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 her office, not her living room. Why should she wish to talk about her personal life?
Perhaps she’ll be polite and answer your question with a smile, but she might be thinking “Typical sales tactic,” or, worse yet, she might even find it creepy!
When you connect with somebody on LinkedIn, do you ask her about her kids on the beach? Maybe you would do this on Facebook, but you certainly wouldn’t do it on LinkedIn. Maybe you would ask her such a question if you were in her living room, but not in her 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-face meeting.
Just because the customer has a family beach photo on her desk doesn’t make it the best foundation on which to build rapport. In fact, it could be dangerous. She might be thinking, “Because of my demanding career, the kids live with their father, and I only see them on weekends.”
Sure, that’s an extreme example, but other things could come to the prospect’s mind when she 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.
His office was 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 than Jimi Hendrix!
Everywhere. 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, and we had even 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 upon herself to bring up something personal, follow her there. The key word is follow. 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 to get all Facebook on the prospect, then by all means, follow their tacit or open invitation.
Otherwise, keep your rapport-building in a LinkedIn kind of space.
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I help sales teams and solopreneurs improve their performance with tools like the S.C.O.R.E© Selling Method.
Let’s talk about love and sales. Contact me here and let’s set up a call.
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Photo by Jason Howie.