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Sales Psychology: The secret of instant rapport

Before we begin, make sure you get in on my ultra-awesome contest, where you could win a whole month of one-on-one with me, two hours with James Chartrand of Men with Pens and a free copy of my fear-crushing ebook, Demystify your Fear.

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To wrap this week’s series of epic Sales Psychology articles, I want to discuss a subject near and dear to my heart. I’m going to talk about rapport – the state of magical connection where communication simply flows between individuals. It’s the perfect state for selling.

I’m going to break down the ingredients that create rapid and effective rapport. The best part? It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or how you pitch your product – these techniques guarantee Jedi sales skill.

What is Rapport?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

Rapport is one of the most important features or characteristics of subconscious communication. It is commonality of perspective: being “in sync” with, or being “on the same wavelength” as the person with whom you are talking.

From a sales point of view, rapport is the state where your prospect just gets you. More importantly, the feeling is mutual – they sense that you get them too. This state of mutual “liking” is crucial to closing a sale.

People buy from people who they like

In addition to the logic and rational sales techniques I’ve written about this week, the emotional and psychological impact of powerful rapport is a vital ingredient for selling.

From the prospect’s point of view, a pitch lacking rapport is so uncomfortable that they may not buy, even if their rational criteria are fulfilled AND they really want the product.

On the other end, if a prospect has huge rapport with a salesperson, but doesn’t really want or need the product, there’s still a good chance he’ll buy anyway. Rapport can make or break a deal.

Take control of your communication

Most amateur salespeople leave rapport up to fate. If they can connect with a prospect, fantastic! If they can’t… Oh well. It wasn’t meant to be (or so they say).

In reality, any salesperson is only “rapport-compatible” with one or two personality types similar to their own. When they meet prospects with different psychological makeup, they mysteriously can’t seem to create that rapport connection easily.

The most common example is when highly extroverted salespeople struggle to connect with highly introverted prospects. They’re unlike one another as personality types, so rapport isn’t present.

So how do you take control of the rapport process and deliberately create a state of connection in your prospect’s mind?

People like people who are like them

The secret to Canned Charisma (my nickname for instant rapport) is to be more “like” your prospect. It means having the behavioral flexibility to act similarly to diverse personality types – even ones that are polar opposites from your own.

The secret to rapport is visible, everyday, all around us: It’s as simple as appearing to be similar to your prospect.

An infatuated couple, sitting in a restaurant is the very best example to demonstrate the rapport phenomena. Although you might not want to recreate this level of connection with your prospects, studying the psychology of this couple can give you insight into how rapport is created.

The couple stares into each other’s eyes. They’re eating dinner, and as he tells his funny story, she pauses eating. They’re facing each other, both leaning forward with their elbows on the table. As she giggles, he chuckles. When she lifts her glass to drink, he does the same.

They’re matching and mirroring each other’s body language every step of the way.

After reading this and becoming aware of it, you’ll see this mirroring of body language and behavior occurring everywhere. It’s the physical manifestation of a deeper state of rapport connection.

But here’s the true secret: By deliberately recreating the symptoms of rapport, you can recreate the state of rapport.

When matching and mirroring body language, you can send your prospect an unconscious signal that you are “just like them”, and this subconscious, nonverbal communication is the very essence of building rapport.

We all do this unconsciously. Next time you’re in a meeting, watch people taking sips of their water. Pay attention to friends and family as you hang out. When are these people mirroring you? Better question, when are they NOT mirroring you?

Rapport is totally unconscious for most people. By bringing it into our conscious awareness, we can become more skillful at it. We can learn to mirror people even when they’re vastly different to us. Doing so increases our ability to connect naturally (and sell to) the variety of psychological types we might encounter.

The power of mirroring doesn’t stop at body language, though. In fact, it grows as we apply the principal to other elements of communication. Imagine matching someone’s beliefs, or better yet, their values!

I’m going to break down the intricacies of rapport further in future posts as we continue our month-long sales psychology series.

For now, let me know what you think. Where and with whom do you already have a lot of rapport? Where would having some more be useful? What else could you mirror, besides body language?

69 Comments

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  1. Great article. Here’s another way to build rapport with people subconsciously.

    We have 5 senses, right? Taste, touch, feel, see, and hear.

