Business is Personal - Build Rapport with Small Talk

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Many people complain that small talk is a waste of time, that is feels forced and fake. On the contrary, small talk is essential to building rapport and establishing a relationship. By following the suggestions below, small talk becomes a powerful part of any sales meeting. The difference between effective and ineffective small talk is being deliberate. Deliberate small talk done well accelerates connection. Small talk contributes to sales and customer service success every time you meet with prospects and clients.

The best sales professionals are well prepared for various types of conversations. Here are several suggestions to make small talk an important part of your sales toolbox.

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Business is Personal - Build Rapport with Small Talk

  1. 1. Helping busy business executives maintain their competitive edge. Business is Personal Build Rapport with Small Talk By Ira J. Koretsky September 2009 R elationships are not built in a vacuum. They are collaborative efforts, established one moment at a time. Deliberate, well-crafted small talk conversations accelerate bonding and rapport. Imagine this: you made a great first impression on the telephone with William, CEO of a Fortune 2000 firm. A few days later, you are on your way to the follow-up meeting at his office. Are you prepared for your “second” impression? Early in my career, I thought I prepared well for the second meeting. In reality, I only prepared for part of the meeting—the conversation related to the offering. I did not prepare well for the human side—the bonding and rapport. Many people complain that small talk is a waste of time, that is feels forced and fake. On the contrary, small talk is essential to building rapport and establishing a relationship. By following the suggestions below, small talk becomes a powerful part of any sales meeting. The difference between effective and ineffective small talk is being deliberate. Deliberate small talk done well accelerates connection. Small talk contributes to sales and customer service success every time you meet with prospects and clients. There are several types of small talk. Edmondson and House (1981) describe the most common type as the words exchanged before transitioning to “business talk” (see end of article for references). Business talk is talking about the agenda items. Drew and Chilton (2000) define another type as simply “keep in touch.” Saftoiu (2006) presents a third type as “transitional” small talk. Transitional “consists of short conversations inserted within business talk…to check on the state of the relationship and to release some of the tension that heavy topics might have brought up.” The best sales professionals are well prepared for various types of conversations. Here are several suggestions to make small talk an important part of your sales toolbox. Develop a List of Questions Always perform competitive and business intelligence research. This is the most important part of small talk success. Research both the organization and all of the attendees, especially the “Key Decision Makers” (KDMs). Develop a master list of statements and questions relevant to your attendees, sorted by priority. Regarding personal questions, your interest must be genuine (insincerity is quite easy to discern). For the organization, know its competitors, products and services, history, recent successes, future challenges, and the like. For the attendees, look for genuine common interests. Examples include where ® Copyright © 2009. ThinkBusiness Magazine and The Chief Storyteller LLC. All Rights Reserved. 1 of 3
  2. 2. Helping busy business executives maintain their competitive edge. someone grew up, attended school, and their hobbies, charities, and professional associations. There are many valuable resources out there to help you in your research. Internal resources include the organization’s website, press releases, annual reports, interviews with executives, conference presentations, biographies, and investor presentations. External resources include Hoovers, Gartner, Forrester Research, Yankee Group, LinkedIn, Twitter, Digg, Slideshare.net, Internet search engines, blogs, newspapers, magazines, and journals. Now your conversations are targeted and deliberate. Gauge Receptivity Understand and tune into the KDM’s personality. Does William prefer small talk or business talk? Unsure? Dip your toe into the pool. Follow William’s lead. Whatever his preference, you are prepared. Start-of-meeting small talk should last only a few minutes. If William does not provide timing cues, then you should transition to business talk within five to seven minutes. Since you did your pre-meeting preparation and research on the organization, your deliberate small talk complements the agenda. Your small talk continues to be relevant and important to the meeting. It establishes your efforts to understand and gain familiarity with William and his organization. Share and Ask Let us assume that there are several people attending your meeting. As soon as you walk into the conference room, you discover that William is running late. Begin your bonding and rapport with the folks in the room with your prepared list of statements and questions. As you initiate conversation, remember the key to successful small talk is “share and ask.” Based on your research, share something important about yourself relevant to your KDM. Then ask a related question. By sharing something about yourself first, you exhibit positive signs of trust. One example is “Margaret, I am also active in XYZ association. How are your experiences with XYZ?” Another example is “Damodar, I graduated from EFG University with an MBA in 19XX. I noticed that you went to LMN for your MBA. What did you like the most?” A third example, “Sofia, I read in the Wall Street Journal about your new [blank] initiative. We did something similar a few years ago. I’m curious, how is this initiative progressing?” The answers will likely offer insights into how the KDM thinks. The right small talk can uncover information about potential cross-selling opportunities for their future product launch, new customer service strategies, and more. Deliberate Small Talk Differentiates We all recognize that relationships take time. Each opportunity that you have to touch your prospect is an opportunity to accelerate success. Small talk is an effective way of making a positive impact. Your challenge is balancing small talk and business talk with the stated or unstated preferences of your KDMs. Effective small talk demonstrates attentiveness, positive listening, and genuine interest. It enables the conversation to go beyond the nuts and bolts of pure business. It enables you to connect on a personal level as well. If you win on price, you will also lose on price. You have to differentiate yourself. Forming personal bonds is crucial to winning most contracts. Why? Because business is personal. Ira Koretsky is the president of The Chief Storyteller®, a firm that turns your business stories and messages into results, with keynotes, workshops, and consulting. He can be reached at: tbmag@thechiefstoryteller.com ® Copyright © 2009. ThinkBusiness Magazine and The Chief Storyteller LLC. All Rights Reserved. 2 of 3
  3. 3. Helping busy business executives maintain their competitive edge. Not for resale, give-away, display, or duplication. Not to be published in whole or part without prior written permission from ThinkBusiness Magazine™ or The Chief Storyteller®, LLC. Contact ThinkBusiness Magazine™ at: info@thinkbusinessmagazine.com Contact The Chief Storyteller® LLC. at: tbmag@thechiefstoryteller.com About ThinkBusiness Magazine™ The mission of thinkbusiness is to help busy business executives maintain their competitive edge through concise, easy-to-read business articles and management tips. Founded in 2005, thinkbusiness is a media company that provides highly customized business information to business decision makers. thinkbusiness is the publisher of thinkbusiness magazine, a monthly digital, interactive magazine. The Company also publishes weekly custom newsletters on sales, marketing, finance and management and operates the thinkbusinessmagazine.com Web site. Visit www.thinkbusinessmagazine.com for monthly articles on sales, marketing, human resources, management, money, planning, technology, and biz trends. To subscribe for your own free monthly subscription, please visit http://www.thinkbusinessmagazine.com/ About The Chief Storyteller® We turn your business stories into results. Business stories are messages you share verbally, in print, and online. Your answer to “What Do You Do?” (Elevator Speech), presentations, brochures, proposals, position papers, website, and everything in between are all examples. We develop and implement high impact business storytelling and strategic messaging programs. These programs help you achieve the revenue/outreach/development results you want. Charles Schwab, CDC, and the American Diabetes Association have trusted us to help tell their stories. Visit www.TheChiefStoryteller.com for articles, blogs, and tip guides on marketing, business storytelling, communications, and messaging; relationship building and networking; sales, development, and outreach; presentations; human behavior; and a variety of other topics.. ® Copyright © 2009. ThinkBusiness Magazine and The Chief Storyteller LLC. All Rights Reserved. 3 of 3

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