Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

How do you influence effortlessly?

Influence may be the highest level of human skills.


We often think of influencing in a negative sense and have a rather sensible approach in the UK: buyer beware. The reality is that we are influenced at a conscious and unconscious level all the time – through the people with whom we interact, and, of course, via marketing and advertising.

Think of a time in the last six months when you wanted to buy something. You did not need to be persuaded about a product, the price was acceptable and you walked into a store, but left without buying the product. If this has ever happened to you, there is a good chance that the person serving influenced you not to buy! The salesperson may have done one (or more) of the following:

  • Confused you with feature overload
  • Did not listen to what you wanted
  • Ignored you
  • Did not ask you any questions
  • Asked you what you perceived as an annoying question
  • Did not have the exact information you wanted.

Evidence suggests that, given a scenario like this, many people are prepared to pay more for exactly the same service or product from down the road or online.

On the other hand, most of us have suffered at some time from buyer’s remorse. In this case, you will have been affected by the two foundations of influencing – credibility and rapport. In most sales situations, it is unlikely that anyone will buy anything from a salesperson unless they have demonstrated credibility and built rapport.

Establish credibility

Credibility derives from the Latin ‘credo’ which means ‘I believe’. Buyers are looking for believability when they meet you. Below are ten top tips to establish credibility when selling.

  1. Acquire as much knowledge as possible: of the customer, product/service, market, and the competition.
  2. Add value – all the time! Before every meeting, ask yourself – what can I tell them that they do not already know? Think about how websites work well – there is often a huge amount of content given away free, which will work on establishing loyalty from the site visitor.
  3. Prepare effectively: set the agenda, define an outcome, do the research, think what questions the buyer is going to ask.
  4. Execute efficiently: do what you say you are going to do. Under-promise and over-deliver, keep your word, be consistent, follow through and make clear agreements that are measurable.
  5. Establish multiple links into the organisation: get an organisational chart, network, meet people, and get yourself known.
  6. Avoid ‘selling’ too early: ask questions and listen first.
  7. Take responsibility: we once worked with an organisation where there was a ‘they’ culture, as in ‘they’ were the internal people who did not support the sales team sufficiently well. You are your company, so speak about ‘us’ and ‘we’ and take responsibility for mistakes.
  8. Present with enthusiasm: whether formally or informally, present sales materials with passion.
  9. Make your buyers feel special. People stop buying because
  • 1 per cent die
  • 3 per cent move away
  • 5 per cent follow a friend’s or relative’s recommendation
  • 9 per cent find an alternative they perceive to be better quality or value
  • 14 per cent are dissatisfied with the product/service
  • And a massive 68 per cent of people leave a business because of sheer indifference. They take their business elsewhere simply because they do not feel valued.
  1. Have the courage to say no: they will respect you. Salespeople often say yes when they mean no and then have to backtrack!

Rapport is a harmonious connection with another person, which often takes place outside conscious awareness.

Build rapport

Credibility comes first in selling, followed closely by rapport.

It is about connectivity, getting on the same wavelength. Rapport is a naturally occurring dance that happens when people meet. Sometimes rapport occurs spontaneously. However, there are specific skills you can learn that enhance rapport and increase your effectiveness as a communicator and salesperson in business situations.

In selling, rapport is the ability to relate to others in a way that creates a climate of trust and understanding. People generally do not buy from people they do not like.


Think of a recent face-to-face purchase when you bought something. Now think about a time when you did not buy – what are the distinctions in terms of rapport? What do you notice?

Rapport when I bought
Rapport when I did not buy

People have a tough time trusting salespeople with their time, money and business. Many people will not even want to talk to you. Welcome to reality! Your customers and prospects are busy and may feel that speaking with you is a waste of time. Many of your prospects may not even see a need for your product, or may be content with the version they already have. So, if you decide rapport is a good thing, you will have to build it quickly.

It could be argued that the rapport element has been overplayed in sales training over the years, especially with the use of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), so that most salespeople understand its importance in the sales process. However, establishing and building rapport is a simple first step to show you are genuinely interested and can act as a bridge to a mutually beneficial relationship. It depends on what you do, say and notice. Sometimes we meet people we do not like, but in selling, if they do not warm to you they will start putting up barriers and the bridge can become a drawbridge!


Below are ten top tips to establish and build rapport.

  1. Lobby in advance: telephone and email someone so you build the connection early.
  2. Do the chit chat: generally speaking, we tend not to dive straight into the business conversation. When training some business people from Brazil, I was told it is thought rude in their country if you do not make ‘small talk’ for at least 45 minutes! Avoid ‘so, how’s business?’ – it might be terrible right now and get you off on the wrong footing!
  3. Share personal information and find out more about their other interests: what makes them tick. People are 1,000 times more interested in themselves than they are in you (or your product or service). When you have discovered things – holiday destinations, birthday, hobbies and so on – remember and use the details.
  4. People buy people who are like themselves, so be like them. You do this by closely identifying how they move and speak and then copying them subtly. This idea is called matching and mirroring (see NLP (Rapport)).
  5. Listen, listen, listen and then listen some more.
  6. Ask questions: it shows you are interested and following the thoughts of the buyer.
  7. Look as though you are interested: demonstrate curiosity though attentive body language, such as a smile, nod or grunt!
  8. Be friendly: I was in an audience recently and was amazed at the easy and straightforward way that the speaker lost his audience by being deliberately provocative and unfriendly.
  9. Lighten up and laugh: nothing is more powerful than humour when it comes to building rapport quickly. Laughter is the spark that can ignite interest and cordiality between you and the person you are influencing; it is hard to laugh with a person and not feel comfortable around them. Some salespeople take their job far too seriously! So, lighten up! If you make them laugh, they may just buy!
  10. Finally – get to the point! State your objective and why they should listen. Avoid clichéd and insincere reasons, such as saving money, increasing productivity and other transparent and ineffective reasons they have heard from many salespeople before you. Prospects and buyers do not enjoy wasting time by playing games.

To find out more about questions, visit the Coaching topic.


You always have the choice of matching or mismatching the other person. There are times when you need to break rapport. If someone is making a decision in a buying situation it may be appropriate momentarily to mismatch (the opposite of matching) him so he is making the decision himself (see Rapport).

Flying high

Often, when you get on an aeroplane, the first person you will hear is the captain as in – ‘Welcome aboard. My name is Captain Cassell...’ At some point, you will also hear the flight attendant. You may well notice these differences in their voices:

Captain – vocal qualities Flight attendant – vocal qualities
  • Slow
  • Intonation goes down at the end of the sentence or phrase
  • Uses pauses
  • Short, clipped sentences
  • Monosyllabic
  • Fast
  • Intonation goes up at the end of the sentence or phrase
  • Uses few pauses
  • Long, possibly rambling, sentences
  • Lots of variety and musicality in the voice

Essentially the captain uses a ‘credible’ voice pattern, while the flight attendant uses a ‘rapport’ voice. Use both voice patterns when you are trying to influence and focus on the credible voice pattern when you discuss your service/product and when you want them to make a decision. (For more, see Voice Skills and Rapport (Cat and Dog).)

Without credibility and rapport with your prospects, customers and anyone else that you come into contact with in the selling process, you are going to have a tough time influencing and getting past first base.