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The FBI's top rapport building tactics for salespeople.

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FBI agents are masters of getting blood out of stones. Read on to learn how they do it.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, also known as the Female Body Inspectors by hilarious, tacky t-shirt makers across the globe, is one of the world’s most secretive and knowledgeable national security organizations.

The people who work for The FBI are known to be expertly trained in many disciplines across the intelligence gathering spectrum, and many of their skills are, therefore, highly sought after.

FBI agents, for example, are masters of building rapport, they have to be. They manage to get information out of even the most stubborn, police-loathing, (potential criminals) around.

Fortunately for you, you don’t have to go through years of gruelling training regimes to learn some of their juiciest and most useful secrets; Robin Dreeke, the former head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program has given numerous talks and has even written a book on the subject of building rapport with almost anyone.

The sections below describe what he recommends, as well as my own thoughts on how to use these strategies for the purposes of sales, marketing and business in general.


1. "Oh, is that the time?"

If you start to talk to a stranger and make them feel like you’re never going to leave, you can make them feel seriously on edge.

But if you immediately let them know you can’t be long because you have other arrangements (whether true or not), you’ll relax them.

The way that FBI agents use this is to assure the person they’re about to interrogate that they only have a few questions and need to leave shortly. After asking the questions, they offer the interviewee a hot drink and some food, and then go.

The person being held is therefore left with an impression of trust and clears their mind of the idea that they’ll be subjected to hours and hours of torturous interrogation right off the bat.

How can you use this tactic?

When you call someone, don’t ask, “Is now a good time?” because:

a. They wouldn’t have taken your call if it wasn’t.
b. This suggests you’re about to take up a significant chunk of their time.

Instead, say something like “I’m actually on my way to a meeting but really wanted to give you a quick call to ask about…”

This puts them at ease; they know they won’t be on the phone for long and also know that you don’t want to waste your time or theirs.

The key to it though is the “really wanted to” part. This shows that, even though you’re rushed for time, you were eager to get in touch with them and felt like you had to call.

However, make sure you keep the call short. Stick to a few quick questions and leave. This makes you look busy (also a plus) and gives you the opportunity, at the end of the call, to arrange a second call in the near future having already built their trust.


2. Smile

Obviously this isn’t a tip for the phone-based salesperson and I don’t recommend you start trying to FaceTime your customers and prospects just to smile at them – that would probably be counter-productive and, to put it lightly, pretty weird.

Then again, I’d also say this piece of advice could be misinterpreted by some. You don’t want to come across as though you’ve taken too many prescription pills when you meet a customer face-to-face by donning an ear-to-ear smile at all times.

The point is that, in the sales world, people can often get so caught up in creating a confident façade that they come across as intimidating or arrogant.

By simply smiling when you say positive things, you can make someone feel good about what you’re saying, building rapport in the process. This can really take the edge off a conversation and make someone trust you more.

Also, think about all points of contact you have with people: are you smiling in your LinkedIn picture? Is there a picture of you on your company website in which you look happy to be there? How about in your email footer, do you use an image there?

I’m not suggesting that you give your biggest grin everywhere you go, but make sure you look like you enjoy doing what you do and the person looking at you will feel at ease.


3. Speak slower

When we speak slowly and clearly, we are seen as far more trustworthy than those who mumble their words in a hurry.

If an FBI agent were to ramble off questions to the person being questioned they’d instantly make them feel like they were trying to get something out of them; if they speak in a relaxed way, having a conversation rather than talking at the person in question, they will open up.

It’s as simple as that.

How can you use this?

So often in the world of sales, we get caught up in saying the same things from the same script, over and over again.

Sadly, when things are well memorized, they can roll off the tongue all too quickly; while you might know exactly what you just said, the person you’re talking to might not have caught a word.

Instead of recycling lines from the same script in meetings, pitches and on calls, try rewording the same sentences from time to time or just having a loose script outlined rather than a word-for-word one.

If there are any phrases in particular you use to illustrate your point on a regular basis, try to think of ways to improve these phrases or at least reword them.

Having different ways of saying the same things keeps the whole spiel interesting for those listening and keeps you interested too.

What’s more, whenever you’ve made a key point, leave a few seconds pause for it to sink in.

In the past, you may have said something really poignant that could’ve clinched the deal or at least built rapport, only to start speaking again before the prospect could fully take the point on board.

Always remember though that just because you’re speaking slower, you still need to speak with some charisma and energy. Speaking at a reduced pace doesn’t mean you should make yourself sound boring, just understandable.

Have you seen Wolf of Wall Street? Leonardo DiCaprio studied the ways and means of the best salespeople around in order to give a truthful performance, so while it is just a film, there’s a thing or two you can learn about rapport building from the way he speaks. The below video is worth watching as a great example of pacing.


4. Ask them for help

If someone asks for a little help, it’s instinct to offer your services.

The reason I’ve italicized a little, is because the request must be small.

The difference between someone asking for a phone to call a mechanic and for you to fix their car for free is pretty stark, after all.

That’s why FBI agents often redress their questions as needing little chunks of help to try and tease key information out of interviewees.

For example, rather than just asking big questions about a missing body, an agent will say that they need help from the person with regards to minor details, none of which seem important.

Say that they need help finding someone’s missing son/daughter/wife etc. and that they (the person being questioned) are the only person who can help.

The agent will go on into detail about how any small pieces of help wouldn’t incriminate the person (“you won’t get in any trouble”) but would help a lot.

How can you use this?

Naturally, your subject will be a little softer than that of the FBI agent, but asking for small chunks of help is the way to go.

Don’t imagine that you’ll be able to qualify, demo and sell to a prospect in one go. Instead, have one clear objective for each call; one important piece of the puzzle you want to add to your picture.

As long as you get an answer to each of the key questions in your call, the prospect will duly move along in the pipeline. Ask for too much in one go, however, and the prospect will close off to you.

So if you’re guilty of having emailed or InMailed someone before with a sales pitch, think carefully about the above point: should you have just started with one question instead of jumping to the end of the pipeline? The answer is yes.


5. Say no to ego

FBI agents do all they can to avoid arguments in order to look as balanced as possible. Disagreeing with the person being questioned will make them feel as though they can’t connect with the officer, and can also lead to the agent looking egotistical.

Instead of being confrontational, a good agent will work with whatever the person in question says, and instead of outright correcting them, will say something along the lines of, “That’s an interesting point. Do you also think it could be that…?”

How can you use this?

Even if you know a customer or prospect is wrong about something, don’t correct them. Doing this will make you look like a know-it-all, even if they’re completely wrong about something.

Instead, start by letting them know that you understand their view. Don’t ramble on to try and change their frame of mind. Instead, ask the right questions and state cold, hard facts to have them change their own thinking.

Probing this way will have them think out loud, which is far more telling and valuable to you in the long run. It also makes them feel that you care because you’re willing to listen to their opinion.

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