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"Rapport is a Must to Build Trust (and close the sale) "


It’s a fact. People like to do business with people they like and trust.

People tend to like people who are similar to themselves, and people are more likely to trust people they like.

That’s why it’s critical to connect with your prospect and build rapport if you want to close the sale.

Some salespeople will try to bond over things like shared hobbies, they went to the same college or they both have kids. These connections can be superficial, and what do you do if you have none of these in common with your prospect?

It’s all about communication

At the core of the buyer–seller relationship, the buyer wants to be heard and understood.

Think about when you’re dealing with a salesperson. You tell them what you’re looking for and they launch into a canned presentation that has little, if anything, to do with what you told them.

How does that make you feel?

Building rapport is all about making your prospect feel comfortable with you, and the way you do that is effective communication in the way they like to communicate.

It’s about making them feel OK, even if it’s not your most comfortable style. You want them to feel confident and happy instead of insecure or anxious during your conversation.

Be an active participant

This may seem obvious, but how many times have you gone into a sales meeting with everything you are going to say already planned out?

Being an active participant means truly listening to your prospect so you can build rapport and trust so they will feel comfortable and receptive to what you have to say.

The other benefit to active participation is that by listening to your prospect, you better understand what they want.

There are several concepts that can make you an active participant, including:

  • Understanding the relationship between three elements of communication
  • The art of active listening
  • Recognizing primary sensory dominance
  • Understanding Transactional Analysis (TA)
  • Recognizing and reaching the different behavioral styles
  • Awareness of the OK/Not-OK theory
  • Avoidance of buzzwords

The three elements of communication

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

Whenever two, or more, people are close enough to each other to see or hear each other, there are a lot of messages being communicated.

Whether they are sent intentionally or unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously, verbally or non-verbally—these messages will be communicated.

While words are important, they are only a small part of the messages being communicated in every conversation.

The tone of voice you use plays a big role in how the words you use are interpreted.

There are several components that make up the tone you use. These include:

  • Tempo
  • Pitch
  • Inflection
  • Resonance
  • Volume

Think about what happens to the tone of your voice when you’re excited—the tempo gets a bit faster; the pitch gets higher; the volume might even get a bit louder. When you’re sad, the tempo slows, the pitch lowers and the volume gets quieter.

The tone of your voice can change the meaning of the words you use, so be aware of how you’re speaking.

One of the reasons text messages and emails can be misunderstood so easily is because we have become so dependent on tone of voice to help us translate the meaning behind the words.

Body language and non-verbal cues make up over 50% of the message that is received. These include:

  • Facial expressions
  • Gestures
  • Body movement
  • Posture
  • Eye contact

In fact, body language can convey a lot without even saying a word. A smile, a wink or playful nod can deliver a positive message, whereas folded arms, a furrowed brow, clenched fists or slouching posture can send a much different message.

When speaking with your prospects, stay focused and be sure your tone and body language are sending the message you want to send.

Also be aware of the tone and body language your prospect is exhibiting to help determine if they are actually receiving the message you’re sending.

Active Listening

You must listen to your prospect in order to be able to respond with the right information.

This seems obvious, but how often do we find ourselves more focused on what we’re going to say next instead of concentrating completely on what they are saying?

This will often lead to the prospect feeling like they aren’t being heard or understood, which can destroy any chance of building rapport.

There are two active listening techniques that will help force you to listen closely to what your prospect is saying:

  • Restatement
  • Paraphrasing

Restatement involves repeating the message you heard using the speaker’s words.

For example, you get a call from your spouse on the drive home from work. They say, “You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had. The phone never stopped ringing, my computer kept crashing and my boss insisted I deliver a revised proposal to him by the end of the day. I never even got to eat lunch. I just want to relax on the couch and watch some TV. Can you pick up something for dinner?”

You could restate your spouse’s message with something like, “So you didn’t even get to have lunch? It sounds like you’ve had a terrible day with your phone ringing, your computer crashing and still needing to finish your proposal. How about I bring home a pizza and we can eat it and watch some TV on the couch tonight?”

Starting with phrases like “It sounds like…” or “I hear you saying…” and finishing with “…is that right?” followed by a pause in speech and body language invites the speaker to confirm or correct your understanding of what they have said.

You can also use paraphrasing to reflect the speaker’s message.

You might respond to your spouse for the previous example by saying, “It sounds like you had a horrible day, and you just want to relax tonight. How about I bring home a pizza, so we can relax and watch some TV?”

