Sales has become data driven.  For decades, sales was thought of as instinctive, intuitive, genetic. That is no longer the case and, for the most part, for the better.  Sales organizations now use sophisticated tools to mine data to set their strategies, prepare their sales forces, and reach their target markets.  But despite sales becoming more scientific, and the availability of illuminating research, fewer than 50% of sales forces achieve target.  The economy, increased competition, globalization, and self-directed clients all contribute to the decline—but that’s not the entire picture.

Data fed knowledge, sharper skills, more advanced tools, and the support of marketing teams and sales leadership are a given for competitive organizations.  Without these, salespeople cannot succeed.  But these alone simply are not sufficient  to motivate clients to change the status quo.  The missing element is trust, and I have found that rapport is the gateway to trust.

Customers are plowing ahead in the buying process without salespeople, and even at the point in the buying process when salespeople get involved, thanks to technology, cost cutting, and preferences, salespeople get to spend less time face to face with their clients. More selling is being done on the phone and on-line. And of course, there are efficiencies and benefits to this across the board.  But the substitution and reliance on technology as the connector comes at a cost too. The phone is warmer than email or texting, but none of these approximate effective face to face.  Of course, meaningful relationships are formed without the advantage of personal meetings if, and it is a big if, rapport is a central element to the contacts.

Over-relying on data to make a sale is not proving viable. Data is far from destiny.  The problem with most data is that it generalizes clients.  The combination of impersonal data-driven messaging and technology in the place of touch, makes it is easy to omit rapport.  It also makes the need to build rapport with clients even more essential.

We hear so little, if anything, about rapport today.   It is almost hard to write the word, and not have it sound old. It is an old concept—yet one that is more vital than ever. Rapport is the vestibule to relationship. It is a basic first step toward establishing the trust essential to clients taking action.  Rapport is the beginning of knowing your clients at a personal level and helping them know you.

Whether it is a phone call or an email, video conference, or a text … take a moment to start and end each contact with rapport.  I see the lack of rapport almost daily. Recently, I was asked to contribute some ideas to a magazine article.  The writer sent me questions to prepare me for the phone interview.  I decided to answer the questions in writing first to give the author a head start, I offered times for the interview, and send a wish for a Happy Thanksgiving.  I got an immediate response:  highly efficient, friendly (use of an !) point to confirm a time.  There was no inclusion of my name, no thank you for taking the time to answer the questions,  no wish for a happy holiday, and no signature.  The author didn’t even take the cue from how I responded.  Part of effective rapport is noticing how clients and colleagues address you, and making a decision about  how you respond.  I asked myself why there was no human element in the writer’s reply.  I have my suspicions about this situation, but I will do some detective work…

I do know too often rapport is being pushed to the wayside.  In a way that is fantastic news for the salespeople who take a few seconds to make rapport a part of how they communicate— just a few words can have psychological impact and start threading a personal connection.

 Use tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter to help you plan rapport.  Personal rapport doesn’t have to be chit chat about the game, or family, or a holiday – although these are fine.  There is also business rapport – for example, a conference in which the client spoke, or a new facility important to the client, saying “happy holiday!”, or as basic as asking “how was your weekend?” or forwarding an article of interest with a personalized note.  Rapport can be as small as a gracious comment in a quick email – for example, in an email in which a client has asked a question or made a request. “I am happy to get…to you…  I’ve researched …   and end with I’ll follow up on … to check if you have any questions. Thanks for contacting me.  Rapport can fit in a text or twitter. Using a person’s name can be rapport.  Thanks is only six letters.  You have the gift of rapport.  Be a part of the movement to bring rapport back!