Sales Skills

Avoid Awkward Prospecting Using These 3 Steps

Getting to know a prospect with a small conversational gambit (or device) can contribute tremendously to your professional success.  You have to dance a little, conversationally, before plunging into a deeper level of communication that can elicit credibility and believability.

Conversation is a progressive ladder – and you cannot get to someone’s deepest thoughts until you climb up the first few rungs. 

Although you may feel self-conscious when you first engage a prospect in conversation, it’s important to recognize that people like to talk about themselves and typically feel flattered when someone pays attention to them.  Communications expert, Dr. Carol Fleming, offers a three-part method of starting a conversation:  Anchor, Reveal, Encourage (ARE).

  1. Anchor (A): Begin by observing a “mutual shared reality” that starts to build a connection between you and another person.  This should be a light pleasantry about something you’ve both seen or experienced, such as, “The weather is perfect today.”  Or, “All the work on Highway 101 is really causing lots of traffic issues, isn’t it?”  Fleming says that these comments are not too superficial – she calls them “friendly noises.”  Both you and your prospect will understand that they are not meaningful dialogue, rather a gradual and polite way to segue into deeper conversation.
  2. Reveal (R): Second, disclose something about yourself that is related to the anchor you just threw out:  “I’ve been waiting for it to stop raining so I could hike Boxers Trail in Strawberry Mansion.”  Or “I’ve been thinking about trying a different route home to Woodland Hills.  I think that I could possibly save some time by taking surface streets instead of the 101.”  Fleming says that by opening up a little more, you are extending a few more threads of connection and trust, while giving them more information to respond to.
  3. Encourage (E): Third, engage the prospect by asking a question: “Have you ever done that hike?”  “Have you ever taken surface streets and did it save you time?”

By now, you’ll have exchanged pleasantries, but you need to keep building the conversation and not allow an awkward pause to derail your meeting.  At this point, you can follow-up with a few questions and comments.  Make sure to strike a balance so your prospect doesn’t feel like you’re interrogating him or her.  Also, don’t make too many comments and hog the conversation.  Simply alternate between comments and questions.

Once you’ve moved through the ARE process, you can expand into more open-ended questions that won’t put your prospect on the spot, but will allow them to reveal more about themselves and their business, depending on their comfort level.

If your prospect gives you an abbreviated response, you can say, “What else?  I’m really curious…” or “I really want to know.”  Most people are used to going through conversational small talk and are longing for permission to discuss more about themselves and their business.

At this point, you have built a connection with your prospect and should begin developing deeper knowledge about your prospect and his or her business.

Ready to go deeper and develop a customer relationship for life?  Reach Your Peak will show you how to climb the conversational ladder.