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How to Build Rapport With Customers (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Sales Engagement

In the digital era, customer rapport rules the day. People expect more communication and personal connection than ever before. 

That being said, building rapport with clients in the digital era is also more complex than ever before. People are finding your company through a variety of methods and platforms, and yet they expect extreme personalization.

It’s hard, but hard doesn’t mean impossible. 

I’m going to show you — step-by-step — how to build rapport with customers at each stage of the customer lifecycle.

How to Build Rapport in the Digital Era

Thanks to increased transparency with information and knowledge sharing, customers will typically come to you more educated about your area of expertise than those in the past. 

This can lead to a mixed bag, but the upside of such a situation is that you can immediately move to a higher-quality, more intricate level of conversation with the customer.

This also means that being upfront and honest with your customer is extremely important. Deception is much easier to sniff out when your prospect has so much information. That’s the quickest way to lose any rapport you might have had — so don’t do it.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to start from the beginning with every client. You have to play this by ear, but in many cases, by the time they’ve contacted you, they’re convinced and ready to buy.

This may mean the normal communication and sales cycle goes out the window.

However, we’re going to look at how you build rapport throughout a more normal process. Just remember, you may actually start further down the sales cycle.

RELATED: 10 Tips to Build Rapport Internally to Navigate Complex Deals

First call

Some customers will find you through word-of-mouth, while others discover your service via online search. 

Regardless of how they reach you, you should need a solid first touchpoint that brings them from the virtual world into your sales funnel. 

That means setting up a preliminary call between them and a member of your business development team to gather the basics. 

Have someone on your team call them within the first 48–72 hours of first contact to get a better picture of what they need from you. 

Arm your team member(s) with a list of 8–10 questions to learn more about what the client needs and what they’re looking for. 

These questions may include:

  • Budget 
  • Resources
  • Future needs
  • Location
  • Preferences 
  • Dependencies
  • And more

This doesn’t have to be a long, intense conversation. The key here is to make contact and get a clear picture of what they need, so you can begin to put together a solution.

Second call

After that first call, let the customer know they will hear from an agent in the coming days

The agent will begin that call with the notes taken from the first call, and with a list of suggested solutions to directly appeal to the customer. 

This level of curated consideration is what today’s consumers are looking for. 

Don’t make the customer repeat what they need.

Everyone has been burnt out on automated, robotic conversations that are so prevalent with online technology. You can separate yourself by committing to personalization and by building rapport. 

Show the customer that you’ve done your research between the two calls, and lead them to the next stage, where they can begin to see the fruits of your labor pay off.

Leading them through the process this way is smart for both you and the customer. 

For the customer, they are heard not once but twice before you ever meet in person, and they have hopefully developed a sense of trust through that process. 

The hope is that they gain some appreciation for the way your team has dedicated themselves to their cause. If this becomes tedious and labor-intensive for them, read the room and adjust accordingly.

For the company, this gives you the chance to vet leads — before the first meeting. Things to identify are:

  • High or low intent
  • Level of interest
  • Desire to move quickly, slowly, or not any time soon. 

This call is all about managing and maintaining expectations of what’s to come for everyone.

First in-person interaction

This is probably the most important interaction you’ll have. It’s the first test of whether your sales team has the solutions the customer needs. 

You’ll arrive at this meeting with several suggestions. Make sure they’re more beneficial than your competitors’. 

You need to be able to demonstrate, to the last detail, that your proposals solve the problems the customer described. 

It’s always better to come with multiple ideas because it allows them to compare and contrast their paths forward. This can help them narrow down, and define, what they want. 

Only giving one option might seem to convey confidence, but if they don’t go for it, and you don’t have a backup plan, you will be left looking unprepared. 

RELATED: 9 Shrewd Negotiation Tips Proven to Close More Deals

Throughout this meeting — however long it lasts — make sure you stay true to the task at hand while following their lead. 

If they want small talk, go for it. 

If they wish to keep things close to the chest, that’s fine, too. 

Rapport isn’t about following a prescribed path. It’s about understanding and accepting what the customer most wants. 

It’s your job to give the client what they need, as best as you can. 

In this digital era, when everyone is ranking and rating everyone else after the sale, you’ll want people to be satisfied with what you showed them — even if it didn’t necessarily lead to a sale. 

Your reputation and trust are more valuable than getting the immediate sale. If you play the long game and make establishing rapport the priority, you’ll wind up in the right spot. 

Follow-up interaction

After your first meeting, your follow-up will depend on how the customer responds. If they wind up signing on, that’s great. If not, you’ll want to keep in touch with them, and maybe bring them more ideas and solutions to consider.

It’s not a disappointment if you don’t get the sale right away, but you do want to be mindful of what the next steps will need to be to keep them interested.

Depending on your product or service, there could be a months-long sales cycle, and you may need to reiterate and reassure them that this can be normal. 

Think of yourself as their partner in negotiating. You’re their friend trying to help them get more benefit out of the deal, not just some guy trying to make a sale.

If you do that, you’ll earn their trust. You’ll also emerge from the time you’ve spent together with more knowledge and a clearer outlook on how to move forward. 

Lean on your instincts and the rapport you’ve built so far to keep the conversation going. You’re the cool head in the room to ensure everyone stays cool, calm, and collected. 

If you need to set up another in-person meeting, that’s fine and fair. However, make sure to send them an agenda for the meeting, so that there are no surprises, and so they don’t feel they’re just repeating the first one.

You don’t want meetings for the sake of meetings.

Future interactions

Assuming that you do find and offer the right solution for your prospect, you’ll want to check in at some point in the next few weeks or quarter to find out how it’s been performing for them. 

This is not coming from a lack of confidence, and it’s important you don’t make it seem that way.

Rather, this is a chance to keep the positive interactions and experience going. They’re bound to have some feedback once they’ve actually used your product or service. 

Continue to be available to them. 

Make sure they know your customer service channels are open and encouraged. This will go a long way towards increasing the odds of repeat customers. 

Lastly, these efforts to continue the relationship shows that you weren’t all talk when luring them toward a sale. 

They will be impressed with your team, and they’ll be more likely to recommend you to others they know seeking similar services. 

Play The Long Game

If you play the long game, you’ll impress. 

If you continue to operate as if it’s 1994 — or even 2004 — you’ll be left behind for a competitor that has better evolved to communicate with your customer base.

During both the recruitment period and when focusing on retention, be sure to come across as caring humans, not programmed bots. 

The rapport you can offer is immeasurable compared to templates or bots. Real relationships are what people are looking for these days. So give them what they need.

SquareFoot Founder and CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum has worked for over a decade in commercial real estate. SquareFoot is a new kind of commercial real estate company that helps companies win at finding their next (and next) office, providing transparent access to inventory, brokerage services, and a flexible space offering. SquareFoot brings together technological innovation and human expertise to solve clients’ needs.