Sales Best Practice #14 – Creating rapport with new contacts

Best Practice #14: Is good at quickly creating rapport with new contacts.


By Dave Kahle

I like to break the sales process down into its simplest components:

  1. Engage with the right people.
  2. Make them comfortable with you.
  3. Find out what they want.
  4. Show them how what you have gives them what they want.
  5. Get an agreement on the next step.
  6. Follow up and leverage satisfaction.

One of the essential early steps is to “make them comfortable with you” in other words, to create some rapport with the other person.

According to the dictionary, rapport is “an emotional bond or friendly relationship between people based on mutual liking, trust and a sense that they understand and share each other’s concerns.

We can understand why this is so important. If your contact doesn’t feel comfortable with you, then he/she won’t be nearly as open to sharing information. And, if we can’t get information, we can’t “find out what they want.” We all have stories to tell about an incident in which we were the buyer and a sales person was rude or self-interested to the point where we decided to terminate the relationship and go somewhere else.

The same thing is true of our customers. If they don’t feel comfortable with us, if they don’t feel that we are interested in them, they form negative impressions of us and consider some other source.

I’m surprised by the quantity of sales people who get this exactly wrong. They’ll talk about a customer and say something like, “he’s a really nice guy,” as if that mattered.

Their first reaction of the immature sales person is to judge the customer by his/her own feelings about the customer. That’s exactly backwards. It doesn’t matter how we feel about the customer. What does matter is how the customer feels about us.

And, it is the responsibility of the professional sales person to interact with the customer in such a way as to make this particular human being comfortable with us.

Not surprisingly, the best sales people are masters of creating rapport with all kinds of people, understanding that it is the essential first step in a successful interaction with a customer. The average sales person never takes the time to study this issue, instead relying on his or her hit-or-miss people skills developed outside of the job. The average sales person views the customer through his/her reaction to the customer, whereas the best sales people understand that it is their job to create rapport with the customer.

Like so many specific aspects of the sales person’s job, there is no magic, no secret to this task. Creating rapport is a widely researched issue, and best practices for doing this well are widely described.

To understand some highly effective ways of accomplishing this:


About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. His most recent book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been named one of the “five best business books,” by three international entities.

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The sales conversation is changing—have you kept up?


Are you having the same old, same old conversations with customers and prospects? Ones that start like these:


Tell me about your business

Let me tell you about my product

Just checking in 

How’s it going?

Not much; what’s new with you?

These are antiquated conversation openers that go back to the days when customers brought in salespeople to learn about services, products and solutions. Today, these kinds of conversations are ones that neither you nor your buyer need. You can and should learn about their business before the conversation begins. They can do the same for your products and services. If you’re just checking in, you can text.

Buyers still want to talk to you, but not about that stuff. Today’s conversations start where the old ones left off. You need to come to the table already an expert — with knowledge of the customer’s company, its competitive environment, and the stakeholders involved in the buying decision.

Where to next?

And then you need to take the conversation somewhere that leaves the customer thinking, “Wow. I got a lot more out of that conversation than I expected.”

You want conversations that buyers will remember. That will set you apart from other salespeople. That will unlock new opportunities or get your buyer thinking differently.

Here are four fresh kinds of conversations you can have with prospects and customers:


Customers are looking to you for insight that goes beyond what they already know, to help them solve not only their current problem, but emerging business challenges. Futuring conversations help you (and sometimes buyers themselves) understand where things are headed. The goal isn’t prediction. It’s to learn the buyers’ vision of the future as they understand it today, and to explore what they need to do right now to prepare for it.

Some questions to get the ball rolling:

  • Where do you expect this organization to be in five years?
  • What are you doing to prepare for ______ (insert an emerging industry trend)?
  • What will be the biggest threat to your business in the next year?


The goal of this conversation is to identify top-priority business issues. This isn’t a conversation limited to your products and solutions; it takes a step back to look at what issues are attracting attention and resources in the organization.


Some questions to ask:

  • What topics are getting the most discussion in management meetings these days?
  • Where are you spending the most money?
  • What’s driving revenue and growth?
  • What problems keep coming up despite your best efforts to solve them?


These conversations are designed to help you better understand buying cycles, so you can get plugged in sooner. Back in the old days, buyers got salespeople involved early in the buying cycle, because that was the only way they could get the information they needed. Now buyers can do their research anonymously on the Internet, and they tend to invite salespeople in only at the end. The buying cycle is still there, but much of it is invisible to salespeople – unless you ask.



  • What projects are you working on that are still in the early phases?
  • What issues are you just now starting to look into?
  • What’s in your development pipeline?
  • What do you see on the horizon that you feel you need to know more about?


These conversations create emotional links between the customer and you, what you sell, and the company you work for. It’s important to make the business case, but equally important to connect person to person.


You might say:

  • How do you feel about what I’ve proposed?
  • What will it mean to you personally if we can find a solution to this problem?
  • I was really excited when I saw the results of our field trials.
  • It’s fun to work with your organization, because you challenge me to do my best.

These are different conversations from the ones you may be used to having. They require a greater depth of knowledge and insight. And they may take you in unexpected directions. They may uncover opportunities that more predictable conversations never will. Even more important, they differentiate you from all those other salespeople who play it safe, and get your buyer thinking of you in a new and better light.

Adapted in part from “Changing the Sales Conversation,” by Linda Richardson. To learn more, visit

About the Author:

Michael Boyette is the Executive Editor of Rapid Learning Institute and thought leader for the Top Sales Dog blog.  He is a nationally recognized authority on selling and has written hundreds of articles and training programs for sales reps and sales managers.  Michael has managed programs for US Healthcare, Bell Communications Research, and DuPont.  Connect with Michael via Twitter @TopSalesDog.

