The Influencer’s Guide to Building Rapport: Q&A with Elinor Stutz

“Building rapport” is one of those sales buzzwords that sounds a lot more technical than it is. When it comes down to it, it’s simply two people who communicate well and really like each other—the perfect state for selling. But while this all might sound simple, it’s not always easy to build. (For starters, prospects aren’t always eager to trust your salespeople.)

To learn a little more about how to build rapport, its importance, and what it means for your sales training, we sat down with notable sales influencer, Elinor Stutz. She’s been in sales for a while and it was great to hear how she’s depended upon having rock-solid rapport throughout the duration of her career.

Below are her thoughts, and why she thinks building rapport is one of the most important skills in sales.


Author Bio: Elinor Stutz, CEO of Smooth Sale, delivers inspirational keynotes and has authored two books, Nice Girls DO Get the Sale: Relationship Building That Gets Results and HIRED! In addition, CEO World Magazine named Stutz one of “the brightest sales minds to follow on Twitter.” Stutz consults and speaks worldwide.

1. What’s your definition of good rapport?

Good rapport is when all parties enjoy an open conversation and welcome learning from one another. Asking questions, listening in full, and clarifying anything not understood will have your prospects revealing more and more during each meeting.

An important key is understanding your prospect’s perspective upfront—including their career and personal goals. This will provide you with a full picture of what will truly interest them and help grow the sale in the future.

2. Why is building rapport so important in sales?

The saying, “People buy from people they know, like, and trust” is an old sales motto, but it still holds true today. Consider whether you ever purchased a product or service from someone you didn’t like (chances are, you never conducted business with that person again).  

The ultimate goal for business shouldn’t be just the first sale. Instead, by focusing on the long-term relationship and building rapport every step of the way, you will develop a returning and referring clientele.

3. How did you learn to build rapport?

I started my first sales job in an era when women weren’t wanted on sales teams. I had never sold before, so it was up to me to figure it out. The only thing I knew how to do well was be polite, so I asked a lot of questions that were business-oriented and somewhat personal, too. Most of all, I wasn’t trying to cram a sale down anyone’s throat.

I built such great rapport that although I was selling an unknown brand of copiers, I took big business away from the best known companies in the industry.  Continuing this style, I soon became the top sales rep by the fourth month—without knowing a single sales “technique.” This showed me early on just how important it is to build rapport.

4. Do you believe that you can train reps to develop rapport, or is it more their innate personality?

I do believe that sales team members may learn how to build rapport. As with any endeavor, someone with innate aptitude will have an edge in the beginning. But it’s those who have an attitude of wanting to learn and succeed, coupled with a positive mindset, that will win in the end.

5. How much of rapport is dependent upon your knowledge of the product/business acumen?

There’s no question that the more you know, the better you can serve your clientele. It’s critical to get up to speed about what you’re selling as quickly as possible.

Alongside that, it’s equally important to research prospective customers—their company’s mission, strategies, and financials (if publicly traded), as well as the industry, including competitors. Sales has many components, and the more astute one is in all of the elements, the better the results.

6. How do you recommend that reps build rapport through impersonal barriers like phone calling or emailing?

Rapport comes from congeniality, and congeniality may be communicated with a smile on your face or with thoughtful communication. Four important points for initial phone calls or email messages are:

  • Briefly relate how their website caught your attention, and why it relates to your work.
  • Allow your prospective customer to choose whether any follow-up communication should be through email or by phone.
  • Conclude by reminding him or her that your purpose is to find ways to help one another.
  • At the end of every message, written or verbal, thank people for their time and let them know it’s appreciated.

7. How should reps balance “being themselves” with matching their prospect’s communication style?

This question stems from the idea of “mirroring” people in regard to vocabulary, body language and facial expression, so that they feel comfortable with you. The problem is that some people can overdo it and make the other person very uncomfortable. In general, it’s more important to be yourself, while being aware of the other person’s habits, so that you come across as thoughtful—not manipulative.

8. Any final thoughts?

To sum it up, you’ll be far more successful when you focus on your prospective customer’s behalf first. And, you’ll make a lasting and favorable impression by building rapport that leads to a returning and referring clientele.

The Secret Weapon to Sales Training

Learn how to help reps close deals faster.