How to Take Small Talk to the Next Level

BY Kathy Crosett
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Have you been using the same opening lines in your conversations with prospects and clients for too long? You know what I mean. You complain about the weather, the traffic, or the game that the hometown team lost the night before. Staying focused on safe cultural touchstones allows you to connect with your prospects. This practice also makes you look like every other sales rep.

Show Curiosity

To make an authentic connection with your prospects, put on your detective hat. If you’re lucky enough to get into their office, look for hints about what they do in their spare time. Prospects who display photos of themselves skydiving will likely be eager to talk about the experience. You don’t have to pretend you want to skydive. Your curiosity will be enough to break the ice and get a conversation started.

Reveal a Detail about Yourself

In his CNBC column, Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry, discusses the A.C.T. system of conversation. The T stands for topic and can be a way to let prospects know something about you. For example, you might share that you tried a new sport over the weekend or that you traveled to an exotic location recently. While it’s helpful to share a detail about yourself, don’t continue on that topic for long. You don't want to get a reputation for being self-centered.

Get Down to Business

Your ultimate goal is to shift the conversation to the prospect and the business problem they’re facing. Once you’ve chatted for a few minutes and you sense a lull in the conversation, go for it. Ask something like, “So, tell me about what’s happening with [ABC].” Fill in the ABC part with what you know based on your previous interactions with the prospect. Maybe they’ve mentioned that they’re launching a new product and need marketing support to make it a success. Or, they might need a new piece of equipment to support their growing business.

Be Brave

Remember that everyone has felt intimidated at some point in their career. If you’re just starting out, you might worry that you’re going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. That will probably happen. Don’t beat yourself up about it. In those cases, review what happened and promise yourself you’ll do better next time. Remember that once you’ve developed rapport with the prospect, you’ve successfully crossed your first huge hurdle. You'll have more confidence to move on to the next step.