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How to Build Rapport With Your Prospects Over the Phone

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

business people shaking hands

When making calls to prospects or even existing customers, building rapport is an important part of developing a positive business relationship. By creating a bond between yourself and the prospect, it can help make discussions surrounding your offerings and their benefits go a lot smoother as you have already developed a level of trust, honesty and positivity.

Of course, when making outbound calls to prospective and existing customers, you are likely to encounter a gatekeeper initially. In a lot of cases, building rapport with the gatekeeper can also be advantageous and can help you get through to the decision-maker more easily on subsequent calls.

With this in mind, it is often the case that rapport building will be a two-stage process, building rapport with the gatekeeper, and building rapport with the decision-maker. Successfully building rapport with these two figures helps to make your prospect interactions a lot smoother and can improve the efficiency of your customer acquisition process.

This article covers different tactics to employ and avoid when building rapport with both gatekeepers and decision-makers on the phone. This article is the first in a series of five articles covering the methods of building rapport across five different communication channels: Telephone, email, content, social media, and face-to-face.

Building Rapport with the Gatekeeper

Building rapport with the gatekeeper can help increase your chances of reaching the decision-maker on your first interaction and can make getting through on subsequent calls a lot faster and easier. A big mistake that some telemarketers make is viewing the gatekeeper as the enemy and treating them as such by being blunt and ill-mannered. By doing so they believe that they can ‘establish authority’, but in most cases, it will likely irritate the gatekeeper and drastically reduce your chances of getting through to a decision-maker, and destroying any chance of building rapport. By being polite and aiming to have positive conversations with the gatekeeper, you are far more likely to build rapport and make your job a lot easier. So what are a few ways to build rapport with gatekeepers?

Use a positive tone of voice

When talking to a gatekeeper, your tone of voice can be quite influential to their own. If you talk in a slow, neutral, almost robotic tone, it’s going to do two things. One, it’s going to make it abundantly clear that this is a sales call; and two, it could negatively affect the gatekeeper’s tone, and also the success or failure of the call.

Try talking in a more upbeat and positive tone of voice with the gatekeeper, you may be surprised just how much this can change how the call goes. Talking in this tone of voice also makes you more memorable to the gatekeeper. They are far more likely to remember having a positive interaction with someone confident and upbeat, rather than a very bland interaction with someone who is monotone and dull.

Making a note of and using their name

​Personalising the opener of your calls by using the gatekeeper's name is a very simple, but surprisingly effective way to build rapport.

Gatekeepers are on the receiving end of multiple cold and sales calls every day, and most of these calls will all go the same way. Try making your calls stand out by taking a more personal and human approach. Even something as simple as learning the gatekeeper's name and using it in conversation can make your call more memorable and leave a positive impression.

By personalising your opening statement on the initial calls or further follow-up calls you can build a foundation of rapport with the gatekeeper which can make getting through to the decision-maker easier and improve the quality of your interactions.

Personalisation is also vital for interactions with the decision-maker, with 56% of customers being more likely to buy after having a personalised experience with a business.

Avoid using a 'salesy' opening statement

Your opening statement can make or break your chances of building rapport and more importantly, your chances of speaking to a decision-maker. As mentioned above, gatekeepers are inundated with ‘salesy’ cold calls that are often no different from the last. Try to avoid tripping over the first hurdle by using a generic and bog-standard telemarketing intro like: “Hi, my name is John, I’m calling from 123 Ltd, we provide ____ services, I was wondering whether David is free just for a chat about his ____ needs?” Not only does the above opening statement scream “sales call”, but it is also unnecessarily complicated. A short and simple introduction such as: “Good afternoon, could you put me through to David, please?” is a far less forward or ‘salesy’ introduction, and also doesn’t give too much information to the gatekeeper about what your call is regarding. Of course, the gatekeeper’s next question is likely to be querying who you are and the purpose of your call, but again you don’t want to give away too much information which can impact your chances of speaking to a decision-maker. A response such as: “My name’s John, I’m calling from 123 just to have a chat with David about ___, is he available to speak to?”, is a good way to respond to the gatekeeper’s queries. It tells them who you are, and why you want to speak to the decision-maker without the typical sales-sounding tone which can be a ‘rapport killer’.

Building Rapport with the Decision-Maker

Building rapport with the decision-maker is all about providing value to the prospect and finding common ground that you can use to your advantage.

