How to Coach Salespeople on Building Rapport

Hilmon Sorey

If you’re looking for how to coach salespeople on rapport, you're likely trying to find a way to help your sales team close more deals. Building rapport is key for sales reps as part of a modern sales process. But it is not at all uncommon to have a sales rep or two who don't know how to build rapport effectively despite it being a fundamental of most sales training. As one of the foundations of trust between buyer and seller on a sales call, it's absolutely vital for you as a sales manager to understand this critical play in your role as sales coach.

Just like any skill, it takes practice and strategy to get good at rapport building – simply hoping to be trusted, believed and influential isn’t enough. You need to coach your sales reps on how best to approach trust building on sales calls and in their interactions with all prospects in a deal. Even if you have an incredible offering without strong established rapport between buyer and seller, chances of closing a deal diminish.

Many salespeople don’t realize they haven't built rapport with their prospects until it's too late. They assume that because the conversation has been going well, there is strong trust and connection between them. However, without actively working to build rapport on a call, this isn't always the case. It may be difficult for sales reps to make this realization while in the heat of a deal but as a manager or coach you can help your team understand how vital building rapport is for predictability and success.

Why Rapport is Essential for Salespeople to Be Successful

For salespeople, the importance of rapport might seem obvious — after all, who doesn't want a "friendly" relationship with their prospects? But what many don't realize is that having strong rapport goes far beyond chitchat or demonstrating personal interest. When done right, building rapport can be an extremely effective tool in decision making, access, closing deals and creating customer loyalty.

Contrary to popular belief, rapport isn't just being pleasant or likable; it's learning how to empathize with customers and understand their needs and problems. Rapport helps salespeople spot opportunities and connect them to solutions in a way that should resonate deeply with the prospect.

Without it, the sales process can quickly become superficial and uninspiring, leaving prospects with little reason to take action, follow up on commitments, or make decisions. This lands "opportunities" in deal purgatory with no feedback, salespeople feeling "ghosted" or ignored and ultimately no movement on buyer challenges.

Today, the most successful salespeople cultivate strong relationships based upon the ability to solve problems, and create wins instead of short-term, transactional interactions.

Why Building Rapport Is Critical At Every Stage

Building rapport is an often overlooked but essential foundation for any successful sale. Without it every stage required to close a sale, such as gaining and keeping trust, understanding prospect needs and pain, scoping and proposing solutions, gathering internal buy-in, and negotiating terms can easily lose momentum.

Many salespeople are frustrated when they don't close deals, can't get prospects to follow up on commitments, or find themselves in a seemingly never-ending cycle of stalled opportunities with no clarity as to why. It may seem mysterious why these issues keep arising but at the heart of it all is trust. Without strong rapport between buyers and sellers, there's no way for either party to build trust which is essential for successful stage outcomes.

A well-developed sense of establishing and measuring rapport will enable a salesperson to efficiently assess and respond to the prospect while maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism and urgency. An added benefit is that investing in rapport means that a salesperson can strengthen their relationship with their prospects over time and as a result, build referrals and opportunities to expand the product or service footprint.

Rapport at Later Stages of Deal

Rapport is essential when it comes to actually closing the deal. Have you ever bought something from someone you didn't trust? Not a recipe for success. During later stages of deals, relationship building can be the make-or-break factor as to whether a potential partner decides to work with you, introduce you to other decision makers, fight for your product or provide you with insights into internal discussions and criteria.

Start With Your Own Communication Techniques and Connection Skills

Coaching is not just about reviewing calls, providing tactical feedback, role play practice, and performance reviews. It's actually fundamentally about communication. Through every interaction with your team, a coach should strive to demonstrate active listening, discovery questions, preserving status, providing certainty, allowing for autonomy, and showing relevance and fairness. These are basic skills of human connection skills that uncover problems, create buy-in, provide a basis in trust, and move people toward challenge resolution.

Fortunately most sales managers have had experience selling and many of these same skills should be used in building trust and rapport with your team for successful coaching outcomes.

Encourage Salespeople to Remain Authentic

Authenticity is a key ingredient for success in sales. In today's competitive sales environment there is no room for dishonest posturing or false relationships. All too often, salespeople try to act in a way that they believe will be best received by their prospects in an effort to build instant rapport. While this may work in the short-term, it can quickly lead to problematic dynamics that kill long-term success.

Being authentic also helps keep sales discussions running smoothly and builds strong relationships with prospects that can result in repeat business down the line. Salespeople who are genuine create an impactful experience at every stage of the sales cycle, which will ultimately position them above their peers in competitive deals.

What to Look For: Rapport Building Statements

As a manager, you can support your salespeople by encouraging them to focus on rapport building statements during sales conversations. This goes beyond simple introductions, and leveraging personal info they've found on LinkedIn.

