Effective communication is essential to building rapport with your customer or client.  As a matter of fact, it is probably the most important skill you can possess when it comes to successful selling. Your goal should be to develop a win-win relationship with each of your customers, and this requires effective communication at several different levels.


For starters, poor communication within your organization is costly!  A recent study revealed that the total estimated cost of employee misunderstanding (including actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood, or were misinformed about company policies, business processes, job function, or a combination of the three) in 100,000-plus employee companies, among 400 US and UK corporations was over $37 Billion USD.  The average annual cost per company was $62.4 million.  Furthermore, the cumulative annual cost per worker due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers is approximately $26, 041.

As a sales representative, you could be a great communicator, but if the organization you represent fails to provide the necessary support and communication to aid in the process of a sale, your relationship and resulting compensation could be adversely effected.  Everyone involved in the whole process must effectively communicate in order for the sale to go through smoothly.  If you own your business, it is important for you to realize that poor communication at any level of your company will negatively affect your bottom line.

Poor communication promotes an atmosphere of mistrust and confusion within a relationship- something you never want to happen in your customer relationships.  Your effectiveness as a salesperson is directly related to the quality of your relationships.  You want to always move these relationships into what we call the cycle of trust.  Always remember- people will only buy from those they like and trust! Simply put, you cannot afford to cause your customers to mistrust you or your company.  Guard this trust at all times!


Now that we’ve established the importance of effective communication, especially in building trust, let’s discuss how important it is to understand your customer’s style of communicating.  This is related to but not exactly like personality styles, which we’ll discuss later.  This is the delivery method of communicating.  Our communication style is the way we communicate in certain situations.  Please view the following chart:

Communication Styles


There are four distinct communication styles: dominate, avoid, accommodate, and dialog.

Advocacy has to do with concern for self.  People who are high on the advocacy scale stand up for their own rights, look out for their own needs, and defend their own position.  Empathy is concern for others.  People who are high on empathy consider the needs of others and try to help others meet their goals.  The chart explains the following about each communication style:

  • The Dominating style is HIGH on advocacy and LOW on empathy
  • The Accommodating style is HIGH on empathy and LOW on advocacy
  • The Avoiding style is LOW on advocacy and LOW on empathy
  • The Dialogue style is HIGH on advocacy and HIGH on empathy


A Dominator will press for his or her own needs without concern for the needs of others.  An Accommodator will put the needs of others first, and the Avoider is disengaged- he or she will defer confrontation and stay out of trouble.  The Dialogue style is the style we should all try to attain: to seek the best solution to meet the needs of others and of self.  This is the goal for a win-win relationship.

Think about some of the relationships you have with existing customers.  Do various people come to mind when you consider each of these communication styles?  How do you react to each of these styles?  Think about how you should react in order to develop a more effective relationship with these people, and begin to rehearse some conversation you may have with them in the future.  When you begin to get a new and fresh perspective of their position on the advocacy/empathy scales, you will become empowered with a deeper understanding of how to relate to them more effectively.



Most of us were brought up to live by the “Golden Rule”.  While this rule is still a valuable principle, I would suggest taking it a step further, and that is to “do unto others the way THEY would have you do unto them”!  In other words, it is more effective to communicate with your customer in their personality style than to relate to them using your own personality style.

People can be typically divided into four basic personality styles:

  • People-oriented
  • Analytically-oriented
  • Self-oriented
  • Results-oriented


For instance, let’s pretend you are a property and casualty insurance agent and are going to call on Mr. Jones, the President of XYZ Automotive Parts.  When you enter his office, you notice pictures of his family, golf outings, fishing trips, and several college and professional sports memorabilia positioned on his bookshelves.  His desk is full of stacks of papers, folders, books, manuals, etc. His clothing is a bit wrinkled and his appearance is disheveled, but he greets you with a big grin and is friendly from the start.  You, on the other hand, are analytical, precise, compliant, and tend to be a little OCD.  The mess on the desk is screaming at you to put the paperwork in order, file folders, and put most of the manuals back on the shelf for this poor guy.  You are thinking he needs a lot of help, is disorganized, sloppy, and inefficient.  But you really need this sale to meet your monthly quota.  How should you communicate with Mr. Jones?

