As salespeople, we all know the first and most important step in any sales process is establishing commonality. You can call it chit-chatting, shooting the breeze, small talk -- essentially, it is about getting to know your prospect as a person. Establishing commonality is something that is often overlooked, but, as more and more sales organizations turn to inside salespeople to build their customer base, it's never been more important.

Think of each call as if you're meeting someone new at a cocktail party. You don't approach someone in real life and launch into the middle of a needs analysis conversation. "Do you need another drink? Well tell me more about that thirst you're experiencing." No! You ask them how they are, how they know the host or what they do for a living. Once you find common ground you're both immediately at ease with this new found connection.

Did we just become best friends? Yep!

The goal of establishing commonality at the beginning of the sales process is to put the prospect at ease. You're going to begin discussing their goals, their business and their challenges. They may feel uncomfortable revealing information to you. The best way to ensure that the prospect is open and comfortable is to help them remember that you're just another normal human being on the other end of the line.

Techniques for establishing commonality

1) Sports

My co-worker, Morgan, is an avid sports fan. No matter where he calls in the country, he knows what's recently happened with their teams and their players. Usually when he connects with a guy, that's his go-to commonality. And it works like a charm. He can get them talking about something they love, something they hate, and he can poke a bit of fun. This instantly relaxes his prospect and gets the conversation moving.

2) Family/Dogs

Hear a kid in the background? Hear a dog bark? Ask people about their kids or their pets. People love talking about themselves! These are huge sources of pride for your prospects. If you're not a dog person, lie and pretend you have one. No harm done. I even keep a picture of my boyfriend's dachshund as my desktop background so if someone isn't opening up, I can "accidentally switch screens" and show off Charlie's million dollar mug. Those prospects are putty in my hands.

3) Education

Look at your prospects' LinkedIn profile. Find out where your prospects went to school. Did you visit their campus? Maybe you’re an alum of the same school. Maybe you have friends who attended their alma mater. Knowing more about a prospect’s professional and educational background will not only help you establish commonality, but understand their former job roles and their role in their decision making process.

4) Cities

Look up where the person you're speaking to is located. Have you been there? Do you have friends that live there? Planning a trip there? Ask about the best things to do when visiting. Not only do people love talking about their cities, but this shows you actually care. Establishing commonality is making this conversation about them.

And for the Love of Sales, Don't Talk About the Weather.

We all do it, but as much as possible, stray away from this epitome of mundane topics and take your chit-chat to the next level. Don’t ask what the weather in their neck of the woods is like today. It’s a dead end. Another no-no is “plans for the weekend?” What are you going to follow up with other than a "uh huh... yes, I'm going to mow the lawn/watch my kid's soccer match/meet some friends too..." The same goes for asking how someone’s week or day is going. Save yourself, and your prospect, from the inevitable awkward lull in conversation.

The few minutes spent building rapport last long throughout the sales process and beyond. People don't remember the sales process - they remember the experience. You can do wonders by making it less about the deal and more about being human. As salespeople, we're naturally chatty, curious folks. Be yourself and get to know your prospect -- it'll pay off.

What are your favorite techniques to establish commonality? Leave a comment below!

Originally published Sep 10, 2013 9:00:00 AM, updated September 23 2013

Topics:

Building Rapport