Rapport Can Backfire!
Can a salesperson really have too much rapport?
Rapport is built (or broken) in response to the subconscious question: ‘Are you on MY side, or some other side?’
It can be developed around different topics – personal or business, plus it can be deep or wide.
The most natural thing for many of us when we’re building a customer relationship is to find common ground, say our kids go to the same school, or we both like the same sport, and then we deep dive on that topic. What can easily result from that approach, is deep but narrow personal rapport which doesn’t translate to rapport when the conversation moves to the business.
It’s a very easy trap to fall into, and a very costly one too. While personal rapport is something salespeople commonly think is a key reason they’re successful, it doesn’t differentiate top performance from average performance.
The ability to create business rapport is the real indicator of success or otherwise. Personal rapport can even be an obstacle as it can trap salespeople in the ‘being nice’ paradigm where they’re unwilling to challenge their customers for fear of not being liked.
A great sales conversation is an authentic one, where customer and salesperson robustly exchange information and customers experience insights as a result. In the process of this conversation, two types of tension can increase and decrease: the tension to solve problems (problem solving tension) and the tension of broken rapport (relationship tension).
When I was a young salesperson, I relied a lot on my ability to create personal rapport and was totally unwilling to challenge my customers in the fear of breaking rapport with them. And I didn’t just do that because I had a big need to be liked. Sometimes my inability to challenge and my reliance on personal rapport was because I didn’t think the value I was bringing was really that critical. Or even if I thought it was, I didn’t know how to handle my customer’s resistance. What I needed was a deeper engagement in my dilemma about how to add value to the client, which I avoided by concentrating on my personal rapport with them.
Eventually, I learnt to be more real about what would truly be of value to the client and engaged deeply with that thinking until I knew what to do. Getting real about this meant I could position my questions and insights with greater credibility, or let it go and spend more time on a different opportunity.
I also had to make a conscious decision to pull back on the personal rapport to give space for the business rapport to grow. It felt like a really scary thing to do, but it saved my career.
Building rapport is paradoxical. Research has found that stronger relationships are built when the salesperson doesn’t just play it safe, but when they go to the edges of rapport and back again often.
If you want to widen your rapport with a customer you’ve known for a long time, and plan to pull back on the personal rapport a little, it could be helpful to ‘flag’ that you’re shifting to the business conversation earlier than you normally would.
You could say something like ‘I know this is a bit different from normal, but I’ve got my business head on today and want to get to that first. I even want to play devil’s advocate for a minute….’