When building rapport with a decision-maker your goal should be to create a solid level of mutual trust and honesty, which are vital building blocks for a strong business relationship.

So what are a few ways of building rapport with prospective decision-makers?

Avoid using scripts

In the past, telemarketing scripts were commonplace for generating leads and setting appointments, however, these days they can actually do more harm than good. Although useful for training purposes, sales scripts often get in the way of true rapport building and can impact your chances of securing an opportunity.

Most of the time, it’s easy to identify a telemarketer that is just blindly following a script, as they can start to sound robotic and apathetic, and never really dig too deep into a conversation as they are just going through a list of questions and set responses that they have in front of them.

Removing the distraction of a sales script allows you to make tailored calls that are focused on the individual prospect and on the areas of your pitch that are relevant to them. This is far more valuable for both parties, not just in terms of rapport, but also in terms of gaining valuable information and a deeper insight into the prospect’s needs and how you can meet them.

The avoidance of scripts can also help to build confidence and a more natural telephone manner. When telemarketers are given a script during their training processes and don’t receive proper training on how to naturally lead a conversation, they can end up relying on the scripts throughout the entirety of their calls.

These telemarketers can find it difficult to adapt to a conversation if it goes off script, won’t be able to build up a great deal of confidence, and can struggle to carry out their role effectively once the script is removed from the equation altogether.

Brief detours

This is not something that will be welcomed by all decision-makers, especially those that have already expressed their shortness of time, however, taking brief detours from the main purpose of the call and going slightly off-topic, can be one of the most effective, and memorable ways to build rapport and helps to break the ice before going into the business reasons for you call. Just as with gatekeepers, decision-makers are likely inundated with calls throughout the day not just from telemarketers, but in a variety of business aspects. These calls can become a bore for the decision-maker and will likely have an effect on the next call that they receive. Taking, at most, 30 seconds to have a brief, off-topic, light-hearted conversation with your prospect shows them that you’re not just there to get in, talk business, and secure an opportunity, which can have a profound impact on building rapport. ​These detours could be to do with something simple such as the weather, somewhere the prospect has been/or is going on holiday etc.. Just simple things. With these detours, you need to be smart; don’t just jump into the call, deliver your opening statement and then start ranting about how bad the rain has been this week – wait for the prospect to engage in these conversations and then reciprocate. Remember, not all decision-makers will want, or have the time, to engage in these conversations and doing so could do more harm than good. Always try to gauge the mood of the prospect before trying this approach, if they seem pressed for time or rushed, it’s probably best just to deliver your pitch and not add an unnecessary length to the call.

Focus on the prospect

Rather than taking an approach that is focused on building rapport, this is more focused on providing value to the prospect and tailoring the call to their needs or situation – which actually helps to build rapport naturally.

By focusing on providing value to the prospect, you are not only helping to build rapport naturally, but you’re also taking a more effective approach to secure the opportunity as opposed to those who only focus on themselves when contacting their prospective customers.

On your first interaction with your prospect, you want to make the best first impression that you possibly can. Can you achieve this by bombarding them with information about who you are and what you do? No – there isn’t any value in that.

Instead of just pitching your services, take the first call as an opportunity to learn about them. What makes them different from their competitors? What problems do they face? What solutions do they have in place? Are they looking for a solution?

Gaining answers to these questions can give you vital information that helps you to improve your pitch and provide targeted and more relevant interactions with the prospect.

Your next step, either briefly on the initial call, or on a follow-up call, is to tell the prospect how you can solve their problems and pain points through the products and services that you provide. This way, you’re not just blindly pitching your services to someone that may have no need of them, you’re providing a tailored solution to the prospect’s key pain points – which is far more valuable.

On average, it takes around 6 – 8 calls with a prospect to secure a qualified lead or appointment; but when providing a more value-focused approach you could see a reduction in the number of calls it takes to secure an opportunity and in the time it takes to build rapport, thus, increasing your business development efficiency.

To Wrap Up...

Building a positive rapport over the phone can take just a few simple tweaks to your approach but can have a significant impact on your chances of reaching a decision-maker and having a positive interaction with your prospects. Despite many telemarketers simply wanting to get in contact with a decision-maker, secure a lead or appointment, and move onto the next, to create long-lasting and prosperous business relationships, you need to dedicate the time and patience to building rapport.

Doing so not only helps to make your customer acquisition process smoother but also helps to increase customer retention, and the likelihood of the client recommending your products or services to others.


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