With paraphrasing, you don’t need to repeat back every word. Simply listen carefully and reflect only the most important elements of what they say.

As with restatement, follow your paraphrasing with a significant pause to prompt the speaker to verify that the message you heard was what they intended to send.

When actively listening, remember the importance of body language. Sometimes eye contact, a smile or a simple nod of the head can go a long way to reassuring the speaker that you are listening and understanding what they’re saying.

Transactional Analysis (TA)

People make buying decisions based on emotion, then those decisions are justified intellectually.

In the late 50s, psychiatrist Eric Berne developed the theory of Transactional Analysis.

The TA theory basically defines three ego states that are described as internal “tapes” that are recorded when we are very young:

  • Parent – judgmental
  • Adult – logic
  • Child – emotion

We revert to one of these ego states when relating to other people and can change ego states fluidly in reaction to changing circumstances in the conversation.

Before discussing how TA theory relates to the buyer-seller relationship, let’s look a little deeper into the three ego states.

The Parent Ego State

The parent contains the unedited recordings of what you saw your mother, father and other authority figures do, and what you heard them say during the first five years of your life.

The parent ego can be divided into two types.

The ‘Nurturing’ parent consists of nurturing, warm, comforting, supportive and loving messages; the ‘Critical’ parent embodies critical, judgmental and prejudicial messages.

The Child Ego State

The Child ego state is the emotional element of your make-up. It’s the permanent recordings of your emotional responses to experiences that occurred during your first five years of life.

These are your responses to what your parents and other authority figures said and did. While the Parent recordings were about what to do, what to say and how to act, the Child recordings were all about how you felt.

For the rest of your life, whenever you find yourself in situations like the ones you experienced as a child—feeling unfairly accused, dependent or clumsy—your old Child recordings are ready to play.

Your Child tapes include your instincts, intuition, curiosity, desires and biological urges. Your Child also contains the dualities of joy/sadness, anger/pleasure and rage/calmness.

The Adult Ego State

Your Adult recordings started when you were about 10 months old. This is about the time you were crawling, climbing and eventually walking and exploring. You were also beginning to separate yourself from your mother and take in and process information to build an understanding of your own.

The Adult recordings are based on logical evaluations of ideas. Unlike the Parent and Child tapes that stopped recording after about five years, the Adult continues to revise and make new recordings throughout your whole life.

The Adult state is logical, rational and analytical—acting as the referee between the demands of the Parent and the desires of the Child.

It uses the data supplied by the Parent and the Child, along with data it collects to solve problems, evaluate probabilities and make decisions.

The Adult also evaluates the data in the Adult recordings to determine whether it still applies today and if it should be accepted or rejected. It also reviews your Child recordings to determine if they are still appropriate and helpful

It doesn’t replace or alter the Parent and Child recordings; however, it does give you the choice not to replay the tapes that no longer serve you well.

Buying starts with the Child

Many of our decisions, including buying decisions, begin with the emotional Child state. It’s that little five-year-old child in us who says, “I want this” and “I want to do that.” In some cases, it might say, “I don’t want this” and “I don’t want to do that.”

Until the Child wants the product or service, the Parent isn’t going to judge whether the purchase is appropriate or not, and the Adult isn’t going to weigh the pros and cons of the purchase or evaluate the pluses and minuses of a particular vendor.

Psychologists suggest that people take action (including buying) to have something, to know something, to be able to do something or to be known for something. These desires can be initiated by greed, envy, curiosity, desire, fear or any other emotion. These all reside within the Child.

Eventually, the Parent and Adult become involved

After the Child wants the product or service, the Parent will eventually step in to justify, or deny, the Child’s desires—“do you really need this?”; “are you sure you aren’t being impulsive?” The Adult will ask, “can you afford this?”; Are there better alternatives?”

Leave your Child in the car

On any sales call, you should stay in your nurturing Parent state when the prospect is in their Child state and when they move into their Parent state. When they enter their Adult state, you should move into your Adult state.

There is never any circumstance to show your Child state in a sales call.

You’re there to close a sale, not get your inner needs met.

Primary Sensory Dominance (PSD)

While we all use our sense of sight, sound and touch to experience the world, we each have a natural preference for one of these over the others.

