How to Build Rapport with Prospects to Avoid “Failure to Launch” Syndrome

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As professional salespeople we advised that building rapport with prospects is one of the most vital components needed to initiate the sales process and close business.  This initial step has been recited to us so frequently that it should be not only a perfected skill but should come to us naturally.  If building rapport is truly that important (which it is), then why do salespeople have such a hard time with it?

Every salesperson has been in the uncomfortable position of participating in a conversation with a prospect, either face-to-face or on the phone, only to find the meeting go south within the first five to ten minutes.  What started out as a promising opportunity quickly morphed into a painful dialogue of disconnected personalities and mismatched objectives.

What Happened?!  You experienced Failure to Launch Syndrome.

Failure to Launch Syndrome occurs when a salesperson pushes too hard and/or too early for information needed to close the deal.  They become overanxious to present and validate their product or service before building an honest rapport – before establishing a trusted business relationship.  Despite what we perceive as building rapport, it is ultimately our prospect who decides when it has been achieved.  If the salesperson fails to recognize this uneasy truth, it is inevitable that the prospect will lose confidence in the sales process and terminate the relationship.  Think of it this way: Regardless of the months and years of planning NASA puts into a space mission, if Houston has a problem in the final moments leading to launch, the countdown stops.


Before you start “pitching” your product, it is imperative to know what is important to the prospect.  Each sales situation is different because each prospect is different.  They have unique personalities and unique needs.  What might be important to one is not important to the other.  The key to sales is “knowing” what is important to the prospect and the only way to know this is to learn from them.  When you commit to learning about what is important to a prospect, you begin to understand their point of view and how your product fits into their perception.  Prospects must sense your sincere interest before they become comfortable enough to seek advice and believe in your solution.

To start a meaningful conversation which sets the foundation of establishing rapport it is important to have a set of prepared, prospect-centered questions.  These questions not only prevent the conversation from wandering off topic, but it ensures the salesperson continues to stay on course and is committed to what the prospect needs and wants.  In simple terms, it keeps the salesperson from falling into presentation mode before the prospect is ready.

The following are some generic examples of good rapport building questions in the order they should be addressed:


• How did you get started in the industry?

• How did you start your career with this company?

• Tell me a little more about what you do and what you are responsible for.


• Tell me about your company.

• How many locations do you have?

• How long has the company been in business?


• What’s happening in your marketplace?

• How have the dynamics changed?


• What industry trends have you identified?

• What has had the biggest influence on your industry?

Using relevant and meaningful questions not only builds rapport but it also establishes credibility.  By doing industry based homework prior to the meeting it shows the prospect that you truly care about their organization.  Caring breeds trust and trust closes deals.

by Lynda C-L Allen
Sandler Training

Sandler Training is a global training organization with over three decades of experience and proven results. Sandler provides sales and management training and consulting services for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as well as corporate training for Fortune 1000 companies. For more information, please contact Karl Schaphorst at (402) 403-4334 or by email at You can also follow his blog at

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