building rapport intermediate

Marketers and salespeople alike are both concerned with building rapport with leads. From a marketer's standpoint, it's all about creating lovable marketing . You know, engaging copy, beautiful designs, helpful emails, witty and useful social media updates -- that sort of thing. But the goal of lovable marketing isn't just to generate new leads -- it's also to tee up your sales team with leads that are in a good mood, excited about your business, and ready to talk to someone and take the next step toward becoming a customer.

But that's where we often leave you; we tell you to hand off the lead to sales, and congratulations, you did your job! But the best marketing and sales organizations don't operate like that -- marketers should help their sales team see things through 'til the close is won, and ensure all the rapport they've helped build stays strong during that handoff. That's why we thought it was important to write a post about building rapport with leads ... once they get into Sales' hands. Because whether you're in Marketing or Sales, rapport-building is a critical skill that we should all work on improving. I mean, when is it not handy to be good at relationship-building?

So I sat down with some of HubSpot's internal sales rock stars, and asked them for their advice -- how do they build rapport with leads, and what can the rest of us do to be better at it? Here's what they had to say.

Match Their Way of Speaking

People generally buy from people they like and trust. And who do people generally like and trust? People that are kind of similar to them. I know, I know, we're an egomaniacal species, but it's true. Problem is, when you're on the phone with a lead, you don't have as many ways to show someone that you're generally a good person ... you just have your voice. That's why it's critical you put them at ease by adjusting the tone and pace of your speech to match one more similar to theirs.

Now, that doesn't mean you throw on a Southern drawl when your lead has one, too. What it means is if you're speaking to someone who talks extremely fast-paced, you adjust your pace to be a little more "alert," even if naturally you speak pretty slow. Or if you're speaking with someone who sounds pretty laid back and is cracking jokes, you play along -- slow your roll, and be willing to shoot the breeze for a while. Changing your tone and pacing doesn't mean that you're not being genuine; it means you're good at making other people feel comfortable, something any marketing or sales professional should be proud of.

Use Social Media to Find Common Points of Interest

Social media hasn't just changed the way marketers do their jobs; it's opened things up for sales professionals, too. Before you hop on the phone or attend a meeting with a lead, do your research. You should be looking for their public social profiles, and seeing what you can learn about them from those. As Paul Rios, one of HubSpot's international sales reps says, "Chances are you can find something in common with 99% of humans who breathe oxygen and live on Earth when you look up their social profiles." If you're using HubSpot software,   it's really easy to find this kind of information -- just pop open their Contact record ,   and see a history of how they've interacted with your brand on social media.


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Now, this doesn't mean you'll use every piece of intelligence you gather to build rapport. There's a line between doing your homework, and being unnatural ... or just plain creepy. Danielle Herzberg, a HubSpot channel sales manager, recommends alleviating this by engaging the information from a social profile once she's already made a phone connect with someone. "It's less to find out whether they like cats versus dogs, and more to figure out what they care about as a business, what they're promoting, and then following up to say I read that link to the blog post they shared on, say, Twitter."

Depending on the cues you read from them in your initial phone connect, you can then assess whether it's appropriate to get more personal -- noting that you went to college in the city they're located in, or maybe that you have common connections. In fact, you can even occasionally call yourself out for being "creepy," saying that you were looking at their Twitter account or LinkedIn profile, and noticed an interesting factoid. But if you're feeling uneasy about this level of personal information, you can always default to using content that leads share socially to start a conversation about something you both have in common, and both care about immensely.

Show You Understand Their Pain Points

Speaking about caring immensely, Gary Vaynerchuk, HubSpot adviser and speaker at last year's INBOUND conference , gave a keynote address in which he called upon all of us to "care immensely, or die." This couldn't be more true in the rapport-building process. No matter how much you bond about the weather, their kids, your shared alma mater, how much you care will ultimately come down to your ability to show you understand their pain points, and want to help.

To extend and strengthen the initial rapport you've already built, transition to a conversation that demonstrates you're committed to understanding their pain points, and helping them find a solution. You may think this is just valuable to advance the conversation toward the close, but it's more than that -- it advances it toward the close, because you're engendering even more trust in the lead by investing time into truly understanding their problem, and enabling yourself to actually help them.

