Rapport Building – Step 3: The Handshake

To shake or not to shake, that is the question. It used to be that salespeople would always shake the hands of everyone they met. In today’s world, that isn’t always the case. As with many aspects of selling, clients should be treated the way they want to be treated. And, there are people out there who just don’t want to shake your hand.

Depending on what your product is, the handshake may be inappropriate. For example, if you market products to senior citizens, there’s a likelihood that they might have arthritis in their hands and shaking hands is uncomfortable for them. Be aware and be gentle with those people. If you market products to people in the health care field, they may be averse to the handshake because of the potential spread of germs. In these situations it never hurts to ask (with a smile) “May I shake your hand?”

However, in most sales situations, a handshake is appropriate and expected. Handshakes can be very telling. If yours is weak, it makes a negative first impression on your potential clients. If it’s too strong, that can also create a negative impression.

The ideal handshake is deep and firm, not too fast and not so long that the other party has to pull away or ask for their hand back. You may think it silly to cover this aspect in a single, separate blog post, but more sales have been hampered or lost because of the nuances of handshakes that you could ever imagine.

If you tend to have cold hands, take a few moments before shaking hands to warm them up. You can rub them togther briskly (preferably not in front of your clients) or put them in your pocket. Using the pocket also works for those with sweaty palms. I have a friend who owns a chain of dry-cleaning establishments. He tells me, “Tom, I can always tell which of my clients are in sales. There’s always a telltale mark on their clothing where they keep rubbing the persperation off their palms before shaking hands.” (As a side note, there is often dirt or dust on the back legs of men’s slacks where they wipe off the tops of their shoes. You think this doesn’t show? It does.)

As a rule of thumb, if you’re meeting non-referred clients for the first time, don’t expect to shake their hands. Keep your right hand relaxed at your side with your arm slightly bent. That way if they reach out first, you’re ready. If they don’t reach for a handshake, you won’t have appeared to be over-eager. When meeting a referred potential client or someone you’ve already spoken to over the telephone, expect and be prepared to shake his or her hand.

When you do shake someone’s hand, be certain to make eye contact and smile while doing so. The warmth of this gesture must radiate from your eyes, through your smile, and down your entire arm. It’s is, after all, a symbol of respect and trustworthiness.

Learn more Rapport-Setting Strategies >> Search this blog under the Category of Initial Contact.

This information is copyrighted by Tom Hopkins International, Inc. for reprint permission, contact Judy Slack (judys@tomhopkins.com).



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  1. Thanks for pointing this out. I never paid detailed attention to the handshake. I now know it is very important.

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