The Misguided Myth of Establishing Rapport

Oct 10

Sales experts have long touted the value of establishing rapport with prospects before moving into the sales conversation. This exercise includes looking around a prospect’s office to determine points of conversation and perhaps even areas of commonality and then making small talk.

In a post I wrote last week, I suggested that sales people should not use valuable sales time to engage people in social chit-chat. Not surprisingly, I received comments and emails from people who disagreed with me.

That’s okay.

I don’t expect people to agree with everything I write…that would be boring.

But those comments got me thinking…

Why are so many people stuck on this concept?

Don’t get me wrong…

There was a time when this strategy was extremely valid, useful and effective.

However, decision makers in today’s hectic business world are far too busy to waste valuable time on social chit-chat. They honestly don’t care if you have something in common with them. And they certainly see through your attempts to use photos and awards to better connect with them.

If you really want to establish rapport with busy prospects get to the point of your meeting as quickly as you can. Or, ask them a question or two about their business.

A few weeks ago I met with a new prospect and as I was taking a seat in his office, I made a simple comment about the upcoming expansion of his business. This prompted him to tell me what the company’s plans were and gave me additional insight into his situation.

I would suggest that we were developing rapport but it was not based around small talk or social chit-chat.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.

1. If you are waiting for other people to arrive then small talk is usually necessary. After all, you don’t want to sit there in complete silence. Not only would that be uncomfortable…you would probably be perceived as being a dork.

2. If several people are present and introductions are being made, there may be opportunities to engage some of the in social chit-chat. My caution is to be to be sensitive to the time and avoid spending too much time on pleasantries.

Is there a time and place for rapport-building conversation?


It just isn’t the same as it used to be. The key is to be selective and recognize when it makes sense to engage in small talk and don’t just do it because that’s what you think is the best way to open the sales conversation.

My suggestion is to focus on objective of the meeting first, get down to business quickly, and when you’re finished, initiate personal conversation.

Looking for a keynote speaker for an upcoming sales meeting or conference? I deliver high-energy, impactful presentations that get results. Here is a video clip of one of my presentations. Call me if you think I can help: 905-633-7750 or


  • Piet_buyck

    You do not need rapport. You need your prospect to relax. If he is not relaxed he will not be able to listen to you, and if he doesn’t listen you can’t sell.  It is all very subtle. Social talk can help, but badly executed  it might work against you. People have the tendency to relax when dealing with someone with humor, geographic relationship, common interest.  

    • Anonymous

      Piet, I like your perspective about humor. I belief humor can be a very effective way to help develop rapport with people.

  • Marc Zazeela

    Great points, Kelley.  Establishing rapport does not need to be about personal issues.  Rapport is a relationship.  Why can’t we establish a good relationship that is based solely on the business at hand?  Rapport is about establishing trust.  Does talking about someone’s kids or their boat or their car make you more trustworthy?


    • Anonymous

      Marc, you are absolutely right about about rapport being about relationship, not necessarily personal issues. Most business people don’t want to talk about personal issues, so why waste time on it.

  • Jeb Brooks

    Nice post, Kelly. I agree with what you’ve said. 

    Here at The Brooks Group, we’ve studied the science of building rapport. We looked — in particular — at small talk. According to our research, 72% of Business to Business Buyers find “small talk” to be negative. Another 23% found it to be neutral (meaning it added nothing to the sales conversation). Since 95% of buyers don’t like it, we encourage salespeople to avoid it. 

    • Anonymous

      Jeb, thanks for chiming in…

      Your research is interesting and it’s great to see that it’s consistent with my perspective. It still surprises me, though, how many sales people are reluctant to drop this technique from their approach.

  • Pingback: NLP Trainer & Speaker – TK Chan, 4QC on Sales Motivation & The Magic of Thinking BIG! « New NLP Technology

  • Larry Cummings

    @TheSalesHunter is right its not”warm” feelings – My formula – Credibility x Rapport /Risk =Trust – its about decreasing “/” their “Risk”

  • Larry Cummings

    @TheSalesHunter is right its not”warm” feelings – My formula – Credibility x Rapport /Risk =Trust – its about decreasing “/” their “Risk”

    • Anonymous

      Interesting perspective, Larry. Thanks for sharing.

  • ACF3000

    Rapport is still critical in every sales conversation, but today you create it best by not trying to create it! 

  • Phillydan

    This is soooo true. Building respect is one thing, building rapport with chit-chat doesn’t do it.

  • Pingback: Is it Rapport or Relationship?

  • Gary Price

    I believe building rapport is built around establishing yourself as a trusted advisor in the prospects particular business.  How you do that is by asking some very thought provoking open ended questions that gets the prospect to begin thinking “those are great questions, I haven’t thought of that, this guy/gal is smart

  • Angel Morales

    Almost everyone is saying building rapport is important, even you Kelley in your article.  The difference however is in the level/area we build rapport.  Business or social.  Not sure how most of us most of the time lay rapport on the social level. 

    It gets clearer when we answer the question “why are we building rapport with this client?”.
    Truth of the matter is it’s hard build a long term professional relationship with someone you do not care about.  And you cannot care about someone you do not know.  So the point in building rapport is that you get to know the person behind the desk and what he/she is concerned about – professional or personal.  

    Think Purple Cow (Seth Godin).  How do  you get your client/prospect remember  you from the 20 to 30 people he/she will meet that day?  If you don’t get that emotional connection chances are they won’t.

  • Jacques Werth

    Most salespeople build “rapport” because they think that it’s important for prospects to like them. Only 3% of prospects believe whether they like the salesperson or not is irrelevant. At least 70% of prospects knowingly want to do business with someone they trust and respect.

    I learned High Probability Selling by observing hundreds of top producers (the top 1%) while they met with prospects. Over 75% of them focus on whether they trust and respect the prospect. They do this while developing emotional intimacy in the first 15 to 20 minutes. They ask deep insightful questions. Less than 2% of prospects refuse to have that kind of discussion.

    Whether the salesperson’s decision about trusting and respecting the prospect is positive or negative, invariably the prospect feels the same way about them.

    Those salespeople typically find they don’t trust and respect five to ten percent of their prospects and disqualify them.

  • Pingback: Currency of Trust in the Sales Process