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Acquisition of new customers is critical for any business seeking to achieve growth. This paper investigates the skill of rapport building in establishing new customer relationships and engaging customers for solution cocreation. A qualitative multiple phase study supports a micro-level analysis of rapport building in the context of business-to-business solutions and services selling. The study includes three parts: in-depth qualitative interviews, conversation analysis of video-recorded real-life sales meetings, and follow-up interviews. The results show that salesperson-initiated actions have little influence on rapport building and that strong initial rapport can compensate for potential interaction weaknesses later in the meeting. Our findings point to a set of collaborative actions and related skills needed to build rapport and move a relationship forward. These findings provide theoretical insights into the earliest moments of new customer relationship formation. The results inform businesses seeking to refocus and develop their rapport building skills towards more customer-engaging collaboration.
6. Limitations and further research
This qualitative research aimed to provide new insights into the phenomenon of rapport building. Continued research should test these findings with a larger data set. Our study context was limited to complex B2B services and solutions businesses. Additional work is needed to ascertain the broader application of these findings and to determine whether and how they apply in different industries with different product and service offerings. We chose a longitudinal study to gain insights into rapport building, but continued studies could extend the longitudinal periods of examination even further in order to determine whether and how rapport building varies over time and within relationships. In addition, our study focused on prospective customers in one-on-one settings in face-to-face meetings. Additional work is needed to advance our understanding of rapport formation in team and other selling contexts. It often is pointed out that the use of video recordings may be a limitation in that participants may alter their behavior when they know they are being recorded. However, as has been noted in prior studies, the camera is not terribly problematic for participants who tend to forget its presence (Mondada, 2013). We asked the participants whether their performance was affected by the recording, and nearly all of them reported that they thought about the recording activity only for the first one or 2 min, if at all, and they confirmed that it did not disturb their business. Our observations as researchers align with these perceptions. As soon as the meetings started, the participants focused on business topics. We did not notice any behavior signaling that the video recording disturbed their interactions.