    Listen for what kind of “senses” person they are. For example, if they say things like “This leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth”, then they are probably a taste sensory person. For this person, describe things with “taste” in mind.

    If they keep saying, “I see”, then explain things in visual ways.

    If they keep feeling things and commenting on its texture and touch, then explain things in textures, etc.

      1. That’s a great question which to be honest I’m not sure there’s an absolute answer to– I’m sure Peter would know better. I would simply say, though, that if they were using multiple sensory words, then you might try applying the same techniques and seeing how they respond to them.

        It’s a topic I know about and was really starting to get into when I use to flip houses and would speak with buyers, but since I haven’t flipped any in a while, I’m pretty rusty at it.

        …. that whole, the mind is a muscle thing, you know ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Great tip John – thanks for the contribution!

      Theres nothing quite as disastrous as a highly visual sales person trying to pitch a highly kinesthetic prospect lol … it’s like I said in the post: Good salespeople need the *flexibility* to mirror others.

  2. With some people, you just seem to hit it off right away, and with others, not so much. I remember rapport from my brief foray into NLP training, but to be honest, I’ve always felt weird trying to imitate the body language of someone else.

    But other ways to do it that come to mind would be imitating the way someone speaks, the rhythm, the tone (if it sounds natural), the words and in general, the way the communicate.

    1. Henri, you don’t have to imitate the body language exactly – you’re likely to freak out the other person if you do. And if you imitate them exactly you’re going to feel really fake and you’ll convey that message.

      1. That was also my first reaction when I read that line about matching the body language of your prospect. However I think building rapport using this method needs a lot of skill and being able to maintain a fine balance

        However here is something that strikes me- what if your prospect is , say extra fidgety? You ain’t going to make a great impression by matching her nervous tics….so in this case you would have to look for speech patterns,display empathy and commiseration, swap anecdotes; basically pick and choose.

  3. One sales trainer taught, “Just assume rapport”. In other words, don’t concentrate on being in rapport, just relax and focus on being a friend. It’s part of “we like people who like us”.

    Another point that seems increasiinly rare, is good manners. I’ve noticed that people who are courteous and polite establish rapport much easier and much faster. Folks who can’t step away from their narcissism rarely establish rapport — at leasst that’s what I’ve observed.

    1. I agree about the good manners John, but I also think that “just assuming rapport” can be pretty ineffective if the sales people don’t know what constitutes a state of rapport…. from a behavioral point of view.

      My philosophy is to break down the details of rapport, conscious attempt to use them, master it, then let it all fade back into my unconscious. That way it’s natural and intuitive, but built on a foundation of skill.

  4. I have a lot of rapport with people that I know really well and have worked with in the past. One thing I have found that helps establish rapport is mirroring speech patterns. If someone uses certain language (based on where they grew up, education, etc.) I have found that it helps if I make an attempt to use the same level of language as they do, or to use words that are specific to their language.

    1. I agree Justin. Sometimes people will use a specific phrase that has quite a powerful emotional anchor for them. It’s good for the salesperson to adopt that figure of speech too (occasionally).

      I remember working with a corporate exec who used to talk about “nailing it!” … as a euphemism for rapidly solving problems with impact. When I wrapped up my pitch by saying “so we do all this and we’ll NAIL it” he grinned like a madman. I was speaking his language ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Very helpful article, with specific how-to’s that I can use right away, I like that. This brings to mind how we train our employees to handle an irate client. Basically, just mirror their level of upset. So if they are very upset, I get upset about it too. Works like a charm! If I’m the guilty party, I cuss myself out, like this: “OMG, what was I thinking? I feel terrible about this, John, I am so sorry!” People are amazingly forgiving and they’ll try to make ME feel better about it! I learned this from Dale Carnegie.

    1. Hey Arlette, you’ve raised a real good point about rapport here: When dealing with emotional people, it’s possible to build rapport by matching their *intensity*.

      It is important not to actually match their STATE and get angry back at them though ๐Ÿ˜›

  6. NLP! Yay! I love this stuff.

    To answer your question, what else can you mirror besides body language: as others have said their speech patterns, way of talking, the words they’re using, their breathing speed.

    Talking to them and identifying things you have in common, part of the matching process.
    – You like football? Hey, so do I! Who do you think will win this weekend?
    – You come from Brisbane do you? My sister lives there. We get up there a couple of times a year.
    – Your kids go to xyz school do they? My sister’s neighbour’s boyfriend’s nephew went there twenty years ago.

