092208 Establishing Rapport – The Letter

In which we are reminded that five spoonfuls of sugar before the medicine is better than one. My mother’s brother, Jack, was a banker. Let me rephrase that. A Banker. Capital “B.” Born in the early 1900s in England, on the wrong side of the class divide, he rose to become branch manager of a very large Lloyds Bank branch in central London, England.

Tall, mustachioed handsome, with penetrating eyes, my Uncle Jack could add columns of numbers six figures wide in his head without hesitation. In an exquisitely arched English way, he had his standards, and he bloody well expected everyone to meet them.

As a 5th grader, I was assigned a project having to do with the European Common Market. I hand-wrote a letter to my uncle asking for his perspective and any information he might have in his branch about the Market.

A few weeks later, I received a package back. Excited to see what he’d sent, I carefully cut the envelope open and removed its contents: Two small pamphlets packed with just the information I’d been hoping for, and a letter.

“Dear Nicholas,” he began. “Thank you for your letter of October 1st. I have enclosed information I hope you will find useful.” After a few additional comments about the Common Market, he completed his letter with a sentence-by-sentence critique of my October 1st letter to him – grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Precise, careful, and correct …… and devastating. I was gasping for breath when I finished reading. Shaking. Couldn’t believe it.

In sales courses, we are taught to establish rapport quickly, then ask questions which, through artful focus and phrasing, draw out deficiencies in our customers’ operations. We are taught to show our clients how they could and should do things for better results. We learn to “administer pain,” hoping to incite prompt action that will help us meet our sales goals.

Could we just go back to that rapport piece for a moment?

Suppose my uncle had written, “I am so delighted to receive your letter and to see how very hard you are working on your writing as well as your understanding of international affairs. Well done. Your growing mastery of both will serve you well. I particularly liked the way you described your class work. And, if you will forgive me one suggestion, because I see you are well on your way to becoming a very good writer, draft the last sentence in each paragraph so that it flows right to the next, like water down a stream. Looking forward to reading your next wonderful letter, Jack.”

Maybe we could do this as we’re getting to know our customers. As they share their stories, their goals, and their plans, to celebrate, congratulate, acknowledge, and validate what they’re sharing instead of looking for each possible opening to critique and offer solutions.

How about words like… “That’s wonderful…. Yes, well done…. And how did you think of that?… Very good…. Amazing…. That’s very ingenious…” and only THEN ask a few questions like, “And, what if you were able to increase X? What effect do you that might have on your operations?”

If our clients and prospects feel we are celebrating their hours and years of work, they are more likely to welcome us as friends and supporters and be open to our questions, suggestions, and best practices. And THAT is how we reach our sales goals… and help our clients reach theirs.

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