Dan Slagen, head of global marketing relations at HubSpot, had this to say about the subject: "Every partnership we've successfully forged at HubSpot was because we were addressing a fundamental need of a partner, at the time they needed it. It doesn't matter if I flatter them, offer the world, or anything in between; if the timing isn't right, and I'm not providing a solution that really helps them meet their goals, all the warm and fuzzy feelings mean nothing." This kind of rapport-building is critical, too, in case you don't win a lead's business the first time around. If you showed you understood their pain points, when the timing is right, you can bet you'll be the first one they call next time around.

Ask Leads to Confirm Your Rapport-Building Is Working

If you're working with leads on the phone, it can be hard to tell if your rapport-building is working. If that's the case, sometimes you can use cues that validate you're on the same page. For instance, you can blatantly say, "I can't see you guys around that conference table, but are you nodding your heads, or are you checking your email?" Searching for this little bit of validation can help break any perceived awkward tension, and get a lead to agree that either you're on the right track and everything's gravy, or you lost them somewhere, and there's a reason why.

Be sure to use this tactic in moderation, though. Herzberg likened overusing this tactic to a girl asking if she's pretty every ten minutes -- you need to own some level of confidence that you're reading their cues accurately. For example, after you've done this once or twice, it's wise to say something like, "I'm going to assume silence is a good thing, and that you'll interrupt me if I'm saying something you're not on board with." This shows that you have a strong enough rapport that you want the dialogue to be open and honest.

Don't Be Afraid to Call Leads Out

Sometimes, your attempts to build rapport can go sour. If you start off on (or veer onto) a bad foot with someone for some reason -- hey, we all have bad days -- don't be afraid to call out the elephant in the room. "I like to articulate that I sense their tone has changed," Herzberg advises, "and ask if I said something that offended them." You might say, "Until I brought up X, I felt like you were really into our conversation, and now it feels a little closed off." Throwing yourself under the bus is a great way for the lead to step in and save you, and it gets a conversation back on track much quicker than ignoring the problem.

It can also help to do a little active listening if you're having trouble building rapport with someone from the get-go. The lead may just want to do a little bragging. Let them. Sometimes you need to put in a little extra up-front time stroking someone's ego in order to tee yourself up to have more difficult conversations later down the road.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Some people are naturals at building rapport, and for others, it's a learned skill. But the point is, it can be learned! Herzberg recommends that those looking to improve this skill pick a handful of leads, and visit their websites. Then visit their 'About' page, and learn something about each lead that you could use to start a conversation. For instance, in what city are they located? Are you planning a trip there? Did you go to college there? Have you ever visited? Do you have a boyfriend that's moving there who is having a tough time finding an apartment?

Then, pull in a co-worker or manager and actually role play a conversation based on what information you've gleaned. The most important part is making it feel and sound natural, because leads can totally sense when rapport-building is just another thing on your checklist. I mean, if you just bond about the weather for 15 seconds, it's pretty obvious what you're doing, and your good intentions are quickly wiped away. Instead, have an earnest conversation.

Once you've gotten good at finding ways to open up the conversation, practice the transition to a business conversation. Remember, even if you forge a strong personal bond with a lead, they still have business they need to accomplish. If you don't get good at transitioning to the business conversation, you'll reach a point at which you're wasting their time. And that sure as sugar isn't good for rapport.

( Note: If you're truly not good at building rapport, all is not lost ... as long as you're good at earning people's respect, and quickly. It's a common misconception that charm wins you deals, but charm alone does not make a great salesperson. An ideal salesperson can do both -- charm people and earn their respect -- but ultimately, the ability to help a lead is the most important part of being great at sales.)

Remember, Rapport Isn't Built in a Day

Or was that Rome? Either way ... rapport-building isn't something that happens once on the connect call, and then never again. It happens all the time. Read the content leads are sharing on social media, send them links to content you think they'll find helpful, engage in conversations they're having on forums or in LinkedIn Groups, send emails that they'll appreciate. These are the kinds of actions that show you care about actually helping them, and are invested in the relationship -- instead of just bonding over superficial subject matters because you were told salespeople should build good rapport with leads.

How else have you been able to establish a good rapport with prospects? Share your tips in the comments!

Image credit: katerha

Originally published Jan 31, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


Passing Leads to Sales