Let Me Tell You a Story
I could start this with ‘Once upon a time’, but then my story would be fiction. What I’m sharing with you is true. Not too long ago I attended a large Home Show held in our area. There were a few hundred vendors and as I strolled by their booths, many tried to get me to listen to their spiels. One in particular was of interest and I listened to his pitch. He seemed knowledgeable and personable and I was sufficiently impressed to have him come to my home to learn more about his product.
Lucky guy, you think. He’s off to a good start. And he was—until he stepped through our front door. Within the first few seconds he commented on our beautiful house, the furnishings, the family photos, what fine people we are, etc. You get the picture. He was grasping at anything to make a connection with us. And it fell flat. Our guard was up and we immediately processed everything he said through our ‘phony filter’.
Have you heard the television commercial that says, “You can’t fake steak.” There are a lot of things you can’t fake—and genuine rapport is one of them. The only way to create rapport is through mutual respect that, in turn, develops into a relationship based on understanding and empathy. Anything less is a dishonest attempt at making a connection.
Prospects can spot a phony in a similar way that four-legged animals do; the sniff test. While the latter use their olfactory senses to determine whom to trust and like, we humans have our own initial test. We’re on our guard. And we don’t drop that guard unless and until we find reasons to do so. With initial social and business interactions, we try to find conversation that has a mutual basis of interests. When a connection is real, we know it.
Break the Rule
You were probably trained to believe that establishing rapport is the first thing you do with new customers. Rapport is essential. But if it isn’t sincere, it’s fake—and they know it. It’s a plea for the prospect to accept you. If you want to create a real environment of mutual trust and respect, break the rule. Stop giving disingenuous compliments. They don’t represent who you really are, nor why you’re calling.
The four-steps sales process that many training manuals offer begin with rapport. Once that’s established, the focus is on the customer’s needs. It’s followed by your presentation and the sale is closed with you overcoming any objections on the prospect’s part. It seems logical, doesn’t it? But it falls short. It doesn’t address the prospect’s first needs; finding a reason to talk with you and allowing a relationship to be formed.
How do you do that? Break the rule. Begin a discussion in which you and your prospect function as equals. You’re not asking for validation here; you’re beginning on a completely different paradigm that encompasses: your prospect’s comfort; your credibility; mutual trust; and operating with you both as equal peers.
What does this mean? To begin with, it means being authentic; being honest. It means being true to yourself and to your customer. You must be charmingly honest—to the point that what you say may, at first observation, be seen as detrimental to your own interests.
For example: You place a call to a prospect. Typically, you would have given him/her the standard recital of why s/he should do business with you, listing such reasons as your company’s reputation, competitive pricing, service, quality, etc. The prospect’s heard it all before. Every sales pitch is the same; yada, yada, yada. You haven’t given your prospect a reason to listen to you, much less to trust you.
How can you change this reaction? Instead of your previous recitation of why the prospect should do business with you, try a different approach. In an initial prospecting call for instance:
Prospect: I work with competitor A. Tell me about your company and why I should work with you.
You: I’m glad that you asked me that question. I could tell you that we have very loyal customers. They like our variety of products and value the service we provide after sales are completed. Based upon what you may be looking for and what you’re getting, maybe you should stay where you are; I just don’t know. May I make a suggestion? Let’s back-up a bit. Let me find out what you’re looking for and give you the opportunity to ask me some questions. Then together, we can discover whether working with my company will be of real value to you. And maybe the answer will be ‘no’. But that’s all right, because we may not be right for your needs.
If it turns out that the answer is ‘yes’, then the last few minutes of this call can be spent thinking together about how we can best begin our business relationship. Is all that okay with you?
Let’s Get Real
Switch places here. If you were the prospect, which call would you be more receptive to: the four-step approach with a gratuitous attempt at rapport, or the one that has both of you discussing prospective business as equals?
Giving your prospect a feeling of authenticity and control is a much better way to build rapport. Create an approach using your own words, not mine. Calling your prospects by being the genuine you will do three things. It:
1. Lowers the prospect’s defense wall
2. Increases your own credibility
3. Starts a meaningful conversation
Are you ready to get real?
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