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Best Practices for Sales People

By Dave Kahle

One of the most debilitating myths about the sales profession is that sales people can learn on their own, on the job, and eventually become good at their jobs. This myth implies they’ll eventually develop their own style, and that will bring them the maximum results.

That myth is true for about five percent of the sales people in the world. For the other 95 percent, nothing could be further from the truth. The overwhelming majority of field sales people perform at a fraction of their potential because they have never been systematically exposed to the best practices of their profession. Instead, they have been expected to “learn on their own.”

I like to paint. I don’t mean pictures, I mean walls and bedrooms and hallways. I enjoy the physical nature of it, and the resulting change in the feeling of the room. Once, for about two months, I actually made a living doing it. I think I’m pretty good at it.

Until a little while ago, when I was watching one of those reality home improvement shows. On it, a professional painter demonstrated the best way to apply masking tape, hold a brush and apply the paint. Yikes! I was doing it all wrong.

All this time I thought I was pretty good, in my own self-taught, learn-on-my-own sort of way. I guess I really didn’t have any standard. But I almost always painted by myself, and had only my own opinion. I thought I was pretty good compared to what I thought was good.

Then, when I discovered the best practices of a true professional, I saw that my own ideas we not up to the standard. I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. If I’m going to become really good — objectively, verifiably good — I have to change my routines and incorporate the best practices.

So it is with sales as well. The world is full of sales people who have learned on the job, pretty much on their own, and have never been exposed to the best practices of the profession. They delude themselves, as I did, holding the opinion that they are pretty good. And that delusion keeps them lingering in levels of performance considerably beneath what their potential would allow them.

Sales managers often share that delusion, and occupy themselves with other matters, unable or unsure how to improve the performance of their team. Typically, the sales manager was, in a previous incarnation, a high performing sales person. He/she was part of the five percent who learned on their own, who studied the best practices, and who incorporated them into his routines. As a result, that sales manager, formerly high performing sales person, expects every other sales person to be just like him; to have the same motivation, the same drive, the same ability and propensity to learn. He, therefore, makes little effort to expose the sales team to best practices, because he did it on his own.

That’s too bad. Every profession in the world develops a body of knowledge about the best way to do that job. And every professional in the world is expected, if they are serious about the profession, to regularly study those best practices, and to incorporate them into their routines with a disciplined, methodical effort. That’s why teachers have in-services, doctors go to conferences, nurses have in-service training, etc.


This article is available in an expanded version on our blog. Post your comments there.

The job of the sales person is no different. There is probably no other profession where more is written about, and to, than field sales. Over the last 50 years, there must have been thousands of books written, tens of thousands of articles published, thousands of audio programs prepared, and hundreds of newsletters and magazines published – all for the field sales person, and all describing the best practices of the profession in various terms and methods.

Just as there is a set of best ways to paint a room, so there are sets of best ways to ask a question, seek an appointment, build rapport, make a presentation, close the deal, and follow up on the purchase. Astute sales people understand this, and seek to continually expose themselves to the best practices. Astute sales managers do likewise. They continually expose their sales people to the best practices of the profession, and encourage every sales person to improve by methodically incorporating them into their routines. Those companies that systematically and methodically expose their sales people to the body of knowledge regarding best practices of the sales profession consistently out-perform those who don’t.

It is the path to improvement that the rest of the professional world understands. It’s time for the sales profession to do likewise.


If you are serious about learning the best practices of your profession, consider a subscription to the Sales Resource Center; 20 years of Dave Kahle’s wisdom and insights for one low monthly fee.

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Customization – Key Component to CRM Success

CEO, Commence Corporation

The Customer Relationship Management software industry (CRM) is highly competitive. There are literally hundreds of offerings for all size businesses and at all price points. Despite this the majority of these solutions are failing to meet customer requirements and there is one simple reason why – customization.

CRM solution providers can be divided into three categories: those that sell to small businesses, those that target the middle market, and those that have designed solutions for enterprise organizations. Despite the differences in functionality and price, they all have the same business objective and that is to sell their pre-built solution to as many companies as possible. At the small business level, none of the solution providers has any interest in spending time to understand your business requirements. Most do not even have a telephone number to call for assistance and why should they? The majority of these products offer basic functionality at a low cost. You download them via the internet, pay a monthly fee and if they meet your requirements then great. There is little to no customization available so you had better make sure that what you get out-of-the-box is all that you need.

The problem is that most companies want and need more. They need to be able to tailor the solution not only for their current business requirements, but also for those that develop in the future. Here lies the problem. Programs like and Microsoft Dynamics CRM (considered the leaders in the CRM space) are customizable, but by who? Customization of the platform requires the Salesforce toolkit and engineers trained in the use of their proprietary tools. This adds a substantial expense to the solution. Customization of Microsoft CRM is traditionally done by third party resellers. That’s why they recommend the product. They want those additional professional service fees. So what do you do? The low cost solutions will not meet your requirements and the industry giants that do are just too costly. There are some good alternatives, but you have to look a bit harder to find them.


Forbes magazine recently produced an article called 25 Great CRM Applications You Probably Never Heard Of. One of the listings is Commence CRM from Commence Corporation. Commence CRM is targeted at small to mid-sized businesses that require robust functionality with the ability to customize the applications to meet unique business requirements. What is different about Commence is the following. First, like the article states you probably never heard of Commence CRM. Secondly, Commence CRM not only offers a suite of applications that rivals the industry giants, but you can tailor the applications yourself without purchasing proprietary development tools or engaging expensive third party services.

If you are looking to implement CRM software for your business you are going to look at and Microsoft CRM, that’s a given. But why not take a moment to compare the functionality, customizability and total cost of ownership of Commence CRM to the industry giants? You will be glad you did.

See to learn more, and see what customers say about Commence CRM.