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How to have better conversations with prospects and customers.

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Despite having them every day, many business people don’t actually think about the quality of their conversations and how to improve them.

But, whether you realize it or not, conversations are an art and one which can be mastered, at that.

So, how can you become the Da Vinci of chat? How can you use what you say to become a master of the art and get exactly what you want? These tips will show you.

1. It’s not what you say…

Funnily enough, the majority of what we say doesn’t come from our mouths.

In fact, according to research carried out by Dr Robert Mehrabian, as little as 7% of what we say comes from the words that we use.

That’s not a lot by any stretch of the imagination and probably goes to explain why those who are the most intelligent aren’t always the most successful socially.

Personally, I’ve had conversations with people who were admittedly much smarter than me but, although they were clearly very clever, weren’t the easiest to connect with and I didn’t get the feeling that they’d be a laugh down the pub.

But in sales, business and life in general, if you want to build great relationships, you don’t want to come across as a know-it-all; you want to come across as the kind of person whoever you’re talking to would go for a drink with.

I believe the best way to do this in terms of the words you choose is to follow some advice from William Shakespeare, who believed you should “Have more than you show, say less than you know.”

We’ll come onto the first half of this statement in more detail in a minute, but for now, think about that second part.

If you’re the kind of person who feels they have to show off everything they know just so that the people around them know how clever they are, you might want to rethink your strategy.

If you say all that you know, you’ll probably end up hijacking every conversation you ever have, making it all about you. This can not only annoy people a lot but also bore them.

But by picking and choosing key things to say, not only can you come across as smart, but you also give other people a chance to say their piece, enhancing the chances of you making a connection.

That said if only 7% of what we say comes from our words, where does the other 93% come from?

Well, roughly 38% of what we say comes from the way that we say it.

The tone of voice you take, the speed at which you speak and the pauses you use all determine the way you’ll come across when you open your mouth.

If you want to come across well, therefore, make sure you speak clearly, don’t use gap fillers like “erm”, “er” and “like”, and keep a cool, calm tone.

Still though, through choosing the right words and saying them in a couth manner, we’re still only at 45%. So what else do people judge when they speak to us?

The other key factor here is body language.

The way that you stand, the amount of eye contact you make, the clothes you wear, the way you use your arms when you speak and even whether or not you have a nice smile will affect the way a conversation goes.

With body language being so important – making up 55% of what we say – it’s definitely something I’d recommend that anyone take a little time to think about.

Here are some key things to avoid:

• Folding your arms
• Biting your nails
• Yawning
• Looking around the room
• Checking your watch
• Frowning
• Staring
• Slouching
• Leaning towards the door

2. Two ears, one mouth

Use them accordingly.

Far too many people associate a conversation with talking and far too few associate it with listening. It’s important of course to ask the right questions, but it’s more important to listen to the answers.

They’ll give you clues as to what to ask next, as well as to how to frame the rest of the conversation and, if you’re at the right stage of the relationship, how to deliver your pitch.

But if you just stand there cold-faced, asking questions and not developing the conversation any further, it probably won’t go too far.

Or, even worse, if you completely swamp the other person with so much talk that they don’t get a chance to speak, you’re not even having a conversation, you’re just giving a lecture.

3. Don’t be a yes man (or woman)

There’s nothing worse in business (or in life for that matter) than being a ‘yes man’.

When talking to anyone, whether they’re a prospect, colleague, customer, manager, family member, partner, brother, sister, dog – anyone! – let them know that you actually have a brain.

You can do this by daring to have an opinion. You don’t have to be so strong in your opinion that you make people hate you or think you’re some kind of Devil’s advocate, but you can at least put a point across to develop the conversation further.

Of course, depending on what you want from the conversation, it’s sometimes best to just keep it zipped altogether, especially when someone is very passionate about something you don’t agree with. But never just sit there like a nodding dog with a vague smile on your face.

I’m also not, however, suggesting that you should disagree for the sake of it. Of course, if you do agree with the other person’s point of view, let them know. But let them know why you agree with them too. This is also a great way to show that you have a brain and to build rapport.

Either way, just don’t be a ‘yes man’.

4. Once upon a time…

Stories are another art in themselves, and the art of storytelling in sales and marketing is one that’s not only been forgotten a little over the years but can also be the difference between success and failure.

If, for example, a prospect has a certain concern, say, “Yeah I used to think that as well because (reasons you think they think that). But then another of our customers was in exactly the same boat and XYZ happened and that’s why it doesn’t worry me any more”.

Keep it brief, keep it relevant and you’ve got every chance of giving the prospect or customer something that will not only change the fate of the deal but will also be remembered.

5. Value their time

There’s no shame in cutting a meeting short, as long as it’s for a good reason, and the only good reason is that the meeting is over.

Sometimes, meetings can go on and on for over an hour when everything was said and done in the first 15.

Unless the conversation is absolutely flowing and you’re building a really good rapport, there’s nothing wrong with telling the prospect or customer that you value their time and will let them get on with their work.

It will also be encouraging for them to see that you want to get on with your job, too.

6. Include everyone

This is one of my favourite tips on conversations. There’s nothing worse than being stood there watching two other people having a conversation, feeling like a third wheel and not being included at all.

So whenever you’re standing there with more than two people and you’re leading the conversation, make sure you include the third person.

“We were just talking about such and such, what do you think?”

Never forget that once you’ve left the room, everyone is more than likely to talk about you and pass their judgments.

The more people you’ve made a good impression with, the better your chances of getting whatever it is you went there to get in the first place.

But if you ignore a few of the people who have the decision maker’s ear in favor of the decision maker, you may not get what you want.

7. Don’t have a conversation at all

I wrote another blog post a short while ago about how milkround sales calls are probably doing you and your company a lot of harm.

There are a few key reasons, but essentially if you’re not going to a meeting with a purpose, you might actually lose your customer or prospect over it.

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