How many times has this happened to you? You got a promising referral, or scheduled a conference call, or showed up at an initial meeting with someone who seemed like a perfect fit for your product, service, or solution. Then, about five minutes into the discussion, you found yourself experiencing a “disconnect” of some kind with that seemingly perfect customer. And the relationship died. If you were emailing the referral, maybe there was a sudden silence in the back-and-forth e-correspondence. Maybe, after the first two or three messages, you never heard back from the other person at all.
If you were taking part in a face-to-face meeting, maybe the other person’s body language changed and suddenly seemed more defensive. Maybe you got less meaningful information than you thought you were going to get, and maybe the meeting ended sooner than you thought it would, without any meaningful next step being set. So what happened? You experienced Failure to Launch Syndrome. Why? Because you pushed too hard, too early for information. You didn’t build up rapport before trying to build a business relationship!
Failure to Launch Syndrome happens when the other person – who may indeed be a perfect fit for what you sell – decides that you’ve jumped into “countdown mode” too early in the relationship. The other person loses confidence in the process because he or she feels unheard. And what happens when Houston doesn’t feel confident about the mission? The countdown stops! Here’s how to get that rocket off the launching pad: Build rapport before you try to build business! Investing time to learn about your prospect before “pitching” your product, directly or indirectly, will help you build rapport and trust. When you understand your prospects, it’s easier to understand their points of view. Prospects must have a sense of your sincere interest before they become comfortable with you and seek your advice.
To engage your prospect in a meaningful conversation and facilitate the process of developing rapport, you should have prepared questions to ask at the outset of the relationship. To prevent the conversation from wandering from topic to topic, you should also have a framework from which to ask those initial questions. Begin the conversation by focusing your questions on the individual. Next, expand your questions to focus on the company and the marketplace in which the company operates. Then, ask questions about the industry. All this must happen before you refocus the discussion on the reason for the meeting. The following are some examples of good, generic rapport-building questions.
Ask about the prospect
- How did you get started in the industry?
- How did you get started with this company?
- Tell me about what you do.
Ask about the company
- Tell me about the company.
- How many locations do you have?
- How long has the company been in business?
Ask about the Marketplace
- What’s happening in your marketplace?
- How have the dynamics changed?
Ask about the Industry
- What industry trends have you identified?
- What has had the biggest influence on your industry?
With relevant and meaningful questions like these, you not only build rapport, but you also build credibility. If you do your homework before calling on your prospects, you will know something about them, their companies, their markets, their competitors, etc. Also, you can use that knowledge to frame your rapport-building questions.