If you think he will be impressed solely by all your features, facts, and benefits, you will probably be wrong.  As the company president, he already knows the importance and necessity of having adequate insurance coverage.  Look around his office.  What is important to this man?  Do you think he would appreciate talking about his family?  The vacations he’s taken?  The fish he caught on a particular trip?  How about the teams he likes?  Do you think he is people-oriented, self-oriented, or results-oriented?

What style of communication is he using during your time with him?  As the “boss”, he is less likely to be the accommodating type with his employees, but perhaps he gives others more time than he should, which is one reason why his desk is so full of clutter!  He may place more value on the people he meets than he does a clean and orderly desk.

Learn to ask questions that will be of interest or value to him.  During the first meeting, you may only get to spend five minutes introducing your products and services, but if you can make a friend with this man, you are sure to get a second meeting that can go more in depth with your offering.  Learn to communicate in the people-oriented style even though it may be a bit of a stretch for you!  (Especially a messy desk!) If you can learn to communicate in their language, they will begin to like and trust you. This is building rapport.

Your primary goal at this point is to build rapport with your prospect/customer.  What does rapport mean in this situation?  It is:

  • Connecting with your customers
  • Showing you respect them
  • Being honest and genuine in your interactions with them


It doesn’t mean that you tell them what you think is best for them! You don’t want to imply that you know more than he does about what is best for him or his company.  That can be a real deal breaker.


Another important way to build rapport with your prospects or clients is to engage in a process known as “mirroring”.  Mirroring means matching the behaviors of another to make communication more comfortable for that person.  It is NOT mimicking!  The two are quite different.  Let me share a story to illustrate the concept of mirroring.

A certain account representative from a financial services company was proposing a pension plan to a major corporation.  He needed the approval of the CEO and senior executives, buy-in from the line managers, and support from the union.  He arrived at the executive offices in a suit with the buttons buttoned.  When he met with the line managers, he had his jacket open and tie loosened.  By the time he went to the loading dock with the union people, he had his jacket off and flung over his shoulder.


He made subtle changes in his behavior as he moved from group to group.  These subtle changes helped make each group more comfortable with them because he was relating with them on their level, not his own.  By relating with each group, he was able to win the account.


Dr. Donald J. Maine, a psychologist, videotaped sales people while they were meeting with prospects.  Slow motion viewing of this tapes showed that top performers were actually breathing at the same rate as their customers.  While this may or may not be a conscious effort, it does show that the salesperson is trying his or her best to identify with and relate to their client.  Mirroring can be summarized as follows:


  • Mirroring involves simply matching tone of voice, rate of speech, and simple gestures.
  • It is not “monkey see, monkey do.”
  • Mirroring is not to be used to make your customers self-conscious of their own behavior.
  • Instead, it is a method of connecting with the people so you can learn more about them.
  • If your body language and voice contradict your customer’s what is likely to happen?

You will not be able to establish rapport!


Why does mirroring work so well in building relationships?

Do we prefer to partner with people who we perceive to be like us, or with people who are noticeably different from us? We all are more comfortable with those who seem to share our views and understand our outlook.

A survey was taken by Merrill Lynch to determine the number one reason why people chose a particular broker.  The number one reason for choosing a particular person was that they liked that person.

This technique, coupled with an understanding of communication and personality styles, can give you a distinctive advantage over your competition if you use it wisely.  Once rapport is established, you can continue to build the process of partnership with your customers by bringing the “value-added” component to the relationship.  In Part 3, we will discuss how to better understand the situation from the customer’s point of view and how to partner with them to achieve their goals.

Lori E. Ranshaw












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