How Do I Build Customer Rapport?

The answer is in asking the right opening and closing questions.

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By Ray Silverstein

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's always a quandary: How do you get conversations with prospects on the right track?

The first thing, of course, is to establish an initial rapport. Thank the prospect for the appointment and employ a bonding statement. Then start a prospect's first sales call with this question: "Just out of curiosity, why did you agree to this appointment? Why are you taking the time to see me?"

Most of the time, prospective buyers will respond by describing their trials, troubles and tribulations. They'll tell you why they're seeking a solution--the perfect setup. Now you have the opportunity to drill deeper, discovering your prospect's actual needs. This information will help you position your product or service as the prospect's best solution.

Of course, be careful not to ask questions that may be perceived as rude, intrusive or nosey. For example, many professional sales people like to ask, "What would you like to accomplish in your business?"

Sounds innocent enough, but research indicates that in the early moments of a sales call, this line of questioning provokes a negative response. You can ask this type of question successfully, but only after you've established a greater degree of trust and rapport. If you ask too early in the game, you may get an answer, but not necessarily a truthful one.

Another common mistake is asking prospects if they're satisfied with their sales. No one is ever fully satisfied with their sales, and yes-or-no questions shut down dialogue. Instead, position it this way: "In your experience, what actions could you take to increase your sales?" The question's not only less judgmental, but it's also open-ended, inviting prospects to share whatever is on their minds.

As my mother used to say, you'll never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Many sales people focus primarily on their closings, but you'll never get there if your opening is weak. First impressions are lasting impressions. Prepare your opening with care, or you'll have to work that much harder to change that impression later.

Research indicates that most decision makers base their purchasing decisions on who they are buying from, not what they are buying. Your questions reveal who you are and how you think. Ask the right questions, and you create something invaluable: trust and rapport.

By the same token, close on the right note as well. Let's assume you're going to get the sale. To continue building trust and to erase any shadow of buyer's remorse, ask your prospect to reconfirm his or her decision.

I like to ask, "Are you sure you want to do this?" and specify the action they've agreed to take. Another way to ask this is, "Do you believe using our [fill in the blank] will solve your problem?"

This is called a "reverse." When a buyer restates what they plan to do and why, in essence, they are selling to themselves. That, of course, is the goal of an effective sales presentation. In addition, by taking this extra step, you illustrate your interest in truly solving their problem, not just making the sale.

The reverse accomplishes something important: It transforms the sale into the buyer's decision, not some high-pressure close you imposed on him or her. And it minimizes a frustrating experience we've all had at one time or another: watching a buyer who committed to a sale have a change of heart later.

Planning your sales presentations wisely can mean the difference between success and failure. Focus on your openings and closings--and enjoy more open-and-shut sales.

Ray Silverstein

Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization , a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or .

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