In Yellow Pages sales, it’s a super critical moment. You’ve finally scored that face-to-face meeting with the decision maker at a potential new advertiser. You’ve done your prep work and you’re ready to rock and roll. But you are not really sure (comfortable) with how to best get the ball rolling, to get past the first few awkward moments of small talk and start building a business relationship. You can feel that knot building in your stomach.
Some people can start up conversations with complete strangers with total ease. It almost seems natural to them. You’ve seen them at business meetings, cocktail hours, new coworkers at lunch, or even with new customers. They seem to have the gift of getting the conversation going seamlessly. If you find yourself struggling to get these sales meetings rolling, here are a few tips to consider:
1. Take a deep breath: As you start this process don’t lose sight of your overall objective – you just want to establish a repore with this person, one that can make the business part of the conversation flow much easier. From the advertisers prospective, when was the last time anyone wanted to spend 15 minutes or more just hearing about them?? Most likely that hasn’t even happened with their spouse. You also want to get yourself comfortable and settled so you can do your job – identifying needs that this business has. If you let them speak 80% of the time, then you will be considered as a courteous, trust worthy person. Given that most small business owners are busy people (or at least want to be perceived that way), they will make it very clear when they are ready to switch from chit-chat to business.
2. Start by making the first move – Simply put, you take the initiative. Get that hand out, put your best smile on, and start the greeting. When you make the first move, you create some energy and project yourself in a confident manner. It takes a little practice if you are uncomfortable doing it, and we’re not suggesting you over do this – you don’t want to be diving across the desk to tackle them. With a little practice you will start the conversation stronger and it makes the early small talk a lot easier.
3. Find common ground fast… “Common ground” are those life intersection points we seek with people we meet for the first time. This is how we connect with people we do not know. Current weather is an overly simplistic one and not very unique one. It could be geography, education, hobbies, kids, colleges, sport teams or many others which can make up the general opening topics of conversation. My suggestion is you be quickly looking around in that decision makers office – what pictures do they have out, do they have their college football teams schedule up, an award they have received, something to help you get started. The general rule of thumb is to then take no more than two good shots (three at most) at finding common ground in a conversation with someone. If you have nothing in common, ok, don’t feel bad about it. They know it too. Most likely they will want to just get down to business at that point.
4. Have some go-to questions ready – News flash: people like to talk about themselves. Questions are the way to activate that desire, but to truly create actual interest you will need a couple of interesting questions. Be clear that you are not looking for an opening to launch into a long monologue about yourself or your business (yet). You are trying to take a sincere interest in the other person. I encourage you to develop questions in these categories:
— Future predictions: If they are sports fans, ask the person what they believe will happen in the next year for their favorite team. 2012 is going to be a big year for politics, but I wouldn’t suggest you go there as there is at least a 50/50 chance they are on the other side of spectrum. The point is to create dialogue, and speculation about the future does just that.
— What’s changed: Ask the person what changes have occurred in the particular area of family, sports, business or some other topic over the past year. This creates a conversation rather than an interrogation with monosyllabic answers. For example, kids grow quickly – that picture from the kids soccer game is probably a couple of years old. Are they still playing?
5. Silence is ok – I’m sure you have a friend like my buddy Amy who feels the need to fill every silence of longer than 2-3 seconds. This gets her trapped into conversations that she would like to exit, but has to re-engage in to avoid awkward moments. Let the silence hang for a moment.
6. For how long? This is the toughest one to gauge. I’ve seen people that want to get right to business and others that will want to chat for an hour. The point is — be patient. At some point they will turn to you and say “…what do you have?” That’s the cue to open up your binder/case/whatever and start the formal part of the conversation.
Good luck and good selling……