It is now mission critical to outperform your competitors in crafting higher level relationships with clients. This will ensure more business is secured, long term connections are established and that recommendations, referrals and repeat business are inevitable. Estate agency remains a people business rather than simply a transactional one.
Rapport is at the hub of those relationships. The old principle holds true – ‘people buy people’ or perhaps the fuller ‘people buy people who communicate effectively and create genuine rapport’ is the better version.
The word ‘rapport’ is regularly tossed around, yet there is often confusion about what it means. It isn’t simply about being nice to people!
People come from all walks of life – diverse backgrounds, situations and views. Similar scenarios are seen totally differently by different people. To some people, a weekend in London is an exciting, vibrant experience. To others, central London is a noisy, dirty, scary place – the geography is identical – it is the individuals’ opinions and feelings that are different.
This is because we all have a different perspective, or ‘map of the world’. Each person’s ‘map’ consists of knowledge, experience, attitudes, beliefs and opinions. It is unsurprising that natural rapport is rare given how different we all are and how our ‘map’ is unlikely to match anyone else’s.
So, a sensible start to improving in this area is to accept the concept of ‘maps of the world’ and recognise that each of their prospective clients and customers has a different one.
Active listening and giving full attention to the speaker are two essential elements in sales.
If a salesperson can see a customer’s ‘map’ more clearly, he or she can shift themselves towards it. This doesn’t mean necessarily compromising or changing their own views (although that may be a natural consequence), but rather that they look to ‘match’ with them in terms of voice, vocabulary, pace, tone and so forth. ‘Matching’ is a key element in building trust and rapport.
Matching means being ‘in tune’ with the person we are communicating with. One way of helping achieve rapport, so that the other person can feel more comfortable in our presence, is to adopt aspects of their behaviour, such as particular body language, gestures, tone of voice or particular words and phrases.
In everyday life, people tend to do this naturally. When with others, you might suddenly notice that you and the person you’re with have adopted the same posture. Or at a social occasion you might notice that people who are getting on well together lift their glasses to drink at the same time. These are natural signs of being in tune, in rapport with each other.
Beyond ‘matching’, rapport building comprises a number of skills – commonly described as ‘soft skills’. These include effective questioning and active listening.
The first skill – effective questioning – involves an array of question types to be employed in particular circumstances.
The most effective questions to accelerate the building of rapport are ‘open’ and ‘scenario’ questions. Both encourage the speaker to speak – obvious as it sounds, it’s not always a goal achieved by salespeople – particularly those who prefer the sound of their own voice.
An open question like, “How are getting on with finding a property?” is far better than “Have you found a property yet?” as it encourages the customer to elaborate. “What is the absolute latest you need to move?” is significantly more effective than “Are you in a hurry to move?”
Scenario questions are great to start to understand their ‘map of the world’; “What would happen if you hadn’t moved by that date?” or, “What will you do if you don’t achieve your asking price?” or “What will you do if you can’t find a detached property within your budget?”
These start to really delve into the mindset of your clients and move towards their map of the world.
The second skill – active listening – is an essential ingredient of effective selling. We have all heard the phrase “two ears, one mouth: use them in proportion”, but many salespeople are too busy formulating their next question to be adept at listening to their customer.
Active listening includes several elements. Giving full attention to the speaker is essential. Verbal and non-verbal messages can be effective – maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, smiling, agreeing “Yes” or simply “Uh huh” to encourage them to continue. The use of summaries, to check understanding and prove you have listened, also forms a key part in active listening.
Combine all these techniques and you will move to the next level in your sales techniques – the time you invest in helping improving your rapport building with clients and customers may well be the best investment you make in 2022.
Julian O’Dell is head of Marvellous Training Solutions.