“What do you think about the weather?”
A question like is not a Conversation starter. It’s not going to keep the listener engaged enough to hear what you have to say anything after that. Having fresh and interesting things to say is key to an engaging conversation and a foundation of a great working relationship.
When you are in sales, it’s far more important to be great conversationalist and an expert on a wide variety of topics. The emphasis is on wide variety of topics for one simple reason - you don’t know for sure the topics that are of interest to your Prospect.
Sure, it takes a number of factors to be a good conversationalist other than a deep understanding of a gamut of topics. Not being an introvert and having great body language are a given. For the purposes of the article, I’m gonna assume that you have mastered those skills.
So, what does it take it to be a person who has always something new and interesting to add to the conversation? Let’s check it out!
Do Some Research
By spending a few minutes searching about your prospect online, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor. A quick glance at his blog, social media profiles and other digital properties will throw some light about his or her areas of interest.
The Facebook account might be locked down, but, the Twitter account should be a great source of information. Many people go to great depths when it comes to listing out their interests and passion in their Twitter bio. It’s a great place to start!
If you discover that a prospect is a mad lover of Chihuahua, then it’s time to understand what in God’s green earth is interesting about this ridiculous looking puppy. I’m not saying that you fake an interest - it’s totally hard to like them anyway - but, know enough about for a smalltalk.
Read a Lot
Reading is a great habit. From expanding your knowledge to killing some time on the subway, it serves a lot of purposes. Naturally, when you start reading a lot, you’ll have more things to make a conversation interesting than you’ll ever need.
There is a catch though. You’ll have to read books from a variety of genres to cover a significant ground when it comes to interesting topics to talk about. Limiting yourself to a specific domain or genre beats the whole purpose.
One of my best friends is in sales. He is a great conversationalist and he said that he got good at it by reading a lot of books spanning a colorful array of topics.
When I visited his house, I saw a massive bookshelf with books ranging from the biography of Steve Jobs to the complete collection of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Yes, just like you, I was curious to know the what kind of conversations two professionals could have about the latter book. But, for some reason, I chose not to. The takeaway is, read. A lot.
Stay on Top of Current Affairs
This is a pretty easy strategy to get started. All it takes is keep your eyes and ears open. See and understand what’s happening around the globe, in the technology space, in your core domain of expertise, sports and the like.
It’s as easy as picking up a newspaper or a magazine and reading something other than the comic strips. Remember, current affairs don’t just mean coverage of political affairs.
These days breaking news happens in social media and if you could quickly subscribe to a few top news outlets online, you’ll be in the know even before the news breaks in TV. Take advantage of your smartphone or tablet to help you in the endeavour.
There are tons of sophisticated apps that report, curate and store news items that you might find interesting. Put them to good use so that you don’t forget those interesting nuggets of information.
The important thing to note here is that you need to have a story built around the news. There ought to be something more and something relevant that you add to the topic. Otherwise you’ll sound like a news reader instead of someone who has an interesting viewpoint on the topic under discussion.
Know More About Gadgets and Cars
If you feel overwhelmed by keeping track of the entire firehose of current affairs, there is still hope. Follow the gadgets and motor vehicles (cars in particular) beat and you should be able to cover a major chunk of your audience.
I don’t mean to be sexist, but, given the ratio of men to women in workplaces, having a grip on these topics is one way to get the conversation going. You’ll be able have a decent conversation with most men if you know about these two.
Gadgets in itself is a voluminous subject to cover. That’s when staying up to date about smartphones will come to your rescue. You can talk for hours about Apple-Samsung rivalry, the newest iOS update, the wonderful new app you’ve discovered and so on.
Keep Track of Pop Culture
Tracking pop culture might not come in handy as often as these other topics. Still, it makes for a colorful conversation if you come across a prospect who shares the same interest.
The real benefit of tracking pop culture news is to sprinkle your conversations with interesting references. How cool it would be bring up a Han Solo or Darth Vader reference in the conversation?
Try to be Humorous
Having a great sense of humor is a gift. If you have got it, then don’t hesitate to put it to good use. Topical jokes that are non offensive are a surefire way to warm up the prospect into a conversation.
You don’t have to perform a stand up act or try to be a tickle monster. Be your natural self and if you have got something funny say over the course of the conversation, feel free to do so.
The key is to make sure the humor doesn’t seem forced and is in the flow of the conversation. A couple of good jokes won’t hurt either. But, be wary of using them in the wrong places in the conversation.
Ask Relevant Questions
Relevant and thought provoking questions have ability to break an impasse. Show real interest in the prospect and the business they are in by fielding a few well placed questions. It’ll ease them into the conversation and help them open up.
Asking the right questions is a great way to communicate to the prospect that you are taking a genuine interest in the conversation. By getting to know what kind of music they like, the books they read or the hours they spend at work, you’ll open up avenues for you to pitch in with some more useful information.
On the other hand, if the prospect isn’t really forthcoming with answers, try changing the nature and tone of the questions. Even after that if you find the prospect to be cagey with responses, it’s time to move to the next tactic!
Listen and Talk Less
At times, talking less will end up making the conversation more meaningful. If the prospect is keen to share his thoughts, be a sport and cut down the fluff you have prepared to share.
When you have got nothing to go with, try listening to the conversation and see if you can build on top of it. Active listening is a valuable interpersonal skill and it will come to your rescue when your conversation starters are tapped out.
When you focus all your attention listening to what the customer has to say, you’ll be able to find ways to steer the conversation towards areas in which you can add valuable insights.
So, how do you get a conversation going? Got any pointers to share with the rest of us?