It’s almost become a cliché at this point, but it’s true: people want to buy from who they know, like, and trust. And the way to earn that status is to focus on building and maintaining relationships that go beyond the transactional nature of simply closing a deal.
Even in these "uncertain," "unpredictable," "new normal" times we’re living in, relationship building is critical to winning sales. But the way we go about building relationships has changed.
Remember what the sales experience was like before the pandemic?
You’d show up early for a live meeting at the client’s office and the key contact would meet you and then walk you to a conference room. As you plugged your laptop into the projector and waited for others to enter the room, you’d chat. Then, since you’re still early, you’d walk to the coffee area and pour a cup with your client.
Later, you’d treat your client to drinks, coffee, a meal, or some other in-person interaction, which would deepen your connection and allow you to get to know each other better in a less formal setting.
Now, it’s not so simple.
Meetings are all virtual. They start on time—or just after the scheduled time, once everyone has dialed in. Everyone says hello, and then people jump right into the business at hand. At the scheduled end time, people simply log off. There’s no friendly chit-chat or meetup for coffee.
The good news is you can still focus on relationship building even when your interactions are online. Here are four ways to do just that.
How to Create Time and Space for Rapport Virtually
1. Take the lead and focus on relationship-building from the start.
In spite of the virtual nature of business these days, it is possible to make space for building rapport.
Let’s say you have an hour-long meeting. You don’t want to lose the hour to small talk, but you do want to warm up the room before diving in. It’s as simple as starting with a check in, "Before we get going, I just want to do a quick check in to see how everyone is doing."
Many sellers have told us this has made all the difference in creating time and space for rapport.
One seller recently shared,
"I ended up talking to them about life for 20 minutes before we really got to it. We really liked each other, and from a business perspective, we didn’t get as far as I wanted, but we’re picking it up on another video call on Thursday."
The lesson is clear: Don’t discount the power of relationships and do give it the appropriate amount of time.
It’s also tempting to let everyone else go first. But if you want to set the tone, you need to go first. Talk about something amusing that happened to you over the weekend. Talk about how you’re thrilled to play 72 holes of golf in three days while the family is away for the long weekend.
Whatever you do, people naturally tend to follow with similar commentary. If you want to break the ice a certain way, set the tone and go first.
2. End your meeting with a casual discussion.
In face-to-face selling, some of the best conversations happen after the meeting has concluded. Allow that to happen virtually as well.
After the formal part of a one-on-one meeting ends, bring the call to a close by refocusing on your rapport. For example:
"Well, the next steps seem to be A, B, and C. Yes?" [Buyer agrees.] "Great. Before you go, I’m curious to know more about what you said about being a part-time professional chef. That sounds interesting."
You can also make a similar effort by acknowledging the situation we’re all in, as it’s almost guaranteed to garner a response:
"Well, the next steps seem to be A, B, and C. Yes?" [Buyer agrees.]
"Great. So, what’s on tap for the weekend? We’re still social distancing so no travel, but my wife and I are camping in the backyard with the kids to switch it up a bit." [Pause for reaction and similar weekend comment, chat ensues.]
Sounds just like old times, right?
If it’s a group meeting, one-on-one rapport is a little more difficult to do. But it’s still easy enough to start a direct conversation as the meeting is winding down: "Angie, everyone is hopping off, but do you have another minute to chat?" If Angie says yes, then you can ask your question once everyone is gone and see where it goes.
To do this, you might say something like:
"Angie, while we’ve been working on this project for four months, you and I have never had the chance to speak, except about the work we’re trying to sort out. I’d like to learn more about you and how you’d like to see all this go. Can we grab 15 minutes later this week?"
You might not be able to schedule every conversation, but if you don’t ask, you won’t get any meetings. Even if you don’t get the meeting, people will be impressed that you put in the effort and display an interest in wanting to get to know the team better.
3. Setup short check-in meetings.
With no in-person interaction available, sellers need to make it a priority to reach out to prospects and clients just to make a connection and keep relationships alive. A short conversation to catch up, especially with people you already know, can be critical for salespeople who tend to work and network locally.
During times of economic, health, or global crises people seek connection and stability. It’s the perfect time to reach out and strengthen your relationships. You’ll get more yeses on requests for shorter 15 or 20-minute meetings than longer ones—and often, meetings run longer, anyway.
To initiate a check-in meeting via email, you could write:
Hi Carl, it’s been a while, and I was thinking of you because [insert reason here]. Given [insert reason here], I thought it might be good to catch up on a call. Up for it?
It can be just that simple. As you schedule the meeting, be sure to set it as a video meeting to build greater rapport. Making deeper connections with other people is easier when you can see them. Seeing your face allows buyers to develop a stronger connection with you.
4. Continue building relationships outside of your meetings.
Beyond meetings, there are other ways to build rapport and make connections that virtual sellers use well, including striking up conversations via email, LinkedIn, text, or other messaging media. Don’t overlook the opportunities these channels provide.
For example, you could designate a few minutes each day to check LinkedIn and see what your connections are sharing. Give their posts a "like," or add a comment that demonstrates your interest. Likewise, share your own content so you show up in your connections’ feeds and stay top of mind.
Another thing you can do is share interesting, relevant content in a direct message—either on LinkedIn or a quick email. For example:
Hi Michelle. Saw this article today, and based on our recent conversations, I thought you would enjoy reading it, too. Let’s catch up sometime soon!
Too many messages are written without evidence of an individual’s personal flair so they often sound bland and impersonal. It’s important to add a human touch; take a chance and put some personality in your emails.
Relationship building during virtual times is different but by no means is it impossible. By simply making the time and space for rapport, and being proactive in your relationship building efforts, you can build the strong client relationships that are essential for sales success.