3 Rapport-Building Skills to Help Your Gen Z Sales Reps

16 Jan 24

Relationship-building is a basic selling skill. But, for Gen Z, who are tech-focused, rapport building skills are a struggle. Learn how to overcome this.

Generation Z is all about tech. However, when building relationships with customers, they might struggle a bit compared to older generations. To close this gap, you must teach your Gen Z reps some key rapport-building skills that will position them as trusted partners despite age differences.

Surviving Sorority Rush

Sometimes you learn about important sales problems in unexpected ways. Let me explain.

Last month, my daughter, a freshman at a big state university, underwent the sorority recruitment process (i.e., rush).

Here's the short version for those who were not part of the Greek system in college or don’t have kids in college. Rush is a multi-step recruiting process where PNMs “potential new members” undergo interviews and meet-and-greet parties. College students typically start the rush process by touring 15-20 sororities and end on “Bid Day” when they receive an offer from one sorority.

Like everything about college these days, my daughter said rush is hyper-competitive. Many of her fellow students didn’t get their first choice of sorority houses, and some students (and parents) were buckling from the stress.

In researching sorority recruitment, I learned that a burgeoning consulting industry of “coaches” exists to help college students navigate the competitive sorority recruiting process. According to these coaches, one of the keys to success in the sorority recruitment process is, not surprisingly, rapport building. After all, a PNM may have to attend 20-30 parties during the rush process and must make quick but meaningful impressions on the sororities they are interested in joining.

Your Gen Z Team May be Missing Key Skills

According to the sorority consultants, years of excessive screen time means many members of Generation Z, also known as Zoomers, lack fundamental social skills. That is why these sorority coaches must teach college students basic conversational skills, including rapport building – they don’t know how to do it otherwise.

If you are a sales leader with Generation Z salespeople on your team, don’t assume they have well-developed social skills. For example, a study by the Sales Executive Council found that salespeople who focused on building strong relationships with their customers had a nearly 60% higher likelihood of achieving their sales quotas.

Given the importance of relationship-building skills, you should consider incorporating the following three skills into your sales training program.

3 Skills Your Sales Team Must Know to Develop Rapport with Customers 

Skill #1: Share Common Interests  

Imagine talking to a stranger and suddenly realizing you know someone in common, went to the same school, or like the same sports team. How do your feelings about that person change?

You don’t know this person well, but you feel much closer after sharing your common interest in your favorite football team. Why? A body of research supports the idea that people feel a greater connection to another person if they share some experience with that person.

Sharing everyday experiences with customers is a powerful rapport-building technique.
When meeting someone, we usually discuss the weather, sports, or current events. As a sales professional, the time to start thinking about sharing common experiences with your buyers is during your pre-call research.

Research the people you are meeting using Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Read their posts, see if they have been quoted anywhere, and pay attention to previous jobs. Focus on areas where you and the buyer have something in common, such as career history, education, geography (where the buyer lives or works), sport, etc.

Skill #2: Active Listening

Active listening in sales makes the buyer feel important, understood, appreciated, and respected. It also helps you prevent misunderstandings and increase your knowledge of what is essential to the customer. Most of us think we are good listeners, but research suggests that we only remember 25% to 50% of what we hear.

One problem is that many of us confuse passive and active listening. Passive listening is the physical process of receiving sound waves transmitted to the brain (i.e., hearing). Active listening means suspending your thoughts to focus entirely on understanding what you hear.

Research by the American Management Association found that salespeople who use active listening skills are more effective in their sales role, more successful in building customer relationships, and more likely to close sales.

Here is how to become a better active listener:

  • Listen with the intention of understanding: Make a conscious decision to understand what the other person is trying to communicate. Pay attention to the buyer’s words, tone of voice, and body language. Concentrate on all the verbal and non-verbal information the speaker shares.
  • Focus 100% on listening: Make direct eye contact, face the customer, and don’t interrupt. Interrupting tells the speaker that you are not listening. Turn off the ringer on your cell phone and ignore texts.
  • Ask questions: Asking them shows the speaker you are listening to them. Asking questions also helps to confirm your understanding and eliminate ambiguity.
  • Paraphrase: Communicate your understanding by repeating what the customer said in your words. For example, “If I understand this correctly, you are concerned about….” This will help the buyer feel that you understood what they said.

Skill #3: Empathy  

Empathy means understanding the other person by seeing things from their perspective and recognizing their emotions. You can be empathetic by allowing buyers to talk about themselves and their problems. Using active listening skills, you can paraphrase what they are saying and express your understanding of their feelings.

Acknowledging the buyer’s feelings and experiences as valid, even if you do not necessarily agree with them, is essential. Most importantly, only talk about your solution once the buyer has had the opportunity to discuss their problems.


When sales reps build a strong rapport with buyers, selling becomes easier. For Gen Z, we are now seeing the impact of substantial screen time on their relationship-building skills. As a sales leader, you can no longer assume that your salespeople have these essential skills.

Reinforcing the three key rapport-building skills: sharing common interests, active listening, and showing empathy, which is fundamental for every successful salesperson, especially Zoomers, should be included in any sales training program.

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