As my father used to say to me, ‘if your mother and I never had that first conversation, well…’
From a one-page magazine ad to a website homepage to pitching someone at a trade show to meeting an old friend at a Starbuck’s, all conversations are basically the same. Think about it. In all these instances, you have to ‘invite’ the other person’s interest and then build on it with the intention of influencing him or her in some way.
In other words, not only is it true that conversation is one of the most important factors in the art of salesmanship, it’s also true that salesmanship is one of the most important factors in the art of conversation.
And if you understand the mechanics of conversation, you won’t just be a more effective marketer or salesperson, you’ll actually be a more effective communicator too!
So if that sounds appealing to you, read on.
1: Say what?
Based on the first thing that comes out of your mouth, the other person will make a subconscious decision to either listen to you with one ear, with both ears and a brain, or with just polite, vacant nods of the head.
In a magazine ad or on a website, it’s the headline and the photo or visual that grabs the reader's attention. When you introduce yourself at a networking event or at a party, what’s the first thing you say? Think of that as your headline. With your headline, you either get people’s interest or they tune out, even if they continue to nod politely.
If you usually introduce yourself the ‘normal’ way – “Hi, my name is John Smith and I work with John Smith & Associates” – most people won’t just tune out, they’ll switch stations entirely!
In our workshops and training, we teach participants a technique we call, ‘awakening the need.’ It starts by tapping into the other person’s viewpoint or frame of reference. And the best part is that it doesn’t just work at networking events.
2: Take their pulse
Most people launch right into a rehearsed elevator pitch or a long monologue about features and benefits.
But how interested is the other person in what you just said? Does he or she already have a strong or weak opinion about it? Is it well informed? Or maybe the other person agrees with you so completely that you can advance the conversation by several steps in one great leap?
The success of the conversation absolutely depends on your ability to listen to what the other person is telling you -- both verbally or nonverbally. Think of it as taking their pulse. You have to quiet your own internal noise in order to hear it.
Conversations don't follow tightly written scripts. And the better you can take the pulse of the conversation at this point, (as well as several points along the way), the easier you can figure out what to say next.
Badump, badump, badump. You hear it? Good. Keep the blood, er, conversation flowing.
3: Make it personal
Unless you can get the other person to feel a personal connection to what you’re talking about, nothing you say is going to be very compelling.
So if you’re trying to make a point about a unique competitive advantage that you offer, you have to make sure you drive it home by getting the other person to see how it affects him or her in real terms.
How? Not by telling them. No, The only thing that 'telling' does is give the other person something to resist and make counter arguments against.
Start by talking about your personal experience that relates to the issue. Here’s where storytelling comes into play. If you can talk about a few relevant examples and keep it personal and conversational, you’ll avoid sounding like you are reciting a formal case study. Be specific. Be honest. Then ask questions that link the issue to the other person’s unique situation.
What kind of questions? Well, if you can do things faster in your business (and you identified in step 2 that time is important to the other person), then ask how long their current solution takes. If it's money, ask them how much they currently spend. If it's peace of mind, ask them how reassured they are by doing what they're doing now.
You get the idea.
4: So happy together?
In a social setting, this is where you start to develop a relationship that starts to go beyond the casual conversation. In a sales situation, this is where the rubber hits the road.
But here's where the road can also get slippery.
It's where objection handling comes in. It’s where the other person either can envision himself or herself working with you or not. It’s where all the subconscious factors like trust, believability and the baggage of past experiences bubble up to the surface.
Now's the time to talk about your service, solution, product or company. And while the subject of visualization deserves an entire article of it's own, the important point to remember is that you should talk in a way that helps the other person visualize working together.
Hmmm, my advice? Take their pulse again and quickly move to step 5.
5: Next Step
This is what we call in advertising the ‘call to action’. If all you had to do was ‘ask for the check,’ life would be grand, but it’s rarely that easy. You can expect to go back to step 1 and around the conversation cycle a few times before the other person feels both intellectually convinced or emotionally ready to sign on the dotted line.
By keeping the conversation cycle in mind as you talk to prospects, the sales process won’t seem so long and undecipherable… just take it one interesting point at a time.