How are your salespeople aiming to create common ground with the prospect and talk about shared business experiences? Do they understand how to leverage social proof, and customer stories? Are they using relevant case studies or use cases, or white papers to connect to individuals in the buying process?

How Customer, Product, and Company Stories Help Sales Reps to Connect

Company stories, product stories, and customer stories are essential tools to help sales reps connect with prospects. On the one hand, customer stories can be used to demonstrate how peers in a similar field or industry have triumphed over challenges and seen impressive results.

Product stories highlight the fantastic features on offer while company stories emphasize the company’s overall mission and reinforce that its products are the natural solution. When combined, these three story types provide a comprehensive narrative that resonates with potential customers and demonstrates why they should purchase from your business.

Not only do these narrative arcs capture buyer attention more effectively than any sales pitch but they also increase trustworthiness as customers can understand why your products make sense for them to buy.

How effective is your salesperson at storytelling instead versus bombarding a buyer with facts and figures, or statistics or quotes out of context? The lazy road is to make the buyer do all the work of trying understanding relevance. Top salespeople create the context and make sure it sticks.

How Empathy Has An Impact

Most sales conversions should also have evidence of some empathy from the salesperson and an articulated appreciation for their prospect's situation; after all, why would anyone purchase from someone who cannot understand them and the needs of their organization?

Looking for salespeople who demonstrate empathy on a sales call is an essential characteristic of successful managers. It takes great listening skills and the ability to understand the buyer’s needs, motives, and hesitations in order to successfully make a sale.

Salespeople should recognize that while they may be viewing and interaction as a "deal" it is in fact a challenge being resolved or an opportunity for their buyer. Top salespeople are consistently looking at conversations from the buyer's lens and perspective.

What to Look For: Rapport Building Actions

Good rapport can be seen instantly from engaged body language, posture, tone as well as a speaker’s ability to ‘mirror’ their listener's style.

For example, if a prospect is speaking in deliberate, slow, and thoughtful manner, Peppy Patrick's uncomfortable laugh, fast speaking pace, and perma-grin are not likely to create rapport. Contrary to popular opinion, consistently strong sellers don't just "smile and dial" they study their prospect and reflect familiarity.

Additionally rapport building actions include doing what the salesperson says they are going to do, when they said they were going to do it. That could be setting meetings, sending proposals, providing information, or even beginning and ending meetings efficiently and on time.

The SCALE Framework

The SCALE framework is quickly becoming the go-to resource for understanding the science of developing rapport. This innovative approach utilizes tactical steps to build relationships with clients based on trust, knowledge, and expertise. Triangle Selling SCALE reminds salespeople that the science of rapport is measured by Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Likeness and Equity.

Want to learn more? Get the book! The Five Secrets of a Sales Coach

Here's the Play in CoachCRM

  1. Have your salesperson provide you with links to call recordings.
  2. Evaluate conversations for rapport gaps including: vague agreement on decisions, few speaker switches, limited willingness to share information.
  3. Create a Challenge
  4. Use the Coaching Questions above to gain mutual understanding
  5. Identify the Path to Success that is measurable, actionable, and time-sensitive
  6. Set your follow-up activities and data

(Try CoachCRM's Basic FREE One-on-One Tool - click HERE now)


It’s clear that rapport plays an important role in a successful sales process. Whether you are introducing Triangle Selling SCALE into your own strategy or leveraging customer, product and company stories to connect with prospects, these strategies can help drive conversions and create long-term relationships with customers.

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What others are saying

Hillmon and Cory did a great job on this one! By writing the book as fiction, instead of your typical sales textbook, the duo has been able to deliver great content in a fun format.Whether you're leading a team, trying to make the jump to manager, or a rep just looking for a new resource, 5 secrets has something for everyone.I would give it a 6/5 - 5/5 for the content and a bonus point for the original format! Keep 'em coming!
Scotty McComas
Absolutely fantastic. There’s plenty of writing about better ways to sell - but great front line management is the single best way to improve sales org results. This book is a fantastic primer on how sales managers can better coach their teams to success.
Peter Kazanjy
This book reminded me of Ken Blanchard's "One Minute Manager" in its use of story to convey powerful concepts... simply. This book is as entertaining as it is relevant and impactful. I've given it to every manager on my team as the framework we use for performance improvement across the sales team. Well done.
Mo Saifullah
This is another great addition to a list of books by Hilmon & Cory. This is a great book for anyone that is a leader and aspiring to become a leader. I recently read this book and I've already applied a lot of the advice to my team. there a alot of great books out on the market about coaching/leadership. I would recommend this book to everyone.
Yanosky Merzius
Most practical book I've ever read on sales coaching. Able to read and implement immediately. Highly recommend it!
Edward S.
So I have admit that I was a bit skeptical about the format being a fiction book for business. I can say after reading, it’s clear why they did it! The framework is presented in an easy way to understand and even easier to apply format. Definitely is a great book for anyone managing salespeople. Highly recommended!

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