Building Rapport with Clients: Strategies for Project Consultants

Building rapport? Not so easy! For project consultants, developing strong rapport with clients is essential for building trust, strengthening communication, and driving successful engagements. However, rapport is not automatic. It must be intentionally built through relationship development strategies.

In this article, we will explore techniques consultants can use to foster robust rapport with their clients.

building rapport
Building rapport

Show Genuine Interest in the Client as a Person

A key starting point is demonstrating authentic interest in the client as an individual, not just another business transaction. Take time to understand their personality, work style, motivations, and background. Discover their hobbies and passions outside of work.

You can build rapport quickly by using small talk to establish common ground, as recommended in this article on small talk from Harvard Business Review.

Learning about the whole person makes the relationship more human-centered.

Actively Listen to Understand Their Perspective

Clients want to feel truly heard and understood. Go beyond surface-level listening by paraphrasing their words, asking insightful questions, and maintaining engaged body language. Reflect on nonverbal signals that give clues to underlying needs. Seek to comprehend their unique viewpoint rather than prepare an immediate response. Experts suggest preparing for meetings by reviewing conversation starters and questions ahead of time.

Find Ways to Collaborate Versus Dictate

Rapport strengthens when the consultant and client work as partners in a spirit of collaboration. Solicit the client's ideas and co-create solutions together. Avoid excessive top-down directives. This builds a shared sense of investment and commitment to outcomes.

Demonstrate Vulnerability and Authenticity

Clients will share more openly when consultants share about themselves in return. Being transparent about your experiences, challenges, and even mistakes displays authenticity.

Admitting you don't have all the answers shows humility. Appropriate vulnerability forges a more human connection.

Establish Rituals of Connection

Look for opportunities to regularly connect with clients on a personal level. Set up informal check-ins over coffee. Send interesting articles related to their interests. Remembering a client's spouse's name and asking how their soccer tournament went builds rapport through personalization.

Match Communication Styles

People have natural communication preferences. Take note of whether the client tends to be blunt and direct or indirect and diplomatic. Adjust your own communication approach to align with their style as much as possible. This shows you are tuned into their wavelength.

For example, a very direct client will appreciate concise bottom-line recommendations delivered assertively. On the other hand, a more indirect client may prefer exploring options collaboratively and not responding well to aggressive tones. Meet them where they are.

Develop Rituals of Connection

Look for opportunities to regularly connect with clients on a personal level outside of strict project talk. Set up informal 15-minute check-in calls as standing meetings. Send interesting articles related to their hobbies and passions.

For instance, if a client loves golf, sending them articles on innovations in golf equipment shows personalized interest. Asking how their child’s athletic competition went last weekend also strengthens the relationship when recalled later. These personal rituals build rapport over time.

Manage Conflict with Empathy

Inevitable project disagreements can actually deepen rapport if handled with empathy. Listen actively to understand their perspective. Express that you want to find a solution that addresses every party’s needs. Brainstorm options together.

Avoiding or dictating outcomes during conflict erodes trust. Being open and constructive, even during tense times, shows you genuinely care about the relationship as well as the project.

Share Credit Generously

Clients will appreciate consultants who share credit generously. Highlight where the client’s own ideas contributed to positive outcomes. Thank them publicly for their efforts and input.

For example, during a presentation, state the following, “This timeline reduction was achieved thanks to Michael’s astute insight on prioritizing the quality gate reviews.” Explicitly acknowledging their contributions deepens rapport.

Check for Understanding Frequently

Misunderstandings easily derail consultant-client relationships. Check for alignment often by summarizing key project decisions and next steps. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their perspective and expectations.

Periodically circling back helps surface any diverging assumptions before they become relationship-damaging issues. Proactively confirming understanding also conveys that you truly value their viewpoint.

Proactively Manage Expectations

Many relationship breakdowns are traced to unmet expectations. Get ahead of conflicts by clearly defining project parameters but also inquiring about the client's anticipated outcomes. Discuss ways to align expectations and handle misunderstandings constructively if they arise.

You can read this research paper published on the Project Management Institute site (PMI). It talks about project success with client expectation alignment, dives into the importance of expectation management, and provides a model for achieving it.

FAQs about building rapport with clients

Why is building rapport with clients so important?

Strong rapport makes clients more receptive to consultant recommendations and more forgiving of missteps. Rapport also fosters repeat and expanded business. Without rapport, clients view the consultant as an easily replaceable vendor. With rapport, the consultant becomes a trusted partner.

What are the 4 key steps to building rapport?

The 4 foundational steps are:

  1. Establishing personal connections
  2. Actively listening to fully understand perspectives
  3. Collaborating versus dictating
  4. Managed expectations through alignment

What are the 3 C’s of building rapport?

The 3 C's are:

  • Comfort – Developing enough trust that all parties can be authentic and vulnerable
  • Connection – Building an interpersonal bond beyond just business obligations
  • Cooperation – Working together in a spirit of partnership rather than contention

How do you rebuild lost rapport with clients?

Strategies to rebuild rapport include:

  • Take responsibility rather than blaming others
  • Apologize sincerely without excuses
  • Avoid being defensive if they express displeasure
  • Refocus on understanding their current needs
  • Proactively remedy issues causing the rift
  • Reestablish trust through small gestures of consideration
  • Rapport recovery takes patience but pays dividends in resurrecting the relationship.

Building authentic relationships, not just going through project motions, is how exceptional consultants guide clients to success. With the strategies above, you can become a trusted advisor who retains clients for the long term based on rapport.

Be sure to read our full article about all the other essential skills for effective project management consulting firms.

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