Five important secrets for building rapport with your customers and growing your business

First A Story: A lesson learned about customer service, courtesy of Rude Dude.

I was buying a new color laser printer from the office supply store with all the bells and whistles—wireless printing, duplexing, a bunch of other fancy features that I’ll never use. I was eager to check out so I could finish my errands. I handed the clerk the coupon that told her which printer I wanted, and she paged a floor associate to get the printer from the back.

I was shocked at who came up … it was Him. It was Rude Dude.

I had met this “floor associate” a month prior when I needed to have some cards cut for a presentation I was doing. I’d dropped the cards off at the office store’s copy center (where he was “filling in,”) explained how I wanted them cut, and was told it would be two hours before they’d be ready.

When I returned at the appointed time, the floor associate was piddling around behind the counter, and my cards were stacked neatly where I left them. Uncut. “Oh, uh, yeah, I’ve been really busy back here, I’m the only one …” as his voice droned into the Wha-wha-wha of Charlie Brown’s teacher. Both times I’d been in the store, I was the only customer at the counter. I thought of a thousand more appropriate answers he could have given. I was already behind schedule and I had to catch a flight! “Please, just cut the cards now and I’ll go.”

He turned his back to cut them.



I don’t need to tell you how inconvenient this was. To remedy, I would have to go home, print more cards, drop them back off to Mr. Incompetent and hope he cut them properly. And on time. I just let it all go because there wasn’t enough time. I left fuming.

So here he was again, with my printer. I tried to be nice in that sweet, Southern way that people expect down here in Nashville. “Hi! Thanks for bringing this up!” I said with a smile.

“Are you getting the warranty with this?” he asked.

“Uh,” this was turning into a conversation, and I was in a hurry. “No, actually, I won’t. But thanks.”

“It’s $99.99, and it covers anything that will go wrong with the printer.”

“That’s okay, thanks anyway.”

“Do you know how much it will cost you if something goes wrong with this printer?” Wow, he was persistent.

“I’ve got it under control.” I was getting terse.

“I don’t think you do. This warranty will cover …”

“STOP.” I put my hand up and looked away from him. “You are being very pushy. I am not interested.”


“Sorry,” he finished and walked away.

I don’t think he remembered me from the Bad Cutting Experience a few weeks prior, but I definitely remembered him, and I basically NEVER want to see him again. I told the cashier about my experience, but it didn’t matter. No one in the store cared.

Being pushy is not a formula for success

When was the last time you had a bad experience with a pushy telemarketer, or a clueless store associate, or an intimidating car salesman? These experiences have an interesting affect on us … they can trick us into thinking that we have to develop skills like theirs for “overcoming objections” and “getting to Yes,” and they simultaneously scare us into thinking we have to become these pushy people we detest if we want to get clients and be successful.

Believe in what you offer

It’s really much simpler than this. To get customers, we have to first sell ourselves on what we offer. We do this by understanding who we serve and what they need, and packaging ourselves to solve their problems in a way that they want to buy. When we believe in what we offer, we have a confidence in the marketplace that you can’t fake, and it’s very important to our success! So SELL YOURSELF FIRST.

Get to know what your customers don’t know

The next step in the process comes up as a challenge for people almost every time I speak, and on almost every Strategy Call I do with new clients. “What if my customer doesn’t even know they need these skills?” or “What if they don’t know they’re missing something?”

Many times, that is the case: Our customers don’t know what they don’t know. Trying to convince them to hire us when they don’t even know they need us … that’s an uphill battle, and seems to require some really aggressive selling.

When this question came up at a recent presentation, I asked, “How many of you have ever attended a workshop or conference where they talked about the basics of building rapport?” Hands go up all over the room. Good, I thought. “So what are they?”

“Ask questions about people. Learn about their background.”

“Active listening. Pay attention to them when they talk.”

“Match their words.”

“Appreciate them for what they’ve experienced and accomplished.”

“Smile and nod with them.”

“All right,” I replied. “And that is how you connect with people in your marketing. Understand them. Listen to them. Relate to their frustrations. Connect with what they’re experiencing emotionally that they don’t share with most people. Use their language, not yours. Make the exchange all about them.” I looked around the room at the wide-eyed faces. There were “A-ha!” light bulbs going off around the room. They’re really getting it! I thought, and I smiled, too. Marketing isn’t smoke-and-mirrors (though somehow this is its reputation), it’s Human Behavior 101, and you achieve success by aligning with how people naturally respond to others.

