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3 powerful tactics to build rapport in sales

November 9, 2020
Devin Reed

Devin Reed

Conversation Intelligence Sales Strategies

This article is part of the Gong Labs series, where I publish findings from our data research team. We analyze sales conversations and deals using AI, then share the results to help you win more deals. Follow me to read upcoming research.

My grandfather was a field sales rep for 3M in the ‘90s. 

He would drive around the LA area, visiting doctors’ offices, hoping to sell them medical equipment.

He was the definition of a “people person.” His superpower was building relationships within minutes of meeting someone. 

He knew which colleges his clients’ kids went to and what they were studying.

If he took them to dinner, he remembered how they liked their steak cooked (or if they preferred fish or salad). 

He even sent holiday cards to people that didn’t buy from him. 

That’s how seriously he took building relationships. That’s the kind of person he was.

Once when I was younger, I asked him why people let him bug them at work. Didn’t they think he was annoying for interrupting their day? 

He replied: They don’t always buy from me, but they always invite me back because they like talking to me. 

From then on, I understood that relationships don’t just open doors, they keep them open.

There’s a long list of the changes we’ve all experienced in 2020, but one thing remains: building relationships is a top priority. 

And, yes, it’s more challenging now than ever. 

If you want to win deals with virtual sales, you need to build trust with buyers and differentiate yourself from your competition. 

Here’s how. 

Don’t confuse small talk with building rapport 

You know small talk. 

It’s the local weather, it’s this weekend’s plans, it’s last weekend’s plans. 

It occurs at cocktail parties (take me back!) and at the beginning of sales calls.

Some sales reps love it, some prefer to get right to business. 

I think of my style as personable, but I was curious about how best-in-class sellers use small talk to build rapport in 2020.

So I asked the Gong Labs team to analyze top performers across SMB and enterprise sales cycles and find out how they use small talk in their deals. 

It turns out, the top performers engage in 17% less small talk than average and bottom performers.

Surprising, right?

Top performers are considered the BEST relationship builders. 

So what gives?

One possibility is that small talk and building rapport are NOT the same.

Yes, small talk is pleasant, but it’s also forgettable. 

It’s forgettable because it’s surface level. 

And top performers have this figured out.  

Here’s what they’ve learned: Building rapport means developing a connection around a shared interest, expressed over multiple interactions. 

Think about your meaningful relationships in your life: your partner, your best friends, your work colleagues. Are those relationships centered around the local weather? No!

Those relationships are centered around common interests like hobbies, sports, food preferences, shared opinions, and content you consume.

And around repeated interactions around that shared interest.

Here’s what it looks like:

I used hiking as an example here. But Gong can pick up on anything and everything. Like, say, pricing. Or a competitor. Or maybe integrations. And tells you if those were brought up in a deal.

Curious what you’ll find if we looked at your team’s deals? Get a free tour and I’ll walk you through it step by step.

Bottom line: unless you’re a meteorologist, chances are that neither you nor your buyers are passionate about the weather.

So what is small talk good for? 

Absolutely something. 

Small talk is discovery for rapport building. 

Use it to understand your buyer’s interests and passions, then use that information to bond with them. 

The name of the game is building deep, meaningful relationships. Because that’s how you build trust. 

But there’s more to trust than a series of one-off questions you fire at each other every time you chat.

Want a crash course in how to become a master conversationalist?

Learn how top sellers turn their work-the-room energy into work-the-zoom skills.

Download the 7 Habits of Master Rapport-Builders.

Let buyers SEE that you’re a professional

There are a ton of studies that show that appearances have a massive impact on how we perceive people, from the clothes we wear to our facial expressions.

But many sellers don’t use this to their advantage. 

Instead, most prospects see this when talking to their friendly salesperson:

Jan seems great, but it’s hardly building a personal relationship if I’m staring at a black box for an hour while she tells me why I should go with her small, regional company over industry titans who can offer me lower costs. 

Compare that experience to delivering the same message – only this time there’s a human on the other side. 

I can see her confidence, her smile, her facial expressions. And they matter. They help me assess trust-related characteristics, including authenticity, sincerity, and respect. 

I’m actually starting to form a favorable opinion about her: 

This is how humans are wired—we rely primarily (although not exclusively) on visual cues to determine who is worthy of our trust.

Now, this isn’t a call to wear your Sunday best every day while WFH. 

It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being human.

Consider visual appearance as a means to building better relationships with your buyers.

To fact-check this concept, we analyzed 12,282 sales opportunities to find out the true impact of selling with video in 2020. Here’s what we found:

Deals are 127% more likely to close when video is used during any point in the sales process.


That’s a MASSIVE improvement. 

Clearly, the impact of selling with video is in your favor. It’s a no-brainer.

The best part? It’s as easy as combing your hair and flipping your webcam on.

Use this virtual selling advantage in your next meeting. 

(PS: Avoid embarrassing video mistakes by checking out our 10-point checklist for flawless video calls.)

Delight buyers with the unexpected

OK, you’re building rapport and buyers see that you’re the real deal. 

That’s enough, right?

Not so fast. 

Now it’s time to really win them over. 

An easy way to delight customers is to step out from the screen and into reality.

You can’t meet up with buyers, but you can still elevate the experience of working together. Here’s an easy way to do it:

You might be thinking “This is so basic! How could a measly $5 coffee card make a difference?!”

You’d be surprised. 

Aside from the nice gesture, the gift also triggers the law of reciprocity

Robert Cialdini made this a broadly known concept in his book, Influence. 

He cites a study where people were 3x more likely (from 17% to 50%) to comply with a substantial request when the law of reciprocity was involved.

So not only will you show you’re a thoughtful person with these gifts, but you’ll also trigger reciprocity, and that can pull buyers into your sales process like a magnet.

But keep in mind, this only works if they accept your gesture or gift. If, for example, the coffee card isn’t redeemed, then it won’t trigger reciprocity. 

Bonus points if you can make the gift personal to the recipient (you know, based on the fantastic discovery work you did to help build rapport).

If you need more inspiration and ideas you can use immediately, I’ve got you covered. 

Only read this if you really want to grow relationships (and your commission)

Does building rapport sound fluffy?

It isn’t.

In fact, master rapport-builders have it down to a science.

And the best part: it works even while selling remotely.

That’s why I put together the 7 Habits of Master Rapport-Builders.

It’s got all the techniques you can use to get buyers to bond with you (without having to bond with them).

Download the 7 Habits of Master Rapport-Builders here.

Know a big small talker?

Or someone who never uses their video (and should ASAP)?

Send them this post. Worst case: maybe they’ll pick up the next coffee.

See the magic of Gong in action

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