Building Rapport With A Prospect? Beware Of The Pitfalls

Building rapport is often a good way to start a first face-to-face meeting with a prospective customer.

However, there are pitfalls. As a mindset, one should draw parallels with social media: Think LinkedIn, not Facebook.

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Conventional sales wisdom says that when calling on a sales prospect for the first time, you should build rapport by opening the conversation with something personal.

The conventional way to do this is to scan the individual’s office for a personal photo or memento, and ask a question about it.

I find this potentially dangerous.

Essentially, the prospect has invited you into his (the male pronoun will be used for simplicity)office, not his living room. Why should he wish to talk about his personal life?

Perhaps he will be polite and answer your question with a smile, but he might be thinking "Typical sales tactic,"or, worse yet, he might even find itcreepy!

To draw a parallel to social media, the customer has invited you into his LinkedIn space, not his Facebook space.

When you connect with somebody on LinkedIn, do you ask him about his kids being on the beach? Maybe you would do this on Facebook, but you certainly wouldn’t do it on LinkedIn. Maybe you would ask such a question if you were in his living room, but not in his office.

If you already know the prospect and that’s been a conversation point, fine. But we’re talking about building rapport in a first face-to-facemeeting.

Just because the customer has a family beach photo on his desk doesn’t make it the best foundation on which to build rapport. In fact, it could be dangerous. He might be thinking, "Because of my demanding career, the kids live with their mother, and I only see them on weekends."

Sure, that’s an extreme example, but other things could come to the prospect’s mind when he looks at the photo. Why should you go there?

So talk business!

Perhaps the day before the meeting, the company announced robust earnings.

Or perhaps their Asian business is flying high, while their North American business is stalling.

Why not mention that? "Interesting news last week about your successes in Asia. Is consumer demand the sole driver? You’re obviously executing well there. What’s behind it?

There are exceptions to every rule.

I once called on the President of a beverage distributor near my home region of Woodstock, NY. We made our way through the warehouse and into his somewhat disorganized and very crowded office.

It crowded, alright with rock ‘n roll memorabilia. From a first-print, British-edition album cover of The Beatles to a guitar pick from none other thanJimi Hendrix! Rock ‘n roll stuff everywhere!

I didn’t tactically make reference to the memorabilia, my jaw dropped!

And since I know more than a little bit about rock ‘n roll from the 60’s and 70’s, we spent the first 15 minutes in a robust conversation about The Johnny Winter Band. It turned out we had been to a few of the same concerts way back when.

That, however, is not the same as tactically perusing the office and picking out one memento to base your rapport-building on.

Now, if the prospect takes it uponhimself to bring up something personal, follow him there. The key word isfollow. A question here, and maybe your own, similar personal anecdote. Otherwise, talk business.

You’re a professional.

So keep the initial small-talk professional, unless there’s a reason.

If there is something compelling you toget all Facebook on the prospect, then by all means, follow their tacit or open invitation.

Otherwise, keep your rapport-building focused on business. Keep it in aLinkedIn kind of space.

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Jack Vincent is a Contributing Editor to LiDAR News in the area of Sales Effectiveness. He is a sales advisor and trainer who divides his time between Woodstock, NY and Luzern, Switzerland. In February, he will publish his second book, A Sale Is A Love Affair Seduce, Engage & Win Customers Hearts Forever.

Subscribers to Jacks blog will receive advanced notice of the book and a special launch price. Check him out at

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