Build a real rapport with your customers and clients

Building rapport and becoming the person that others enjoy doing business with is our most important work in the marketplace. To achieve this, understand your customers well: Learn what’s frustrating to them, where they get stuck, what they want to change. Understand and empathize with the challenges they face in the office, at home, even from their in-laws. What is overwhelming about being stuck? How is “being stuck” keeping them from achieving their goals personally or professionally? How is it affecting their sense of contribution, of value, of self-worth?

Show your customers that you get them

With these distinctions, you can begin to craft a marketing message to connect with their pain. Use their words, highlight their dilemmas, empathize with the frustrations they have and let them see that you really understand them. People want to know that you GET THEM. Oftentimes, people are struggling with things they’re not talking to their peers about. These struggles can be a very internal, private experience for them, so when you begin connecting with that pain and frustration, and empathizing with the places they’re stuck, your light begins to shine. You don’t need to connect solely with the pain and frustration—connect with their desires and dreams as well! Understand what they want to achieve, attain or become. And believe in their potential to actualize it!

You won’t even have to tell people what you offer—they can FEEL that you must offer something fabulous because you really get them. You even get the stuff that no one else seems to understand. They’ll ask you how you can help—a refreshing change-of-pace!

We want to connect in a meaningful way with the people we serve, using their words and their experiences to build rapport.

Building rapport with your customers can be simple

In Tom Richard’s article, 5 ways to build rapport with a complete stranger, he reveals, “Your prospects think that THEY are the most important person in the world, and they expect to be treated as such. To build rapport quickly, you must learn to put that customer and their needs first. Curb the talk about how your company is the biggest and the best, and skip the part about how your product is superior to all other products in the market. The prospect needs to come to that realization independently, and the only way for that to happen is for you to remain humble.”

Here are some simple rapport-builders that you can leverage through networking, speaking, and marketing:

Connect wholeheartedly with your customer’s pain, frustration, and / or desire. Show your customer that you “get” them. You can do this in marketing copy by leading with bullets or a “typical scenario.” When talking with your prospects, ask them questions that show you understand the struggles they’re dealing with or the desires they have. Give them permission to dream big—and to make it happen!

Use your customer’s words and colloquialisms. Many times, our expertise on a subject features its own vernacular, and it’s quite likely that your prospects, who often don’t even know that they need you, will be completely unfamiliar with the words that you use. This will interrupt rapport. In the beginning, instead of talking about your processes or the solutions you provide and the way you provide them, talk about THEIR processes, their common work experiences and scenarios, and use their words when relating to them.

Dress the part—as your customers define it. The market you target is going to expect an “expert” or someone from whom they’d accept help to look a certain way. Make sure you understand what your market expects, and look the part—especially in your headshots and while you’re on stage. For some, this means wearing a suit. For others, this means NOT wearing a suit. This doesn’t apply solely to your physical appearance—this applies to anything aesthetic related to your business that can make a first impression: website, one sheet, brochures, books, and more. Your customers are making a judgment about your quality and trust-ability based on their first impressions—don’t confuse them on how great you are by putting something out there that doesn’t represent you well.

Shut up and listen. We love what we know, and we love to share it. We’re passionate about it; we get so excited to talk about these fabulous distinctions we’ve learned. We think the whole world is gonna be so moved by what we say, because it’s moved us! The truth is … no one cares. They really don’t. They are more excited or preoccupied with what they have to say, and if you can give them the opportunity to say it, and really connect with them when they do by listening and empathizing, you will become the hero. The respect and affection will be reciprocated—they will learn how fabulous you are and how great your information is.

Pace yourself. Every customer has a different “speed” they track to process how you can help and to make a buying decision. Don’t rush them; mirror them. Learn to read the clues that reveal where they’re at, what information they need, and give them the time they need to figure out what is right for them. This doesn’t mean you don’t follow up—it means you don’t rush them or leave them waiting when they’re ready to say, “GO!”

You don’t have to learn how to overcome objections when you align with people in a way that keeps you from getting objections in the first place. And when you take the time up front to build trust and rapport, your customers will reach out to you to work together, no manipulating or conniving or “aggressive sales tactics” needed.

I was completely insulted and frustrated by Rude Dude’s approach and know-it-all attitude. On the way home that day, I began to rethink the whole warranty thing … maybe the warranty would have been a good idea, because this wasn’t a cheap printer, but there was no way I was buying a warranty from Rude Dude. Wonder what he could have done differently to close the deal?

Author's Bio: 

Over seven years ago, Misty Williams started and Strategic Marketing Solutions with a vision for helping independent professional grow profitable, sustainable business that give them the opportunity to do the work they love while contributing meaningfully to the world. Her background in artist management and marketing uniquely-positioned her to understand the gritty, everyday business-management issues that creative individuals struggle with and the blind spots that prevent them from making sound strategic decisions.