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Selling: The Art of the Business Conversation By Jim Sullenger
One of the most important things we do as business owners is communicate with other business people. If we cannot master effective conversations we will not stay in business for long. In this article we will look at the basics with having a good business conversation.
Conversation made easy
From Ben Franklin:
“The little private incidents which you will also have to relate, will have considerable use, as we want, above all things, rules of prudence in ordinary affairs; and it will be curious to see how you have acted in these. It will be so far a sort of key to life, and explain many things that all men ought to have once explained to them, to give, them a chance of becoming wise by foresight. The nearest thing to having experience of one’s own, is to have other people’s affairs brought before us in a shape that is interesting; this is sure to happen from your pen; our affairs and management will have an air of simplicity or importance that will not fail to strike; and I am convinced you have conducted them with as much originality as if you had been conducting discussions in politics or philosophy; and what more worthy of experiments and system (its importance and its errors considered) than human life?
Franklin referred the business technique as “imitating Jesus or Socrates….”
How to Start
Questions that help get it going!
What is the product or service your business provides?
Tell me about your ideal client and how I might recognize him/her.
What projects are you working on right now?
How did you decide to go into this business?
What do you find most challenging about (your industry) these days? I fill in the industry name in with banking, computer maintenance, financial planning–whatever is appropriate to the person with whom I’m speaking.
Tell me about your community involvement. In what other professional or civic organizations do you participate and what role do you play in the organization?
How is (some current event) impacting your industry/business right now?
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
I’d love to hear one of your client success stories–how did you make a difference in the client’s life or business?
Who would be a good referral for you at this point?
Business Etiquette Approaches(from Chron.com)
Formality and restraint differentiate business communications from ordinary personal conversations. Especially between vague acquaintances or people on widely different rungs of the corporate ladder, business conversations unfold according to very specific etiquette guidelines. Minding one’s manners is a simple but effective way of communicating professionalism and respect with business contacts.
As a rule of thumb, it’s better to begin formally and be invited into informality, than to assume informality and risk offending a potential business partner. Call someone “Mr. Smith” instead of “Bob” until invited to use his first name. Make a point of remembering names, because using a name conveys respect for the person. Keep bad habits at bay–no gum chewing, nail biting, ostentatious flatulence and compulsive BlackBerry monitoring.
Discuss Safe Subjects
Most people know that interjecting politics and religion into business conversations is a major faux pas. However, the list of off-limits conversation topics–especially with people of only very minimal acquaintance–includes health issues, office politics and controversial opinions about the industry or leading figures within it. Avoid excess negativity, as well; keeping the conversation positive reinforces warm feelings about the conversation and those who participated in it.
Watch the Food
Avoid talking with a mouthful of food. Our mothers taught us to chew with our mouths closed, and it’s appropriate to remember this rule in the business setting. Even during business lunches, be discreet while dining: Take small bites, avoid slurping drinks and go easy on the alcohol. In addition, think twice before helping someone finish a meal–it’s tacky to ask a business contact if you can have her pickle, for example. This rule is especially critical with phone conversations. If you absolutely must eat while on a business call, take small bites and keep the phone muted while chewing.
Communication always requires speaking and listening. Instead of thinking about your schedule or your next witty retort or the flight path of the butterfly in the background, pay attention to what others are saying and make sure you understand their meaning. Especially with new people, it pays to ensure you understand the context and meaning behind the words they use. Communications specialist Jasper Anson suggests: “Try to always add brief comments that address their points and show an appreciation and understanding for what they’re saying. Think of it as your way of sharing your understanding and attention level with the person talking.”
Trade Handshakes And Business Cards
Begin and end a conversation with a new business acquaintance with a handshake. A firm handshake with eye contact conveys respect, although this practice must be modified when dealing with people from different cultures where eye contact or handshakes are rare or impolite. End a conversation with an exchange of business cards. Cards are an essential marketing tool, and they permit your conversation partner to remember you and your affiliation with ease.