Characteristics of Visual people:

  • These are “show me” people
  • They process their environment through images and pictures
  • They tend to think fast, move fast and speak fast
  • They are very animated and gesture while talking
  • They don’t like to be interrupted
  • They use visual terms like, “I see what you mean,” “this looks good” and “show me what this will look like”

Characteristics of Auditory people:

  • These are “tell me” people
  • They think in words, sounds and dialogues
  • They represent ideas in their minds as conversations
  • They speak in even tones and with a steady rhythm
  • They are more comfortable with people who speak at the same rate they do
  • They are easily bored by monotonous speech
  • They use auditory terms in conversation like, “that doesn’t sound right” and “I hear what you’re saying”

Characteristics of Kinesthetic people:

  • They are influenced by how they feel about their reality
  • They make judgements by inner feelings of comfort or discomfort and experiences of touch
  • They breathe deeply and slowly
  • They have low-pitched voices and speak at a slow pace to be sure they convey the right feeling
  • They use “feel” in conversation like, “I feel we can accomplish this” and “I don’t feel like we have the budget for this”

Recognizing your prospects preferred sensory mode and communicating in that mode will help increase the bonding between you.

DISC Behavior Model

Another way to improve communication to build rapport is to understand the behavior type of your prospects as measured in the DISC model.

The DISC model measures and divides people by how they prefer to do things. Are they more task-oriented or people-oriented and are they more introverted or extroverted?
DISC is an acronym formed by the four styles: Dominant, Influencer, Steady Relator and Compliant.

Make sure your prospect stays OK

In the late 60s, Dr. Thomas Harris published a book called I’m OK–You’re OK.

In it he proposed that each person draws one of four conclusions about their position in life in relation to other people.

The four life positions in our relationships with others are:

  • I’m Not-OK, you’re OK
  • I’m OK, you’re Not-OK
  • I’m Not-OK, you’re Not-OK
  • I’m OK, you’re OK

The scene in the Peanuts cartoon strip where Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick, but yanks it out of the way right before he kicks it is a perfect example of the first two. In this situation, Lucy is OK and Charlie is Not-OK.

Someone who can always find a reason to complain about something or someone, and who is never satisfied with their accomplishments or those of others would often fit the I’m Not-OK, you’re Not-OK position.

People who feel good about themselves and others, and who can recognize and celebrate other’s accomplishments as they do their own would fit the I’m OK, you’re OK position.

Feelings associated with OK-ness

  • Adequate
  • Comfortable
  • Happy
  • Content
  • Confident
  • Self-assured
  • Powerful
  • Accomplished
  • Joyful
  • Capable
  • Relaxed

Feelings associated with Not-OK-ness

  • Inadequate
  • Insecure
  • Vulnerable
  • Unhappy
  • Dissatisfied
  • Fear
  • Dejected
  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Powerless
  • Pressured

During your interactions with your prospect, it’s your responsibility to avoid making them feel Not-OK. Making them feel Not-OK will quickly evaporate any rapport you have built to that point and destroy any possibility of closing the sale.

Make sure you keep your prospect feeling OK, even if it means you must be Not-OK for a little bit.

If the prospect attacks your character and product, resist the urge to counterattack. It may not always be easy, but it will pay off nicely in the number of sales you will be able to close.

Speak in language they understand

Companies and industries are notorious for throwing around a lot of buzzwords and TLAs (three-letter acronyms).

While these terms may be a handy shorthand in internal conversations, there’s a very high probability that your prospect isn’t familiar with them, or, possibly worse, they mistakenly think the know the definition.

Very few things make a person feel Not-OK faster than when they don’t understand what someone is telling them.

Build rapport to sell more

If you can eliminate buzzwords from your vocabulary, your business discussions with your prospects will be more productive.

Instead of focusing on bonding with your prospect over superficial topics to build rapport and trust, start concentrating on how they communicate and mirroring the styles they prefer.

This will lead to deeper connections and make your prospect more comfortable with you.

Remember, people tend to like people who are similar to themselves, and people are more likely to trust people they like.

Most importantly, people like to do business with people they like and trust.

I work with sales professionals every day, helping them learn and implement an effective, efficient selling system that delivers career-changing and life-changing results when followed every time.

If you’d like to find out more about building rapport and how it fits into this selling system, send me an email at

There’s a popular Chinese proverb that states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Here’s to your success!

P.S. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments below. Feel free to include your experiences—good or bad—with your efforts at building rapport in the comments as well.

Frank Gustafson

Frank Gustafson