Building Rapport: How Architects Gain Favor with Clients

October 2, 2022

Tyler Suomala

Founder of Growthitect

We tend to believe that a bad client will always be a bad client.

And a good client will always be a good client.

But the truth is that YOU influence this.

The Bad Client Myth

There are a lot of factors that determine whether a client is good or bad.

But the foundation of those factors is your relationship to the client.

What do I mean?

Here are some characteristics of a bad client:

  • Endlessly checking in on project progress

  • Always creeps the scope of the project

  • Frequently changes their mind

  • Slow to pay invoices

  • Late to meetings

Do you think this client treats every person like this? No, of course not! They just happen to treat YOU and your business like this.

The foundation of their actions are:

  • Lack of respect for YOU

  • Lack of trust in YOU

  • Lack of understanding in what YOU do

“So, Tyler, are you saying that if a would-be-bad client respects, trusts, and understands me, then they can turn into a good client?”

Nailed it. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

If you’ve worked with clients long enough, you already know this. You just may have not realized it.

For example, a client that was a historically a pain shifts their tone after you run into them in a social setting. Or someone that you hated working with in the past finds out that you both went to the same university and all of a sudden begins talking to you like your old friends.

The question is: how can you use this to your advantage?

How can you build strong relationships from the start, before you ever sign a contract or write a proposal?

Build Rapport

The answer is: building rapport.

Rapport is simply a mutual understanding of each other’s thoughts, feelings, and passions.

When you focus on building rapport in your client relations, it creates a foundation of respect, trust, and understanding.

The crazy thing? It’s LOW effort with HIGH returns.

Here’s how you can start building rapport from the beginning:

1 // Research

Before your first meeting with a potential client, you need to do some research.

You want to find who you will be meeting and get a base level understanding of each of their personal interests.

Check out their LinkedIn profile and review any recent posts. Go to their company website and read their bio (if they have one).

The goal is to find something in which you also have a vested stake. Basically, you’re searching for shared or overlapping interests or experiences.

Here’s some things to look for:

  • What college(s) did they attend?

  • Where do they volunteer?

  • What are their hobbies?

  • Where are they from?

For example, let’s say that I discover on LinkedIn that my potential client attended Northwestern University.

Did I attend the Northwestern University? Nope.

But here’s a few shared experiences that quickly come to mind:

  1. I attended the University of Michigan, which is in the same conference as Northwestern University.

  2. Northwestern University is near Chicago, only a few hours from where I grew up.

  3. My wife and I spent a year living in Chicago post grad school.

Boom. I have three potential overlaps to work with.

2 // Ask

This is the FIRST THING you talk about when you meet with your client.

Before the upfront contract. Before asking about the project. Before anything else.

You want to focus the first few minutes on building rapport.

Let’s frame your overlap into a question that’s specific to them. You want to (1) lead with the source of your discovery and (2) ask a related and open-ended question.

For example, here’s how I might frame questions for my 3 overlaps above:

  1. “I saw on your LinkedIn that you went to Northwestern. How do you feel about the new additions of USC and UCLA to the Big 10 Conference?”

  2. “I noticed on LinkedIn that you graduated from Northwestern. How did you like living in the Midwest?”

  3. “So you attended Northwestern University? I saw it on your LinkedIn. What did you think about living near Chicago?”

Perfect. You’re giving them space to talk about themselves and get comfortable.

3 // Relate

Now that they’ve expressed their thoughts and feelings, you can introduce your commonality.

All you have to do is (1) acknowledge their thoughts, (2) mention your overlap, (3) ask another follow up question.

Here’s what this my sound like for my 3 examples:

  1. “I agree that they seem like odd additions. I went to the University of Michigan so I also was surprised by the announcement. Do you think there are more changes coming?”

  2. “Agreed, the midwest is great for families. I grew up in Michigan and loved being surrounded by other families. Do you still visit the Midwest often?”

  3. “I can definitely understand the attraction to Chicago. My wife and I lived there between 2018 and 2019. We loved the food scene - where was your favorite place to eat?”

Let the conversation continue.

Share a laugh.

Have that “Oh yea!” or “Exactly!” moment.

And then move on to business!

Why does this work so well?

Reserving the first few minutes of your meetings to build rapport helps to:

  • Get everyone comfortable.

  • Accelerate your relationship.

  • Increase the depth and honesty of the ensuing conversation

You can’t be all about business all the time. Relationships take time to build. Trust, respect, and understanding takes time to build. And shared experiences brought to the surface through building rapport set a great foundation.

Spend time building rapport at the beginning of all of your meetings so YOU can build stronger relationships and create better clients.

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