Constantly update your small talk repertoire
By Paula Morand
One of the basic skills of sales professionals is the ability to talk to a large number of people about a variety of different topics.
Lots of things have changed about business, but being able to put people at ease with small talk and get a good conversation going so you can gain insight into your client and his or her problems is essential.
But the old standards of the weather, questions about children or spouses, can no longer be considered safe territory. Weather talk is rather boring and predictable, and a casual opener of “how are you and how’s the family doing” can be a fast trip into quicksand if things are going badly.
So how do you get strangers to open up to you without asking a question that might offend them by being considered too personal? What are the components of successful small talk?
Here are three of the most effective secret strategies top sales professionals use to break the ice easily and begin building a better relationship:
Gather clues from the environment
Arrive at your potential client’s workplace at least 15 minutes prior to the meeting time. Observe the exterior of their building, the lobby if there is one, and even the kind of magazines that are available for people waiting to read. Always be extremely pleasant to the gate-keepers you encounter along the way. If you observe, you will find something useful to open your conversation.
Here is how this works for me.
One potential client who was inquiring about my staff training programs ran a wood product operation. I knew I could deliver staff training, but I was worried that what I had gathered about the company from their website might not be sufficient to find a quick comfort zone. So I stood looking around the expansive yard before I walked in, and I saw hundreds of wooden pallets being stock-piled by forklifts.
When I got into see the company president, after shaking hands I mentioned that I was fascinated by seeing all the pallets. He explained to me how they were used to move flat boards so there would be no warping on long journeys across the country and how other companies purchased them to help move different kinds of goods safely.
It was easy then to move the conversation into how he gained his expertise in his field and his plans for growth in the company.
If I had talked about the fact that it was a hot and sunny day when I entered his office, I would have sounded the same as everyone else. If I had asked him how he was he would have said “fine” and I would be back to square one.
But by leveraging the environment and my observation skills, I opened the door to insight about my potential client and more importantly, about his staff training issues. The contract was mine.
Stay up on the latest developments in news
We are all busy, and none of us have time to spend hours reading about every single development going on in the world today. You don’t have to do that. But you do have to know what is happening in the industry of your clients or potential clients.
You also need to know basic news. If your city is threatened by a forest fire, for example, when you are meeting clients that day, you should have the latest report at your fingertips when you walk into their office. They may not have had time to check, and they want to know. If a home-town athlete is competing in the Winter Olympics, you need to know how they are doing and if they won a medal yet. If it’s the Monday after the Super Bowl, you need to know who won and a bit of gossip about the game.
You can cheat by reading a good critique of the event on line and checking out highlights on YouTube. But you need to take the time to do that, just as much as you need to check out the company website and do your research on their industry.
Finding common territory opens up conversations quickly. Being up on the news sometimes allows you to quickly become a source of information, and that’s a great start if you are there to sell your knowledge about your area of expertise.
Basically, if you want your clients to be interested in you, be more interesting.
Know how to transition from small talk to big talk effectively
Once the client is enthusiastically contributing to the conversation, it is time to move the small talk to the big talk while the energy is running high and well before the client glances at the clock.
Find a way to pick up on a client’s sentence and move it to the area of business you came to discuss. For example, if you were talking about a forest fire burning on the city’s outskirts, you could say that you heard Sophie’s Diner was working night and day to make sure the firefighters got fed.
“Has any of the fall-out from this impacted your business?” you could ask.
Of if the client is talking about the Super Bowl and whether or not Tom Brady should retire, you could say: “Well, as we know, timing is everything in life. And that brings me back to your business: I understand the timing is right for expansion now. Can you tell me about your plan?”
Knowing how to get small talk started is still a vital sales skill; knowing how to stop it and slide painlessly into the topic at hand is even more important.
Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and impact in a more bold fashion.
Named to the Top 200 Most Influential Authors.
24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee. Check out Paula’s bestselling books on Amazon: “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything”, “Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers” book series; and her newest release “Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth”.
For speaking inquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll-free 1-888-502-6317.