Customers want fresh ideas and creative insights to address their needs that are both new and challenging. Increasingly customers want sales reps to be an advisor they can trust, not simply a product facilitator. This means sales reps must be able to move beyond product pitches and conduct business conversations.
Business conversations are often thought of as serious discussions and compelling conversations. That’s certainly true. But, there are “social conversations” that salespeople often have with customers – and with potential customers. We assume, however, that social conversations are not serious sales interactions and most salespeople are naturally good at small talk – so how to have these social conversations is usually neglected in sales training.
But as Elizabeth Bernstein recently shared in the Wall Street Journal there are a number of hidden benefits for those who are good at the art of chitchatting a/k/a schmoozing a/k/a having a social conversation – so perhaps it’s not wise to totally dismiss the relevance. As to the second point about being accomplished – perhaps, but the reality is many salespeople tend to get complacent and rusty on many of the fundamental sales skills – including chitchatting.
So for those who buy the idea and might be a bit rusty Bernado Carduci, Director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, says: “you can develop your conversational intelligence by focusing on the other person and making it easy for the other person to be engaged.” Bernado’s ideas were for social conversations across a wide spectrum of situations, we made a few changes for the world of sales:
- Getting started. Start with a comment about something you share – a sport, a common interest or a shared background. This illustrates a desire to talk.
- Initiating. Provide some information about yourself – make it easy for the other person to do the same.
- Selecting a topic. Together find a topic of conversation. Ask questions and build on earlier comments. Be ready with alternative topics if the initial one doesn’t flow in the conversation.
- Seeking a balance. Seek balance in the conversation. Be careful not to talk too much – judge when to offer some information about yourself and how to engage the other person.
- Exiting. Exit gracefully by signaling when the conversation is nearing the end and transition into the next conversation.
There are several sales situations where the ability for having a social conversation might be particularly important – three standout:
- Initial sales call with a new customer
- Social interactions with a new or existing customer – or a prospect
- Networking opportunity, such as a business conference
Becoming trusted by your customers requires more than simply having information and insights. It requires the ability to participate with the person on the other side of the table in an engaging and compelling conversation. Sometimes those conversations are classic business discussions; sometimes they are more social in nature.
Take another look at these 5 steps in this Wall St. Journal infographic.
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