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Building trust and achieving rapport with clients

"My staff work hard but they are not great at the softer side of building relationships with customers and clients. I would like to guide them to be better in that area. Any tips appreciated!”

Julian O'Dell

Agent with clients image


I see countless estate agents who go through a process of asking questions to find out about their clients but are weak on key skills of building trust and achieving genuine rapport and empathy – yet such things are at the heart of any sales relationship.

The old mantra holds true – ‘people buy people’, who communicate effectively with them, thereby creating a relationship of trust and rapport.

Julian O'Dell image

Julian O’Dell is Founder of TM Training & Development

The word ‘rapport’ is tossed around in conversations in the sales arena, yet when it crops up within our training programmes, delegates are often unsure what it means. It is not simply about being nice to people!

People come from all walks of life – different backgrounds, situations and views. To some people, visiting central London is a positive experience – vibrant, bright and lively. To others, it is hideous – London’s noisy, dirty and overwhelming isn’t it? These polar opposite views are because we all have a different perspective, or ‘map of the world’.


Each person’s map consists of all sorts of knowledge, experiences, attitudes, beliefs, habits, opinions and much more. It is unsurprising that natural rapport is rare given all those variables and how our map is unlikely to coincide completely with anyone else’s.

Try to get your staff to understand this ‘map of the world’ concept and recognise that each prospective client has a different one.

If a salesperson can clearly see a customer’s map, they can go over to it and see things through the other’s eyes. This needn’t mean changing their own views, but rather that they ‘match’ with them in voice, vocabulary, pace, tone and so forth. ‘Matching’ is a key element of rapport building.

Two ears, one mouth, use them in proportion… but many sales people are too busy forming their next statement to listen to the client.

Matching means being in tune with the person we are communicating with. One way to achieve rapport, so that the other person is more comfortable, is to adopt aspects of their behaviour, such as body language, gestures, tone of voice or particular words.

In everyday life, people tend to do this naturally. When with others, you might notice that you and the person you’re with have adopted the same posture. At a social occasion you might notice that people who are getting on well lift their glasses to drink at the same time – natural signs of being in tune, in rapport.


Rapport building also requires ‘soft skills’ – including effective questioning and active listening.

The first – effective questioning – is something that people think is easy. However, truly skilled questioners have an array of question types that they can draw on in particular circumstances.

The most effective questions to accelerate the building of rapport are ‘open’ and ‘scenario’ questions. Both encourage the speaker to speak, which, obvious as it sounds, is not always a goal achieved by salespeople – particularly those who prefer the sound of their own voice.

Open questions start with “How?”, “What?”, “Why?” and so on. They cannot be answered with “Yes” or “No”.

“How are getting on with finding a property?” is better than “Have you found a property yet?” as it encourages the customer to elaborate. “What is the latest you need to be moved by?” is significantly more effective than “Are you in a hurry to move?”

Scenario questions are great to start to understand the “map of the world” as you project the customer into a future position and seek their views on it. “What problems will it cause you if you haven’t found anything by Christmas?” or “What will you do if you don’t achieve your asking price?”. Such questions help establish the customer’s ‘map of the world’.


We all know the phrase “two ears, one mouth: use them in that proportion”, but many salespeople are too busy formulating their next statement to listen to their customer. ‘Active listening’ ensures you avoid that, it involves listening with all senses. Giving full attention to the speaker is essential. Non-verbal messages can be effective – maintain eye contact, nod your head, smile, agree – “Yes” or simply “Uh huh” to encourage them to continue. By providing this encouragement, the person will feel more at ease and communicate more openly and honestly.

Reflecting snippets of what the customer has said shows you are taking things onboard and summaries – checking understanding, proving you have listened, also play their part.

All these techniques combine make a massive difference – the time you invest in helping them build rapport with clients could be the best investment you make.

November 13, 2018