When was the last time you made a major purchase from someone you did not like? Chances are it does not happen very often. The same thing is true about our prospects. Granted, someone liking us does not guarantee a sale, but if our prospect does not like us, there is little chance of building a strong business relationship. That is why it is so important to build rapport with our customers quickly and consistently throughout the sales process.

What is rapport? It is simply a combination of good interpersonal skills, effective listening, credibility, and professionalism. It is a process that builds confidence and establishes a relationship between a potential customer and a sales representative. When we have good rapport, the atmosphere becomes friendlier, more relaxed, and trust develops. The prospect is more inclined to answer our questions and to share information more freely. This is very important as we gather information to develop the right solution. In turn, a strong rapport usually means that people will be more open to the ideas, suggestions, and solutions we present.

Always find a way to get on common ground with your customer. Make your customer feel appreciated and at ease. It is usually the little things that make a big difference in your ability to warm up to your prospect. Get them talking about themselves. Ask those “get to know you,” chitchat questions. Look for unique belongings of the customer that indicate who she is. What kind of car is she driving? How is she dressed? Are they wearing a sports logo? Comment on her children if they are present. People like talking about themselves, so keep the focus on your customer and not yourself.

Making a friend is simply open, honest conversation. It is an ongoing process of communication that overlaps all segments of the selling process. Speak in everyday language, as even a PhD will understand what you are saying. It means taking a genuine interest in your prospect. Notice her! Dale Carnegie said, “There is no human being who doesn’t have something about them worth a sincere compliment.” A sincere compliment is not flattery. Unless you can tap into appropriate humor or wit, flattery is insincere, cheap praise and your customer will feel patronized.

Being friendly is an attitude. Whenever you approach a customer, say to yourself, “At this moment, this customer is the most important person in the world to me.” That statement may not seem like a key selling strategy, but it may be the most significant passage in this article. While I was in management for a chain of flooring stores, we had a new salesperson come in to one of our struggling stores. Suddenly, this new salesperson started out-selling everyone three to one in total dollar sales. So, I drove to the store to try to understand his successful methods. The new sales representative said to me: “Just watch how I treat these folks.” That was it!

In the traditional paradigm of selling, making a “friend” was not widely recognized as a part of the art of selling. Rather, manipulation was considered the master art of persuasion. Empathy for the customer was practically blasphemy or at best, sacrilege. “Tell her what she wants to hear,” or “Take the order and run,” to mention only a few archaic, cliché selling philosophies. While it is true that too much product knowledge will confuse the customer, it doesn’t mean misleading her about the facts that you know are important to her.

For the younger student, warming up may seem more challenging because it may be difficult to relate to customers who are significantly older than you are. You may simply not have the experience to relate to older people as you do with your contemporary friends. Likely, you don’t have children or grandchildren of your own who these older customers may be discussing with you as a cause of concern.

Do not try to emulate their exact experiences; relate to them in the same way you would to older people in your ordinary life. Think of them as your much older sibling or cousin, a parent’s friend or a grandparent, all of whom you would want to make a favorable impression. Be respectful, but be natural and get on a common ground that not only relates your focus to their age, but who you are! Be polite and eventually offer your first name without assuming they want to give you their first name. Show respect while exuding friendliness, humbleness and concern. Be the wonderful young person that they wish they had in their own family and could feel proud of. It’s that simple—you need not be intimidated. Older people are simply people too! Remember, they were once young as well, and they remember when they were! Good selling to you.