    Working out if they’re a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic personality and talking to them in a way that they understand, in words that speak to them personally.

    I remember a story about Milton Erickson who was working with a young boy who had ADHD and was bouncing off the walls of his office, completely hyper. Milton had his legs crossed and he swung his lower leg and also tapped one finger on his desk in time to the boys breathing. When he was matched to the breathing he slowly reduced the pace of his ankle swinging and the tapping and the boy calmed down in time with it.

    Online, this is where our language is so important and why we need to understand how our customer thinks and speaks – so our copywriting uses their language, so they can recognise themselves in the problem and your solution. Matching and mirroring online – all through words. It’s also why using audio, video AND text is so powerful, because it speaks to all the modalities of your market.

  7. Peter,

    Creating rapport face-to-face or over the phone seems to be easier to do than online,because of the non-verbal communication, voice fluctuation, eye contact and body language.

    After reading the post, it made me think of the importance of having a blog and/or email marketing system and not just a website. The blog would be a way to interact (just as we are doing here) and create a rapport.

    I now see a greater need for using social media and having a blog rather than just a stand alone website. Yeah, it’s making sense to me.

    Also, when I meet potential clients who do not have an active blog, I can now explain the importance of creating rapport online.

    1. Marcy, I actually never looked at it like that … but yes, the interactivity offered by blog comments and platforms like twitter is a fantastic way to build rapport online.

      The best rapport exists in a two way dialogue, so if you’re looking for biz success online it’s definitely a priority to find a platform to host that dialogue.

      Great comment – you got me thinking ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. The concept of mirroring makes a lot of sense and I think the best salespeople mirror others naturally- like human chameleons!

    My initial response to this post was very similar to Marcy’s- This is all well and good for individual or small group face-to-face interaction, but what about selling online or to very large groups? How do you maintain some level of personality (i.e. don’t be boring) while also appealing to a wide variety of personality types? In these situations, is it best to be true-to-yourself to make sure you don’t come across as ‘fake’?

    1. Hey Molly, thanks for joining the discussion.

      There have been some great ideas thrown around about “online” rapport in the comments here. For large groups, there are a whole series of rapport techniques that are HIGHLY effective – even for speaking to thousands. I’ve got to admit though, I don’t want to break those down in this comment – that’s for another post (or whole frickin’ series)!

      Also: It’s best to be true to yourself in EVERY situation. Rapport is about behavioral flexibility… not compromising your identity.

  9. I agree with you and the rapport techniques. BTW-you can’t match AND mirror you either match or mirror and mirroring is more effective. I noticed a few comments about getting caught or making the other person uncomfortable. I have used mirroring in so many situations and I have NEVER been caught EVER! But if you’re concerned just use some lag time before you mirror them.

    There are many other techniques to gain rapport even more powerfully.

    I liked your post and bookmarked it I am also going to update my article Sales Business รขโ‚ฌโ€œ Making Your Sales Jump Like Magic about this post

  10. This technique works… and part of why it works is that it involves getting us focused on paying attention to our prospects. Some salespeople get caught up in what they want to communicate, and that’s really not too important, early in a meeting with the prospect. First, you need to connect with them, by listening, questioning, and paying attention. All the techniques mentioned here help – the mirroring of body language, matching vocabulary, speech patterns, breathing, recognizing common interests, and even courtesy.

    When you have given them signals that you are paying attention, that you are noticing THEM, they will generally return the favor.

    It’s struck me over and over, reading this series, how much of these skills are exactly what a good trainer does. I used to teach Microsoft’s Train the Trainer program, so it really jumps out at me.

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  12. It’s great that you cover this. Rapport is a big part of the sales process. On a personal note I have a friend of mine that is an awesome sales rep for the company he works for.

    And what intrigues me is that we’re both good at establishing rapport with other people, but when we hang out it seems difficult for us to have rapport with each other. I’m guessing that we both just find an equilibrium and balance each other out. But it’s a little weird how we interact.

    What’s your take on this type of interaction Peter?

    1. If you’re already friends, my guess would be that rapport is already there! Maybe by consciously thinking about it, you’re actually getting in the way of rapport naturally occurring.

