Why building rapport in remote selling is difficult: Ignore these sales meeting tips at your own peril

We're in a time where it is almost trite and cliche to talk about remote sales as the 'new normal.' Much before COVID, many of us were actively using online meeting tools like Zoom and Google Meet for our sales calls and customer success meetings. However, the key difference is —  in 2019 B.C ('before COVID' on a lighter note), although we already had great adoption for the online meeting tools, most sales meetings happened in a hybrid fashion, i.e., a combination of online meetings and in-person meetings. 

Trust and relationships were built over lunch meetings, dinners, happy hours, etc. Zoom and Google Meet helped keep the relationship going but was never completely relied upon for end-to-end sales. 

And let's suppose you were involved in remote selling much before the world went remote. In that case, there's still a lot of difference between the remote selling that happened via Zoom within your office space vs the remote selling that's happening now from your home, with kids and other possible distractions in the background. 

Regardless of whether you are selling to an enterprise or SMB, all your sales conversations will be completely online. So, building rapport online is the need of the hour.

What is rapport building?

Building rapport is at the heart of building relationships and trust with your prospects and customers. People like to do business with people they like and trust. So, if you, as a sales rep, are merely focused on driving your agenda or hitting your quota, you are possibly missing an opportunity to earn their trust. 

When you work in an industry where your goal is to help your customers achieve their goals and objectives, your relationship needs to be more than hitting your numbers. There needs to be a genuine friendship. So, you need to be building rapport with your prospects by getting to know them and giving them a reason why they need to choose to work with you.

And building rapport results in:

  1. Establishing trust with your customer
  2. Exploring more opportunities within the account
  3. Becoming an extended team member and advisor for your customer
  4. Honing your skills to become more relevant

How does it impact online selling?

When you are building rapport online with your prospects, the fundamental challenge is that it's hard to communicate clearly. There is always a possibility that the intended communication and the way it's perceived are completely different. Robert J. Hanlon explains it well in the concept he coined, known as the Hanlon's razor.

It states that when we communicate online, we can't read the non-verbal signs used to communicate face-to-face. And because we are missing the opportunity to understand the intent and context, we assume the worst of people. 

Putting that into the sales context — According to a study done by Marketo, 96% of visitors that come to your website are not ready to make a purchase. So, when they schedule a demo with you, it's critical to make sure you understand their intent and context before you begin showcasing your product.

But selling online is always easier said than done. No one likes to be sold to, so people don't open up to share their pain points unless a rapport is built. And you have 8 seconds before your prospect registers their first opinion about you.

Related read: How to master video sales meetings

While building rapport seems intuitive in sales, the skills and approach differ from one sales rep to another. And because of its personal nature, it's hard to replicate.

I'm going to share some of our learnings in terms of building rapport and establishing trust during your online sales calls. We at Avoma like to think that online meetings have a life cycle: before the meeting, during the meeting, and after the sales meeting.

Before your meeting

No one wakes every day being excited about having 10-12 meetings on their calendar. So, as sales reps, we need to do our best to reduce the friction as much as possible from our end.

1. Have a preparation routine

For starters, it's about the set of things you can do before the sales meeting to show that you value your prospect's time. It could be things like defining the objective/goals, sharing a clear agenda and, more importantly, scheduling the meeting well ahead of time.

Do enough research

Always spend time researching your prospect before getting into the meeting. Suppose you can spend 15-20 mins scanning their LinkedIn updates, posts on Twitter, Instagram, and news updates/press releases related to their organization. In that case, you can get better context about the people who will be on the call. It helps you be more relevant and in building rapport.

There are tools available that help you understand people's personality style, even before you meet them online. For example, using a tool like Crystalknows, a Chrome plugin that works on top of LinkedIn, helps a lot in your prospect research. It tells you your prospect's communication style and some basic insights about their personality, thus giving you a headstart.

Schedule shorter meetings

And one of the most important aspects is the length of the sales meeting you schedule. The other day, I set up a call between my CEO and a prospect, and Aditya, our CEO, was very specific about not setting up the call for more than 30 minutes.

He said, "Yaag, as a practice it's best to keep it for not more than 30 minutes, unless the prospect wants to extend the call."

sales meeting
Related read: Why meetings take so long and how to fix it?

2. Improve your presence on the meeting

There is a famous quote that says 80% of success is 'showing up. We want to tweak it a little and say it's about 'showing up professionally.' And to add to that, if you want to be building rapport as a customer-facing professional, it's even more important to be mindfully present.

Presence is the key to connect authentically and build relationships. But developing close and strong relationships can be challenging when you're communicating virtually. By sharpening your remote presence, you can come across as likeable and confident and achieve the same effect as you would in an in-person sales meeting.

Keep your sales meeting professional
  • Stick to your daily routine regardless of whether you are going to the office or working remotely helps a lot in productivity. Having a list of to-do's for your online sales meeting helps you stay focused during the conversation.
  • Wear appropriate professional clothing. While it's tempting to wear a work shirt and athletic shorts when you work remotely, what you wear tends to set the tone of the conversation. How you appear on the video is even more crucial when your prospects aren't physically engaging with you, as it sends out a sense of your energy.
  • Minimize or eliminate external interference. It helps to use a background noise cancellation app like Krisp.ai to remove disturbance and echo, thus improving the overall conversation experience for your prospect.
Have your video on - always!

