Article: John Rosling – The Rapport Paradox.

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How Large Companies Create Transactional Rapport While SME Customers Crave Value.

At a recent Corporate Finance event for CEOs of fast-growing private businesses, the head of one of the UK’s largest professional practices opened his address by saying “There are three lies in the world: the cheque is in the post, I’ll love you in the morning and I have a good relationship with my bank”.

The remark was greeted with warm agreement. Yet, the irony was that most of the CEOs would likely say the same about any of their big company service suppliers. Including the one the speaker represented.

The problem is the yawning gulf in understanding about what value means between most professionals – whether banker, accountant, lawyer or technologist – and most entrepreneurs. Whilst the professional firms spend endless time and treasure on what they believe to be ‘relationship building’ the impact on the actual relationship is minimal.

Professionals create ‘rapport’. Entrepreneurs crave value.

The truth is that most big company managers, directors and even partners have no personal experience of running a small, fast-growth business. They find it hard to step into their clients’ shoes. Rapport is established but real empathy is lacking. It’s then too easy for the professional to default to ‘product’ having never established what the customer really wants.

And it gets worse. The brains of the typical big company ‘professional’ are just wired differently to typically business owners. Big company thinking attracts and rewards those comfortable in their data-driven, cerebral cortex ‘think’ mode. Fast-paced entrepreneurial environments attract those far more likely to operate in an intuitive, ‘feel’ or limbic mode. Private business makes choices on gut instinct. Professionals make choices empirically. Whilst this difference can make for a great technical solution it can be a major handicap in forming powerful value-based relationships.

The solution to these challenges is actually pretty easy. It is all about creating awareness. Allowing for the customer-facing professional, to enhance both their human intelligence capabilities and their strategic insight. Helping them to really understand, fully engage the person they are talking to create a true relationship. And then have the strategic fire-power to offer real value in the conversation.

The result can be startling. As one banker observed “the client had rejected meetings over and over again. They just didn’t want to talk to us. Using this new approach we quickly got him talking about what he really wanted to talk about. We had the meeting on Monday. On Friday we got a £5m mandate! We went from him not wanting to talk to us to being his best alternative”.

The rapport paradox is a huge problem facing all big companies ambitious to offer value and build share in the mid market. And its’ about to get a whole lost worse. Fast-moving, converging markets mean that in 5 years’ time most ‘relationship  managers’ will be talking about products that are not even on their radar today. And in that world a reliance on rapport over relationship and technical knowledge over strategic advice is simply not flexible and agile enough to adapt. In this new market place those who win the value battle will win the war.


John Rosling is author of ‘The Secrets of the Seven Alchemists’ (Harriman House 2014), CEO of Contexis, a serial entrepreneur, speaker and lecturer on entrepreneurship with a passion for helping corporates think more entrepreneurially (and transform how they connect with SME customers and partners). He started his career in Unilever and Diageo.