Think about your best friends and most trusted confidants. How did they achieve that upper ranking from among all the other people you’ve met in your life? Now think about the people in your life that would list YOU as one of their best friends and trusted confidants. Lots of the same people, right? So, how did you earn that level of friendship and trust among all the people they’ve met in their life?
Chances are you reached that level by spending time, caring, showing interest, and having conversations. Have you ever noticed you can sit down with a friend to chat for a moment, and when you look up at the clock and an hour or two has passed? And usually, you’ve been spending most of the time listening to your friend share their victories, humorous stories, photos of their kids, and maybe a few of their personal problems.
You participated by gushing over their kids, cheering them on, and cheering them up.
How do you think you earn this level of rapport with your clients?
The same way!
At least two or three times per week invite a different client from your list to meet you for coffee. Make it an early meet-up so that it doesn’t conflict with their first “business” appointment of the day. Choose a coffee shop near your client’s office, so that you’ve made it as easy as possible for them to keep the appointment on their way in into the office that morning (I hear there’s a new coffee shop called “Starbucks” that has a few locations in your area) and arrive BEFORE they do.
Pay the barista for an extra cup of “hot bean juice” (and tip them) to cover your client’s drink and then go find a good spot to sit in. Something comfortable where you can have a good conversation.
The big key here is that you aren’t going to pitch them, give them a proposal, talk about your latest sales package, or do anything else in regard to business (or yourself) — you’re going to focus on learning a little more about your client as a person.
Think of them as a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and ask all the questions you normally would if you were catching up on their life. Ask open-ended questions so that your client has the freedom to tell a story. You’ll learn a lot about about them just from the metaphors and similes they use. Pay attention to regional accents or vernacular and buzzwords they use to help identify some things you might have in common.
Here are some great questions to ask:
- Where did you grow up/Where were you born?
- What did your parents do?
- Do you have any siblings? What do they do?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- Where did you go to school?
- What attracted you to your career?
- Have you ever been out of the country?
- What are your hobbies/What do you do for fun?
- If you won the lottery tomorrow, where is the first place you’d visit?
- If you had to change careers tomorrow, what would you do next?
One of my favorite questions to ask after learning they have siblings is to find out where they fall in the birth order. As the first born of three children, I find building rapport by sharing stories and insights about first, middle, and youngest personalities easy and fun to do. It’s a place to bond if our birth orders are the same, or a casual way to take a good-natured jab if they were the baby of the family (you guys got away with murder!!)
You’ll find the questions that work best for you through practice, but the one thing you must remember to make this technique effective is that you have to LISTEN more that you speak. Certainly contribute to the conversation, but don’t steal the spotlight from your coffee companion. Direct the conversation through questions, and you’ll not only strengthen and solidify your business relationship — you just may find a friend.