Building rapport and trust with prospective customers is key to helping your business grow and thrive. But making a good impression on a new client can be quite a challenge, as it requires strong communication skills, empathy and a keen ability to "read" your interlocutor and adjust the conversation based on their vocal and non-vocal cues.
You don't want to be too vague and fail to establish a meaningful connection, but you also don't want to be overly specific and come off too strong. To find the right middle ground, these six entrepreneurs offer their best strategies on how to establish rapport and earn the trust of a new client right off the bat.
Find relatable information on social channels.
"I start with LinkedIn to research them professionally and find something that I can relate to," says ChannelApe CEO Michael Averto. "A few common examples I've used include that we went to the same school, we worked at the same company in the past, or that we share a common interest (LinkedIn group)."
But researching a person on social media comes with a major caveat, Averto warns. "This can work with more personal channels like Facebook, but beware of coming off as creepy when bringing up their personal life."
Focus on their needs rather than personal background.
Nicole Munoz of Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc. agrees: "I personally don't like it when salespeople seem to know a bit too much about me from background information, or try to integrate it natively into the conversation."
Instead, people should be forthcoming and honest from the get-go. "The times that I've impressed people most are when I'm able to easily understand their business issues and create reliable solutions," she explains.
Shock them with honesty.
Honesty in communication is essential to building rapport, thinks Mark Daoust, founder and CEO of Quiet Light Brokerage, Inc. "Nobody likes to be 'sold.' When you start establishing a rapport with someone, it is important to show that you have their best interests in mind," he explains.
According to Daoust, businesses should be honest and always put clients' needs at the forefront -- even when it's seemingly not in the business's best interest. "We help our clients exit and sell their established online businesses," he says. "We frequently help our clients examine whether this is actually the best choice for them (it often isn't), and this honesty wins us fans, clients and referrals."
Put in the time.
Many entrepreneurs swear by face-to-face or in-person communication for building rapport. "If possible, spend time with them in person so you can get to know each other and communicate in a way that helps the other person understand where you are coming from," explains Serenity Gibbons, local unit lead for NAACP in Northern California.
If spending time together isn't possible, use video conferencing software and phone calls to talk and listen to each other regularly. According to Gibbons, "these are the opportunities where trust can truly be built."
Echo what you hear.
"I focus first and foremost on asking questions and listening carefully, so that I can both echo their rational thoughts and appeal to their emotions," explains Robby Scott Berthume, co-founder and CEO of Bull & Beard.
According to Berthume, you start to bond with someone when you feel they just get 'it' and get you. And "that's what happens when you repeat back what you heard in a slightly different way and with emotion that's compatible with the prospect's emotional state," he explains.
Don't underestimate the power of small talk.
While listening to the concerns and needs of your client is paramount, don't neglect to engage them in small talk, too. According to Zvi Band, founder and CEO of Contactually, "Small talk is often considered useless fluff, but when used properly, it can help you bridge into the personal."
"While wrapping up a coffee meeting with a prospect, we started sharing weekend plans. He mentioned having to spend a weekend shuttling his son to a basketball tournament," Band reveals. "Rather than a thank-you note, I went online and sent a basketball to his house. Years later, he is still a big supporter."