      Most of these tips are designed for meeting strangers. When hanging with old friends, it’s best to forget about it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. What role does empathy have in building rapport? I tend to look for ways to help people with their problems. I hope they see me as someone who is on their side. Seems like I’m aiming for the rapport outlined here.

    1. Hi Carl,

      One of the best descriptions for rapport I’ve ever heard was “Respect for each other’s model of the world” … and to me, that seems like a perfect definition for empathy too! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  15. Woo I gotta catch up on these :).

    I actually, and unfortunately, just got off the phone with a very good car mechanic. I knew from the start he was going to try and sell me more things to fix my car, so I paid attention to what he was saying/how he was saying it. I more so just listened so he didn’t have much to work with as far as matching/mirroring. However, he had an upbeat mood and tone of voice and even though he was telling me bad things that I need to fix, and the consequences of not fixing them, it made me trust him more. It kind of goes against my intuition: I would think someone that had a serious voice telling me these things would have more of an effect, but I think it is the opposite.

    Dave

    1. That’s because he’s selling hope as much as car repairs. “Hey, you’ve got some big problems here, and it’s all ok, I can fix this for you.” The upbeat voice gives confidence that even though it’s a big problem, he’s your man, he’s in control and it’s not a problem for him.

      Mind you, he could have been upbeat because he was thinking of how much he’s going to earn from this….

      1. See, it’s interesting…

        In my job, the bigger the problem, the more SERIOUS I have to sound. I can break rapport enormously (and catastrophically) by making light of the client’s struggle…

        The grand irony is that being able to look at problems from a light-hearted or even humorous perspective is actually one of the most effective solutions!

        Still, there ain’t a lot to be gained from pointing that out in the FIRST appointment ๐Ÿ˜›

      2. Absolutely, it’s about hope, it’s creating or informing of a problem, the implications of not fixing it, but then the “don’t worry, we can help line” with a big smile a trusting voice – S.P.I.N. selling comes to mind – great technique when used well, unfortunately mis-used often!

  16. I suspect that this sort of thing doesn’t relate well in text – for me. I can see it needing to be demonstrated, and practiced a lot (with feedback)…ie more of a face to face coaching kind of thing.

    1. David, you already do this every day. Face to face, on the phone and online. You’re already creating rapport with people, you’re just not aware of doing that. Think of the times you phone a friend and talk about something of interest to both of you – you’ll be falling into rapport automatically.

      When you call someone about work and talk to them you’ll be doing this unconsciously. The point of the post is to make it more conscious so you are aware that you’re doing it and to get better results.

      1. In a sales context the trick is to exactly figure out the typical pain points. For example I am selling customers engagement through online and offline marketing to both resorts and car dealers.

        These clients have different concerns and different pain points. So to create a rapport with each of them I will have to research, talk to them and actually put myself both in their shoes as well as their customers’.

        It’s hard to fake rapport when you are pitching to clients and don’t know anything about the subject.

    2. I agree with Melinda. When learning rapport, most people just need a little bit of knowledge to take what they’re doing unconsciously …. and make it conscious and deliberate.

      That way you can polish it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Yes and when you see people mirroring you, you know they are following what you are doing and saying. Recently Carl Daikler from Beach Body sat 15 feet away from President Obama at a dinner. He noticed the President making eye contact with him often. He took this cue and started talking about how Beach Body is on a mission to cure obesity in the United States. President Obama asked him for his contact information so Michelle Obama can contact him and start collaborating on this effort. Michelle Obama does P90X, he said.

    I find that online rapport can get con-fuddled sometimes because of email and text being misinterpreted. I am learning that asking open ended questions and deeper questions based on what someone asks helps to clarify what that person needs and builds rapport.

    1. Hi Gabrielle,

      I love the story – this is what it’s all about. You’ve touched on an advanced presenting technique too: Excellent speakers gauge the level of unconscious body language mirroring in their audience to *measure* rapport!

      Online can be tricky for sure. Since a huge part of communication (especially the rapport stuff) happens nonverbally, we miss that in text based interaction. That’s why writing skills become so critical – although I’m sure you don’t need me to tell *you* that ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I wasn’t able to be on the call when he told the coaches about it, but Carl is so engaging. I heard he was very excited about sharing the news. He has a lot of passion for his business’ mission.

        You are right about writing skills communicating to the reader well. You actually gave me an a-ha moment with that. I knew that but didn’t really “know” that if that makes sense. I guess I needed to hear you say that. Thanks for your series. I appreciate what you are doing.

