Three Ways to Start a Conversation
and Finish with a Sale
By Michel Neray
your elevator pitch. Zap your infomercial. And whatever you do, keep
your carefully worded, painstakingly developed, positioning
statement to yourself.
make you sound clever, but your elevator pitch, infomercial or
positioning statement doesn’t exactly make for good conversations.
Which is a shame, because last I checked, even a sales conversation
is just that – a conversation.
can you say to a prospect sitting across the boardroom table, or
someone you meet at a networking event or the beach bum in the next
chaise lounge? How can you start a conversation in a totally
natural, familiar way that doesn’t sound like a sales pitch to the
other person, doesn’t feel like a sales pitch to you, and yet
increases your chance of getting your next referral or making your
Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a magical phrase or headline
that will make the other person want to buy your product or services
– it just doesn't exist. What does exist, however, is an approach
that will elicit interest from the other person so that he or she
will want to engage you in a conversation. Here are three examples:
The Provocative Question: Chances are, you've seen this
technique on websites, flyers and direct mail. It's Copywriting for
Direct Marketers 101, and it works just as powerfully in verbal
way to come up with a Provocative Question is to ask yourself the
following: “What question can I ask, such that the response from the
other person allows me to say, 'That's what I do…'?”
Provocative Question pinpoints a problem or a symptom of a problem
that the other person has. However, don't get trapped into thinking
that the problem has to be a big, generic problem that the category
as a whole solves. It can be a small but nagging problem, or even a
one that people have when they deal with your competitors.
people have a hard time coming up with Provocative Questions
because, ironically, the most compelling ones are also the simplest
and most obvious. Another thing that people have trouble with is
answering a question with a question -- when someone asks us a
question, we're wired to answer. Here's an example. When someone
asks what you do, answer back with a Provocative Question like
this: "Well let me ask you a question... When you go to a
networking event or when you have to introduce yourself in public,
how confident are you with the way you describe your business?"
every time, the person acknowledges that he or she doesn’t feel
confident with the way they describe their business. In that moment,
you have engaged the other person’s interest by presenting what you
do in a way that’s personally meaningful to him or her. Then, what
usually ensues is a conversation about the sales and marketing
challenges they have and how you can help.
The Level-Setting Statement: If you're a financial advisor,
consultant, or in any other crowded profession where your prospects
are very familiar with -- perhaps even jaded about -- the kind of
work you do, this one’s for you.
'level-setting statement' is a universal statement that gets the
other person nodding in agreement and then, WHAMMO! your point of
difference hits them like a ton of bricks!
a powerful technique because you can only be different in comparison
to something else. That's what the level-setting statement does — it
establishes what that something else is.
just one example: "There are five specific areas of expertise that
are absolutely critical in major event planning. (Pause – and wait
to see if the other person wants to know what they are.) While there
are a lot of excellent event planners who can do a good job in one
or two of them, it's extremely unlikely that any one event planner
would be an expert in all of them. Because I've been in the business
for 15 years -- on both the corporate as well as on the vendor side
-- I've developed a detailed planning process around each and every
one. That's what enables me to track and manage the myriad of
details to guarantee a successful event."
stating the level-setting statement up front, you educate the other
person about the industry you operate in, and establish a frame of
reference that gives meaning to the differentiation you want to
use this approach to challenge an underlying assumption that people
have about the industry, to illustrate a small but significant
problem that generally annoys customers when dealing with your
competitors, or anything else that allows you to highlight your
look at your own point of difference. Can you come up with a
level-setting statement that will help you stand out even more?
Address The Stereotype Head-on: You know how as soon as people
discover you're a ________________, (insert your title here), they
immediately form an impression about you that's based on a
Unfortunately, that stereotype is often negative.
professions such as life insurance agents or used car salespeople,
where the negative stereotypes run strong and deep, address the
stereotype head-on: "If I tell you I'm a used car salesman, you'd
probably think 'plaid jacket guy who sells lemons to unsuspecting
here is important here, because you want to give the listener time
to move the image of the stereotype from the unconscious part of
their brain to the conscious part. They might even want to chime in
and give you their negative experience about dealing with ‘people
– now their guard is down. Now, you can continue on to explain how
your business, service or approach ‘fixes’ the problem that everyone
else in your industry has created.
That's your most
selling! And start having real conversations!
as it may seem, everything truly does start with a conversation.
You're not trying to tell your entire story, nor are you even trying
to get the most important points out of your mouth first.
want to accomplish is elicit interest from the other person; to have
that person say, 'tell me more'.
think of these as sales techniques – think of them as conversation
starters. The rest is up to you. If you are genuinely interested in
helping the person you’re chatting with, chances are better than
excellent you’ll finish with a referral or a sale.
out and have some conversations!
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