There is a direct correlation between having your video camera 'switched on and the rapport built with the prospect, especially on sales calls. We see that keeping your camera switched on increases the odds of building rapport with the prospect by 90%. 

And interestingly, we observed that 27% of the sales discovery calls that never progressed after the first call had at least one of the parties (either the sales rep or the prospect) who hadn't turned their cameras on.

The impact of having the camera switched on is two-fold: 

(a) You can pick up on both the verbal and non-verbal cues that contribute a lot in conveying the intent and pain point of a prospect. Interestingly, the former FBI lead hostage negotiator Chris Voss talks about it in his masterclass as the 7/38/55 rule. The rule says that trust is built on a combination of factors where 7% is about how much someone likes your content/product, 38% is about tonality, and the remaining 55% is about body language. Thus, 7+38+55=100.

(b) Another key advantage is that if both parties are on camera, there is no multitasking or distraction during the conversation.

sales meeting

And when you are on video, here are a few basics:  

  1. Always place your webcam at the eye level
  2. Look into the camera and not at your screen (I'm guilty of not doing this enough)
  3. Rearrange your home office or workspace in such a way that the light source is in front of you (and not behind you)

One way to make it easier to look at the camera is to hide self-view. (Here's how you can do it on Zoom). It helps because that's how we talk to people in real life. So, it's like you saving yourself from mirror fatigue, especially if you are on several calls every day.

If you want to try it out, please know that you'll have to change the settings on Zoom at the start of every sales meeting (and hopefully, this is probably something they'll fix on priority). And it always helps if you can invest in a green screen. It's a small investment that could elevate the professionalism of the call.

Download The Remote Meetings Handbook

During your meeting

Getting into a sales meeting with a clear structure makes a lot of difference. But, the real impact is what you do during the sales meeting. Given this brief window of opportunity, it is critical that you don't leave anything to chance when you start the conversation with your prospects.

1. Have relevant small talk

For better or worse, we humans make judgments about a person in the first seven seconds of an initial encounter. Here are a few practices that can make your conversation experience better.

A bit of small talk is necessary to warm up the relationship between you and the prospect and set a friendly tone for the sales meeting. When you're meeting someone for the first time, the first couple of minutes can be a little bit awkward. 

But don't go with the tried and tested conversations by asking about their weekend or weather. Instead, show them you care by asking them about something their company announced or their recent activity on LinkedIn. The point is to make them feel comfortable as soon as they join the call.

2. Listen actively to your prospects

There is no one right away to approach your sales meeting. But engaging your prospects in a way that matters to them does yield good results more often than not. So, have an agenda but don't go by a call script. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

One of the biggest challenges of a remote sales call is that our mind tends to be caught up between qualifying the prospect, demoing your product in the best possible way, and handling objections they might have.

Suggested read: Importance of Active listening in remote sales

Active Listening is one of the most important skills in the salesperson's repertoire to understand the buyers' needs and deep-dive on what's most relevant to them. For instance, by listening actively, you can pick up on subtle emotional signals of the prospect and realize the set of product features you want to show them, instead of overwhelming them with everything your platform does.

Looking at the data from our online meetings, we at Avoma have found that the ideal/recommended talk range is 40% - 60% for sales discovery calls. And if you are talking for more than 60% of the total time on the call, you are probably not listening enough.

Source: Talk time analysis for speakers in Avoma

3. Make your demos relevant to your prospects

A sales demo is a valuable opportunity to showcase your product and build a relationship with your prospects. But you want to make sure that you show the set of features that solve for the prospect's pain point and not be too excited to show them the product in its entirety unless asked. Stay as relevant as possible to your prospect.

Source: 5 Steps to deliver the ultimate sales demo that converts

4. Automate the low value tasks as much possible

A lot of reps get into a sales meeting with a note and pen. While it is good to take notes, you tend to get caught up between listening and taking notes (which goes back to not listening actively while on calls).

We recommend using AI-assisted note-taking for such scenarios, where you can focus on actively listening to your prospects and helping them out with their pain points and overcoming their objections.

Source: Notes and Transcripts in Avoma

5. End your meetings on time

Many times, a sales meeting tends to fail achieving its desired objectives because people don't plan the end properly. Ending your sales meeting on time not only shows your professionalism but also tells your prospects non-verbally that you truly value their time. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you end your sales meeting:

  1. Let your prospects know in advance as you come up on time and ask them if you can answer anything specific before you end the meeting
  2. Check with them if the objective of the meeting was achieved
  3. Agree on the next steps and schedule a follow-up meeting if required

After your meeting

This phase is the most important one where a sales meeting can swing between losing complete value or becoming extremely useful. After all the effort you put into your meetings, you need to clarify the next steps. It's about closing the loop of communication.

So, it's important to capture the next steps and execute them. It helps in building rapport further because you have an opportunity to show that you stand by your words. Usually, the next steps tend to be —connecting the prospect to a domain expert in your organization, allowing extended access to your free trial, etc. And missing out on this step can be a make or break in terms of your deal progression.

Here are a set of steps that can translate your valuable sales meeting into a potential revenue outcome:

To sum up...

The list of suggestions outlined above are by no means exhaustive or best practices but a set of practices that we have discovered based on what has worked for us so far. But, we believe that our experience can help you and many others in the ecosystem.

And if you think we have missed out on anything or would like to share your experience/learnings with us —  please do feel free to reach out to any of us at Avoma, and we would be happy to keep the conversation going.

Stay productive, build trust and keep the wheels moving!