  18. Wonderful points on relationships and the importance of commonalty.

    In your opinion, can the term “rapport” be exchanged for “trust”? Or, is there a subtle difference between the two? If there is a difference, which comes first?รขโ‚ฌโ€Meaning, does one lead to the other? I have always considered trust as the cornerstone for all relationships (personal or professional), but maybe I am wrong.

    One additional thought, we are ALL selling something, so I hope readers of your post realize that the ideas you are sharing are truly universal, not just for “sales people.”

    My current favorite books that speak to both rapport and trust are: “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell and “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey.

    Thank you for yet another strong and thought provoking post!

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  20. Also makes total sense coupled with the question approach.

    I’ve been working sales for 10 years (and I’m 28) and I find it’s so much about “absorbing” the personality of the person having a conversation with you. It’s almost as if there’s a counter running and the more you can get people really talking the more likely your odds of landing a sale.

    One of my sales coach always said: “If you ever get stuck, acknowledge and ask a question.” and that was such a great technique to get you time to think and make that “counter” running.

  21. Awesome post & I really enjoyed reading the following comments & discussion. This is my first foray into building rapport, but I’m really excited to try it. I know 100% from the bridal expos that I exhibit at that the brides I personally speak to & engage with are the first to contact me – so it makes sense why now!

  22. It’s an interesting idea. The idea that to get people to do what you want you act/mirror call it whatever, like them even though your real personality may be entirely different. There are issues with this behavior. 1. Some would call this disingenuous a trait that is supposedly valued in people 2. When do you turn it off 3. If you’re caught trying to act like the other person, you’ve lost all credibility. Now you’re labled wishy washy; a synchophant and so forth again not a good reputation to have; that’s a risk 4. This is only a short-term act to sell a product as no one can or would want to keep the act up indefinitely 5. It can slip in to your personal life and if you’re male trying to use these techniques to get women into bed, you’d better be sure that’s all you want because ain’t no relationship going to last based on the idea of mirroring. 6. People who naturally have charisma (features that people want to be close to) don’t have to rely on such ridiculous behavior…oh but wait that would mean the gift of selling is a born gift and no sales tactic that I can sell to you will ever overcome that. LOL.

    1. Hey Dave,

      The fundamental thing you’re missing is that everyone already does “matching and mirroring” to some extent, intuitively. And expert (natural, untrained) communicators โ€“ what you would call “born” salespeople โ€“ do this intuitively. So when we talk about deliberately building rapport, we’re just taking an unconscious behavior and making it conscious to improve it.

      FYI, the full learning cycle is complete when you integrate your new improved rapport skills back into your unconscious behavior… effectively making it “natural”.

      So no, there’s nothing disingenuous.

      Also, people can learn to have charisma (this technique is PART of how to do that)… and the gift of selling is most definitely not “born” with someone. I feel bad for you that you believe that, to be honest.

      The truth is selling is a skill almost nothing teaches us in life besides sales itself – certainly our parents don’t give it to us by osmosis, and school doesn’t teach it.

      But people can learn it. I’m one of them – I used to suck at sales, so I got a job where I HAD to learn it. Now I’m great at it.

      *shrug* sorry but you’re just dead wrong.

    1. Super philosophical question there William… the short answer is “the brain”… and the deeper answer is an ongoing conversation around neurology, psychology, spirituality and philosophy.

        1. No one does William – hence the “ongoing conversation”.

          “Identity” is a linguistic construct โ€“ a nominalization โ€“ it’s a label we give to a set of ideas, not an empirical thing you can pluck out of the brain.

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  24. There are two specialty ocfefis I would like to work in. My interest are in the nervous system and the endocrine system.In the 12 years I have been with my boyfriend, he has lost two sisters and a brother to different forms of lupus. He also lost his mother to the disease before 20 years before I met him. I feel working with an endocrinologist or neurologist I will be able to learn more on how these system works.The proctologist office would be at the bottom of the list. After experiencing a lower GI to rule out problems in my stomach. I refuse to go through that again.

  25. How can layman / new comer develop rapport in sales both conscious and unconscious level
    I work in a company where performance is the only way to get promoted need to qualify 2 quarters in a row across pan India
    Dear experts please share your insights?

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