Friday, July 16, 2010

You Must Create Instant Rapport With A Prospect – Part 2

The idea of Instant Rapport as I’m defining it is when you and your prospect quickly form an initial degree of positive rapport and begin communicating on a similar wavelength.

In Part 1 we looked at the first moments when you meet your prospect. In these few seconds both you and they are interpreting visual cues and forming first impressions of one another. If the prospect’s impression is negative, their desire (and ability) to fully engage and effectively communicate with you is greatly reduced.

This and the last post discuss how you can manage this phase of the meeting to greatly improve the odds the prospect’s first impression of you is in fact positive.

In the sequence that occurs after you first see each other, the next thing that happens is you will physically approach each other to shake hands and vocalize mutual greetings (e.g. “Hi Ted. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” “Thank you, Alice. Would you like some coffee before we get going?”). This gives you both the opportunity to assess posture, ease of movement, assess the other’s handshake technique (firm but not hard, never limp, hold for 2 - 3 seconds and release), study facial expressions in more detail and listen to their voice. More impressions are formed.

As you are walking to a nearby meeting room or the prospect’s office, you both have already reached your initial conclusions about each other. Unless something has truly triggered you, these conclusions are amorphous, lacking solid shape and boundary, and are subject to modification. Nothing is set in concrete yet, but the cement is hardening all the time.

You have been responding almost exclusively to visual cues and interpreting them through the prism of your life experience. Have a thing about red haired people and the prospect has red hair? You can’t help but take that into consideration when you form your first impressions.

It is important to note that at this point both of you have been operating at a reactive and emotional level. The logical side of your brain hasn’t been engaged yet in any meaningful way.

Later, as you talk and interact, your brain will kick in and may override your initial take on the prospect and determine that no, Ted isn’t one of THOSE kind of red heads, so it’s OK.

Now, back to the actual process … Walking to the place where you will have your meeting may or may not include some conversation. Just keep it neutral and light. Don’t toss out any opinions or rash statements.

When you arrive at the room where you will conduct the meeting, the first decision is where to sit. You never want to convey, however unintentionally, your desire to encroach upon the prospect’s domain or authority. If the prospect gestures or says something, indicating a chair or side of the table, then simply follow their directions.

If there is no indication, then avoid selecting the “power seat(s)” at the table. Why? Because you are in the prospect’s house and you want to defer to them. The dynamic is they are the host and you are the guest. If you do select one of those chairs the prospect may react very negatively at a gut level … perceiving your choice as the initiation of a contest or power struggle. Obviously, this is not what you are seeking to accomplish. Your goal is instead to create an environment where you have the opportunity to cultivate a potential engagement.

What chairs should you avoid? These will generally be at either head of the table or nearest the door. Instead, select a seat that is, a) on the table’s side and, b) is located on a side that is not closest to the door. These are not viewed as power locations and therefore should be safe.

You can also unintentionally signal your desire to exhibit power by scattering your things around, e.g. hanging your overcoat over the back of one chair, putting your briefcase on another and sitting on a third. By doing this you are claiming and acquiring territory. Another unintended territorial cue is to adopt a slouching, sprawling posture. By doing so you are again acquiring territory and appearing to stake your claim in unneeded real estate.

Assuming you arrive at the point where you and the prospect are now seated across from one another (by the way … if there are more attendees than just the two of you it is best if you sit so you are directly across from, and facing, the prospect’s decision maker), the next opportunity to make an important first impression is how you organize, arrange and handle your props.

By “props,” I mean your briefcase or folio and whatever documents, reference materials, notepads, pens, calculator, etc. it contains. I believe your briefcase or folio should be placed on the floor next to your chair (best) or on the seat of the chair next to you. Never put it on the table because it is not only assertive, territorial behavior, it can also distract the prospect, especially if the table is wood and you have any metal on your briefcase. If they become concerned that you may scratch the table they will hear very little of what you say.

If you will be using exhibits or other documents, have copies for the prospect (and their team), highlight important text, sequence the documents in what you believe the agenda will be, use folders with neat, printed tabs, keep pens that are certain to work handy and also have a clean note pad nearby. Why? Being organized is a trait every prospect wants to see in their accountant. If your competition isn’t, then that’s a check in your column.

Now when you begin the actual content portion of the meeting you can feel confident you have done the right things to create a positive first impression and nothing that will trigger negativity in the prospect’s mind.

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