Effective Conversation Starters and Relationship Builders for Sales

Most salespeople struggle with what to talk about before their “sales pitch.” Small talk tends to be very difficult for people to make, especially when you’re trying to develop a genuine rapport with your prospect. To build that relationship, we want to add value to that person in every way we can. We want them to have an amazing experience when they engage with us, which in turn will make them want to engage more often and for longer. To achieve this, we make sure that we never compete for attention like everyone else. When they stop talking, we’re not eager to jump in and talk about ourselves. Instead, we have more questions so that you can delve deeper into the topic. We congratulate them when the opportunity arises. We make statements that reinforce their own beliefs. We become fascinated and they can feel it.

Let’s be clear, I’m not recommending you to act like a star-addicted fan. It’s important that you maintain a higher status than your prospect, or at least be at the same level. If you become a supplicant, not only would you lose any chance of being sold, but you would not even build the relationship.

If they don’t respect you then you would be worthless to them and everything will go downhill. Their goal is to have the highest possible status in this relationship and still show great interest in them. This combination in sales is powerful because it says: I don’t need you, but I want you. Or in a business sense, I don’t need your business, but I want it. The best part is that it says it all without saying anything. Demonstrations are far more powerful than declarations.

At different stages of the relationship, your conversations will change. The more you know about someone, the more you can talk about, and the less you know about someone, the more you can ask.

Here are some conversation starters to play around with where you can substitute words that resonate with your prospect:

• How long have you been with ABC Corp?
• Have you spent a large part of your career in hospitality?
• What made you want to get into the consulting industry?
• Your restaurant is fantastic. I have never seen such an impeccably maintained kitchen. How you do that?
• I read an interesting article you wrote about … (compliment … ask a question)
• I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you… (Ask questions)

You don’t need to read a book on how to ask questions, but it will benefit you to have a few “go-to” questions so you can start the conversation and keep it going. When people don’t have conversation starters, they fall back on the world’s most overused and abused topic – the weather. Please don’t talk about the weather, nobody cares unless we’re talking about something like a hurricane or other acts of God. When salespeople don’t have enough questions to start a conversation and they don’t go the weather route, they usually end up making statements about themselves to start a conversation. But if you do that without knowing anything about the person you’re talking to, you risk touching on topics your potential client isn’t interested in or relatable to, or worse, offending them.

I recently heard a recorded sales pitch that demonstrated this perfectly. I listened to the recording to critique it and use the feedback as a training session for a client’s sales team. The salesperson began by speaking to the prospect with great energy in a tone that made it seem like the two had known each other for years.

Salesperson: Hello Peter, this is John from XYZ

Outlook: Hey John, right on time.

Salesperson: Yes, I try to be. Hey, did you see the ranger game last night?

Outlook: No, I don’t really follow sports. Who has the time?! (Apparently that’s what John did. That slacker!)

Salesperson: Oh man it was amazing. They were tied 3-3 and lost in overtime! (Didn’t that guy just tell you he doesn’t care?)

Outlook: Oh yeah? (Interest just oozes from his voice.)

Salesperson: Yes, I have to watch it with my son. It was a shame they lost but it was great to spend time with him. These are the moments you live for. I can’t wait to take him to his first game. Do you have children? (John probably should have asked that question before telling Peter that the only meaning in life is to spend time with kids, which Peter never had.)

Outlook:No, no I haven’t. But hey, I have a hard stop at 3:15 p.m. I’m sorry that I have to cut this short today. Out of curiosity, what are the typical costs involved?

You know exactly how that ended. Talking about the price before going through the process almost never results in a sale. The prospect went straight to the price because he broke off the conversation. And he only cut it short because the salesman immediately broke rapport by showing prospects examples of how very far apart their worlds and views are. Well, could they have 100 other things in common? Absolutely. But Peter will never know because he probably won’t have another sales pitch with John. The worst thing about that call was that Peter initially responded well to John. He sounded happy that John called promptly at 3pm and even acknowledged it, meaning punctuality was important to him. John is professional and makes a point of calling exactly at 3pm, so he also makes a point of being punctual. That might have been the first thing they bonded with. They might have connected by talking about the annoyance of salespeople calling 5 minutes late and making you wait. Instead, John assumed Peter loved sports, assumed he loved hockey especially, assumed he had children, and assumed Peter shared the same belief that you live for the moments when you are with your children To do sports. Remember the saying, don’t assume you’re making a fool of you and me.

Thanks to George Athan

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