How To Build Rapport On The Phone – 10 Key Steps To Success

Direct Marketing

At a recent sales conference, I took notes as the keynote speaker argued that our words account for only 7% of our communication effectiveness. Tonality accounts for 38% and body language 55%.  The speaker’s point was that salespeople should focus more on body language to improve their effectiveness. 

What happens, though, when your prospect is on the other end of a phone line? 

You then only have your words and tonality. It takes a special person with special skills to succeed in these circumstances – to build rapport, qualify the prospect, make the presentation, address objections, create a sense of urgency and close the sale.

The first and perhaps most important of these skills is building rapport. Without rapport, an effective sales presentation cannot progress. When you have rapport, your conversation is more relaxed, your prospect is more comfortable, they trust you more and they are more open to your suggestions and recommendations.

So what are the key steps to rapport-building on the telephone? These are my top 10:

  1. Get the prospect’s name. And use it! When you demonstrate to the person on the end of the line that you care enough to remember their name, you get their attention, acknowledge their identity and validate their status as someone worth speaking to. This makes them feel good. After all, their name is one of the first words they heard as a baby. Just make sure you’re accurate ... nothing is more off-putting than being called by the wrong name. You’ll quickly lose all credibility in the eyes of "Julie" if you continually call her "Judy".  It’s best to check with the company’s receptionist first if you’re not sure, especially if it’s a name you’re unfamiliar with.
  2. Maintain positive body language – even though your prospect cannot see it. There is a place for body language on the phone after all. Your tone is affected by your posture and mood, so your prospect will notice the change in your voice when you sit upright, or even stand, and smile broadly. A smile has a positive effect on you tonality, your vocal inflexions, the volume and pace of your speech, and even the words you choose. So sit upright, focus on the task and smile before you dial!
  3. Listen. Intently and actively! As you listen to everything your prospect says, take notes and repeat back, when you can, what they’ve said to you. For example: “That’s interesting Stephanie. You’re saying that your previous supplier of widgets was reliable but a bit expensive. Is that correct?”  People like to be heard. It makes them feel important and validated. Active listening demonstrates to your prospect that you care about what they’re saying.
  4. Ask open-ended questions. Give your prospect the opportunity to enter the conversation by asking open-ended questions. Questions like How, When, Who and Why require more than a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ response and enable you to build a two-way conversation. You can even use a statement like “Tell me about …” The more your prospect speaks, the more engaged they are likely to be in the conversation.
  5. Position yourself as an authority. Explain clearly who you are, in a professional sense, and how much ability you have to solve your prospect’s problems. This means knowing your product, your service and your industry well. It also means demonstrating this knowledge to your prospect.
  6. Project your voice. If your prospect can’t understand your words, they won’t listen to the content of your message. So sit up, breathe deeply and articulate clearly and confidently.
  7. Focus on the positive. Be solution-oriented, rather than getting bogged down in the details of the prospect’s problems. A positive mental attitude is infectious and helps to lead your prospect in the direction of working with you.
  8. Show empathy (not sympathy). Be quick to use phrases like “I understand where you’re coming from”, “I see what you mean” and “That experience must have been rewarding.” At the same time, don’t be too quick to share a prospect’s negative perception of an issue for an extended period of time. Showing genuine empathy helps you to gain the prospect’s trust and leads them towards accepting your solution to their problem.
  9. Articulate the purpose of your call. Always know beforehand, and communicate clearly and professionally, the desired outcome of your conversation. Your prospect is likely to become annoyed if, after a minute and a half, they still don’t know why you’ve called.
  10. Mirror, match, pace and lead. If your prospect speaks slowly and laconically, it’s a good idea to slow your speech pattern as well. If your prospect speaks loudly and quickly, try to keep up with them. You can even repeat some of your prospect’s words. For example, if they describe an experience as ‘outstanding’, you can consider using this adjective later in the conversation.

People buy from people they like and trust. Your main objective in building rapport on the phone is to generate trust in an environment in which there are no visual cues to help either party.

Throughout your call, be present, patient and respectful. If you can build rapport and generate a high level of trust in a single phone call, you’ve progressed with your prospect along the sales cycle. You’ve begun what may develop into a long-term, professional relationship.


Richard Forrest

Managing Director at

In my previous life I worked as a Forensic Scientist in Scotland. I quickly realised there wasn't enough fun or sun in either the country or the industry so headed off as a backpacker to find myself. I ended up in Sydney funding my trip by working as a telemarketer and so began a long career in sales. I founded Forrest Marketing Group in 2006 to deliver professional corporate telemarketing and outbound sales and to surround myself with a group of people who love talking as much as I do.