There’s an old urban legend about sales – probably not true, but irresistible:

A salesperson arrives at the prospect’s office for the first time and sees a picture of the prospect standing next to John Madden.

“How’d you get your picture taken with John Madden?” the salesperson asks.

“That’s not John Madden,” the prospect replies. “That’s my wife.”

It’s easy to step in it when you’re trying to build rapport with a prospect. “How about those Phillies?” you ask. Turns out she’s a Mets fan. “I like your office,” you say. But it’s the boss’s office – your prospect sits in a cubicle down the hall. “Do you have any kids?” you ask. Yes, as a matter of fact, the buyer says, one’s in jail and one’s in rehab.

The safest way to build rapport, says relationship guru Ed Wallace, is to let the buyer take the lead.

Sure, go ahead and give the buyer a little noncommittal prompt to get things going. “Thanks for seeing me today,” you might say. Then be quiet. The conversation will naturally go toward whatever interests the buyer. If the buyer wants to get right to business, she’ll say so. If she wants to talk about the weather, talk about the weather. If she asks where you’re from, tell her. Then ask where she’s from.

It won’t take long to get the ball rolling – but by remaining silent, you allow it to roll in the right direction.

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