Establishing Rapport With Prospects

Know When to Talk and When to Listen

In order to build business rapport, you'll need to master the skill of judgment. That means knowing when to talk, listen and comment on what's being said and understood. In other words, you'll need to know how to deliver an effective and meaningful monologue, when to stop talking and how to make the transition to dialogue.

This is not as difficult as it may at first appear. Ask yourself: What does it take for you to listen to what's being said? Does what the other person says have to be of interest to you? Does it have to be from a credible source? Does it need to pose an interesting and challenging question or thought? Does it have to stir your imagination? Does it have to elicit a response and give you the chance to express your opinion or immediate reaction?

If you're like most people, you answered yes to all these questions. But in a business setting, you may put these conditions on hold when interacting with a colleague or superior. Guess what? CEOs operate by these principles at virtually all times! How do I know? Take a look at the criteria they gave me when I asked them what it takes for them to keep listening to someone else. The salesman must:

  • Prove that what's being said has a high probability of interest to this target CEO. (Remember what CEOs fear most: wasting precious time and being forced into discussing unfamiliar topics.).
  • Prove their credibility. Cite specific, verifiable results; quote real, live human beings who will back up what you say.
  • Pose an interesting and challenging question or thought. (CEOs are more open than you might think to challenge. When someone asks, "What would happen if you doubled your commission on sales that concluded in half the normal selling time?," they stop and ponder the consequences!)
  • Stir the imagination. During my interviews with CEOs for my new book CEOs Who Sell, Peter Bell, CEO of Storage Networks, used the following question to inspire interest-and, eventually, commitment-from the CEO of a Fortune 30 company: "Imagine cutting $1 billion from your fixed expenses between now and the end of the year." Wow! Who's not going to listen to the next words that come out of this guy's mouth?
  • Elicit a response that gives the CEO the chance to express an immediate opinion or reaction. Remember, CEOs are big on exercising power, control and authority. Let them. Needless to say, a question like, "Which time is better, Monday at 2 o'clock or Wednesday at 4 o'clock?" fails this test.)

And when all else fails, ask for advice and opinions. Individuals who possess power, control and authority like CEOs love to give their opinions. Doing so gives them the feeling that they are in control of the conversation.

Years ago, I was making a prospecting call and heard this response from a CEO: "I've had a bad experience with your organization, and I would not take the risk of a business relationship with your organization again." My response is one that you may want to tuck away under the category of severe "objection handling." I said: "Mr. Benefito, if your best salesperson just heard that objection from one of his best potential prospects, how would you personally coach them in answering it?" and then I shut up and listened intently. What I heard turned out to be the key to turning the situation around...and taking a giant step toward winning the sale (which is ultimately what happened).

Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches, Sales Success Kits and newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit

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Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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