We have all been there. You know you have the product your potential prospect needs. You are prepared to provide a service which you know will actually help them. Yet for some reason you are unable to make that critical connection to them. They may smile politely, nod their head at the right time, and seem to be in overall agreement with your proposal, but something isn’t right. You already know the meeting will end without you getting the handshake of an accepted deal. Why?
One of the most vexing obstacles to closing success is an inability to establish rapport. According to research done on first impressions, you are either in or out of the running in a few seconds. The absence of rapport is tangible. We may not be able to measure, or observe it directly, but we know when it’s present and when it is not. What makes some client encounters and calls easy, filled with the right chemistry, and others fall flat with zero rapport?
I was an FBI Special Agent for over 22 years. During the latter part of my career with the Bureau I was a Crisis/Hostage Negotiator. I can say without any hesitation whatsoever, the ability to build rapport is one of the key determinates in being successful.
As a negotiator, you have precious seconds to make the connection. The stakes really are life or death in some cases. The FBI expends considerable resources to ensure Special Agents have the ability to be exceptional in the area of rapport building.
The Bureau knows that Agents’ ability to connect with others is key to their success in conducting interviews of key witnesses, extracting information from subjects, or negotiating the release of a hostage. Based on my experience in the field, my years of research on the subject, and now my time working with corporate clients, here are three areas of focus which will dramatically boost your rapport building.
Formulate Your Plan: Know Your Client
No two clients are alike. We know this, yet we often act with a one size fits all approach. A plan which is client (human being) centric will get you started on the road to rapport. First, you’ll do your basic due diligence research on your potential prospect: LinkedIn, Facebook, the Wall Street Journal, and a web search for pertinent articles. Then, you will move to a web search focusing on industry trends. Here you will look for topics like possible disruptors, developments in: pricing, sales, costs and marketing.
You will also want to do research on their current specific job title, pervious positions held, and at which companies. There is a big difference in having a vague idea of the roles and responsibilities of certain job title and actually being familiar for how those roles are known within a specific industry and time period. Websites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor can provide more granular details of job descriptions within industry postings.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the potential roles and responsibilities of your client, in order to be seen as truly relevant to their world.
Try this exercise: take a blank sheet of paper. Write the name of your person in the center of the paper. Circle it. Now, just like in mind-mapping, start making branch connections to other possible areas. Let’s look at the following example:
Doris Alberts is your new potential client. Doris works for SBNY. You know through LinkedIn that Doris is fairly new to SBNY and her title is distribution manager. Now you have Doris, SBNY, distribution manager, and new hire. These are four areas in which you can continue branching. New hire means looking to impress. Perhaps improving warehouse systems would be a logical area Doris might examine as a means for getting positive recognition from leadership. She will want to increase efficiencies, as well as establish good working relationships with employees in the warehouse chain, upper management, product suppliers, etc.
Can your product help Doris achieve any of her goals in her new job? Sure it can, but so can a dozen other reps. More importantly, can you relate to some of the frustrations she might be dealing with: indifferent suppliers, unresponsive mangers, over worked warehouse workers, wearing too many hats? Now consider how you will connect to these frustrations, goals, and challenges Doris has. One way of discovering how you can connect is by doing your own mind-mapping.
Uncovering Multiple Points of Connection
Remember when you were a new hire? What was important to you? What really helped or hindered you? The goal here is to find as many connections as possible in a quick burst of time. When you do this type of exercise you start to see how many different ways there are to connect with someone. Not all will be winners. Some will stronger than others. That is the reason for uncovering multiple points of connection, some will be spot on. Doing this work ahead of time will increase your rapport building exponentially.
Before an FBI Agent does a planned interview of anyone, there is a great deal of prep work they engage in, known as intelligence gathering. Much of the information developed will be gleaned in the same manner as described above, utilizing various publicly available databases. They will also look at possible motivations of a subject and what makes them tick: things like family connections, friends, hobbies, work experiences, places lived, places traveled, schools attended. From these facts, agents and analysts put together a profile of their person of interest. You can also amass enough information about a client to feel comfortable to engage in rapport building. Thoroughly reading a client’s LinkedIn page, and understanding their industry and position, can be flattering — a sign you are serious about them and you do your homework.
In part 2 of this article we will examine the two critical methods hostage negotiators utilize for rapid rapport building.