” or “Judy,” the person who understands their business and their pain points, and has the expertise and product to make their life easier.

But with most people now forced to work from home, salespeople need to adapt to conducting business online and finding alternative ways to build rapport, whether through email, video meetings, or cold calling.

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When you aren’t able to meet face to face, building a genuine relationship with a customer inevitably becomes more challenging – but that’s not to say it’s impossible. Here’s how to do it:

1. Gain a competitive advantage

Whether you’re back in the office or working remotely, the need for adequate preparation before every cold call or meeting is just as important.

In fact, it’s arguably more important when you’re remote, because the absence of in-person contact puts up a barrier between you and your prospect.

We’re not just talking about researching the prospect’s career and their company. You should be doing that anyway – it’s the only way to accurately assess whether or not they meet your ideal customer profile.

Beyond this, you should be looking out for anything that helps you form a personal connection with your prospect because personal connections are vital to building rapport. They help you start conversations and break down barriers that can so often exist on cold calls and video meetings.

So what sort of things you should be looking for? Dig into their socials and ask yourself:

  • Did we go to the same school?
  • Do we share a hometown or state?
  • Do we support the same sports team?
  • Do we love the same film or TV show?
  • Do we have any mutual connections?
  • Do we have similar hobbies?
  • Have we been to the same place on vacation?

One word of caution: there’s a fine line between “rapport-building” and “stalking.” Don’t creep them out by referencing a business trip they took eight years ago, or telling them they have beautiful children.

2. Phone calls are still effective

For better or worse, we’ve all had to get used to spending a lot of time on Zoom over the past couple months.

But during the age of video conferencing, it’s important to remember that a simple phone call can still be extremely effective. Picking up the phone to check in with your prospect can help you build a closer, stronger relationship at a time when you may be unable to meet face to face.

Be sure to intersperse your calls with rapport-building questions. Asking targeted questions helps you engage the person on the other end of the line, transforming a one-way sales call into a two-way conversation.

Don’t just ask any old question that springs to mind. Effective rapport-building questions are highly personalized, which means you’re not just asking something that anyone could answer (like “how was your weekend?” or “what’s the weather like where you are?”). Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Since you live in [city/state], do you go to [local attraction] all the time?
  • I saw you’re a fan of [podcast or show]. Have you ever listened to [related podcast or show]?
  • I see you used to work in [other industry]. What prompted you to make the switch?

3. Presentation in video calls is important

In a face-to-face meeting, you can win a prospect over with a joke or throwaway comment, but those same things don’t always translate to a videoconference – especially if you and your prospect don’t know each other particularly well. Expect a lot more scrutiny on the words you’re saying and the way you present them.

Always try to sound confident and knowledgeable – it’ll reassure people that you know what you’re talking about – but also warm and friendly. Don’t be afraid to show some personality – after all, people buy from people. And try to be as succinct as possible, avoiding lengthy sentences, overly verbose phrasing and meaningless statements. No one wants to hear that your product is “the number one choice for [X],” unless you can back it up.

Focus on presenting the facts. If your product is strong enough and genuinely meets the organization’s needs, and you’re able to get those points across clearly and in a logical, compelling way, you shouldn’t have to railroad your prospect into a sale. Chances are that’ll lead to a negative experience for the prospect and a black mark against your name (and your company’s name, too).

Another key point: make sure your sales deck genuinely helps you build an engaging narrative without requiring you to be in the room with your prospect. Don’t just reel off a list of USPs – put them at the center of the narrative, referencing specific, real-world challenges that they’re facing, before positioning your product as the solution.

4. Reach out on social media

Sure, remote working can make it harder to build rapport. But we have a bunch of tools at our disposal to redress the balance.

Social media is a huge help. People are happy to connect and converse via social platforms, provided you have something interesting to say (and aren’t just trying to bludgeon them over the head with a sales pitch).

LinkedIn is perhaps the best example. It’s a fantastic platform for talking shop. When a prospect shares an article or writes a post, don’t be afraid to get involved in the resulting conversation. Worst-case scenario, it’ll put you on their radar and demonstrate that you know your stuff. Best-case scenario, it might allow you to naturally reference your product and spark interest – not just from your prospect, but from other participants in the conversation, too.

Once you’ve struck up a conversation or interacted in some way with a prospect on LinkedIn, be sure to follow up with a personalized connection request. Over 98% of salespeople who have more than 5,000 connections on LinkedIn meet or exceed their sales quota, which demonstrates the value of building a substantial network. Refer to them by name and lead with something that’s unique and specific to them, like:

  • I noticed you went to Williams College – I graduated from there myself six years ago!
  • I noticed that Marie Reynolds, the CEO of ABC Supply Company, is a mutual connection. We collaborated on a project and she spoke very highly of you.
  • I see you’re the new IT Director at Computers, Inc. – congratulations on the new role!

5. Developing rapport through email

Of course, you can’t be speaking directly to your prospects 24/7. Email will help you to continue building the rapport you started to develop via social and on the phone – but only if you do it right.

We’ve all been tempted to send “just following up…” emails, but they should be a rarity, not your go-to message. When it comes to building rapport, the emails you send need to offer something of genuine value. That could be:

  • A case study that helps the prospect build a business case for your product
  • A blog, infographic, or ebook that speaks to one of their pain points
  • A podcast featuring a thought leader in their field
  • A free online tool they can use to save time or money
  • An invitation to speak with an expert within your organization about a problem your prospect is facing

Again, personalization is vital for building rapport via email. Generic copypasta won’t move the relationship forward; it might even damage it.

And if you do need to chase them up on something – which will naturally happen from time to time – do it in a reasonable way. Don’t be annoying. Remind your prospect exactly what you need from them, and make it easy for them to deliver (for example, if you’re following up on times and dates for a potential remote meeting, be sure to include a Calendly link).

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When you’re speaking with a friend, you (probably) wouldn’t spend all your time asking them to do you a favor.

You’ll ask them how they are. Chat about something you’re both interested in. Share something you know they’ll like.

It should be no different when building a relationship with prospects. Don’t expect to see results if you treat the whole process as a race to book them in for a pitch meeting or product demo.

Personalize your messaging. Demonstrate your expertise. Add real value at every touchpoint. That way, you’re not being “just another salesperson” – you’re being a trusted advisor with the skills and expertise to make your prospect’s life easier.

Originally published Jun 21, 2020, updated Jun 24, 2021

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