One of the components of successful business is the ability to come in contact with new people – the so-called strategic networking. This means that every person, whom you meet anywhere, becomes a potential business contact, even if your communication will not lead to further cooperation. The philosophy of networking is based on the belief that the more we give to people, the more we get in return. Creating a network of personal and professional relations helps to find the quickest and most effective solution for any business task. In order to meet new people and find the way through to them, it is useful to engage unfamiliar people in a casual conversation, support a dying conversation, as well as cease it easily – in other words, the strategy of dialogue.
Imagine that you come to an event where there are a lot of strangers. Your goal is to get to know the maximum possible number of these people and find out who can be potential customers. Where to start?
This is an introductory talk on neutral topics, which aims to remove the mutual tension when meeting with a stranger and to create a basis for the development of further dialogue. If you come to an event with serious intentions (searching for new business contacts and potential clients), do not start your acquaintance with new people talking about the business. A few common phrases will not be a waste of time and will not harm your reputation. On the contrary, they help to establish contact and get closer to your interlocutor. An introductory conversation has an important function – you will not start a serious conversation without it.
The subject of your opening talk largely depends on the social situation. For example, at a conference or a trade show, you can start a conversation discussing new products and trends, the presentations of other participants, the changes in the industry and so on. At a seminar or training courses, ask about other participants’ purpose and how it relates to their work, whether they participate in such events for the first time, etc. Besides, an introductory conversation should not necessarily be connected with the theme of the event. If appropriate, tell a few sentences about the yesterday’s football game, an interesting article in the morning paper or the traffic on the roads. The main condition is that the topic should be neutral and suitable for discussion with any stranger; it should not arouse negative emotions.
The people who have mastered the art of dialogue know that the key to success is to create a comfortable atmosphere for conversation. Even the least significant conversation about the weather or the plans for the coming weekend will help other people feel important and interesting to you personally. Thus, effective managers use a few general phrases to set the tone of the conversation and then move on to a more serious discussion of the problem.
Don Gabor, a renowned expert on communications, an expert in the field of human communication, a business coach, an author of several books, a consultant on the creation of an effective system of communication with employees and customers of large corporations, considers the ability to conduct a conversation easily an essential feature for creating effective business relations. In his opinion, it is the easiest and fastest way to get to know the interlocutor, to determine his/her status and the area of interest, to win his/her attention and prepare for the further dialogue. In his book Turn Small Talk into Big Deals, Don Gabor offers six steps that lead from the easy conversation about neutral topics to the discussion of a business deal.
Step 1: Be proactive and listen
When meeting with a stranger, start a conversation immediately, get ready for interaction and prepare to listen. Take the initiative, be the first to start a conversation, and people will thank you for it. A few phrases will relieve mutual tension, as well as give you a distinct advantage – you can continue a conversation and set new topics for discussion. Do not think about what your next phrase will be, do not worry. Instead, watch and listen to the interlocutor; this will help you determine the tone of the further conversation. At this stage, your task is to draw a person into the conversation and make him/her feel comfortable in your presence.
Step 2: Focus on keywords
Listen carefully to the interlocutor not to miss the keywords that will allow you to change the topic of the conversation and talk about business. The groups of keywords include:
- people (customers, competitors, vendors, staff, etc.)
- places (school, business center, factory, office)
- things (equipment, product, natural resources, computers, books)
- activities (sales, customer service, meeting, training)
- situation (security, business, rent, exchange)
- difficulties (poor performance, loss of time, high cost, limited resources).
Step 3: Do not miss the right time
If you hear any keyword, it’s time to move from introductory talks to discussing business. Ask questions, do some more detailed questioning leading the companion to your topic of interest. Continue to listen, pay attention to details, draw a general picture of who your partner is and try to determine his professional goals, objectives, needs and difficulties. Even if you are an expert in the same field, do not give any advice at this stage and do not offer any solutions. Your goal is to get as much information as possible. The more you learn, the greater is the opportunity for potential cooperation.
Step 4. Move on to a serious discussion of business problems
Give a hint via asking questions, define the greatest difficulties and challenges faced by your interlocutor. Show your professional interest in this case. Avoid criticism and offering a variety of solutions. Do not let the other person complain a lot; lead the conversation in a constructive direction.
Step 5. Clearly mark the opportunity to help your interlocutor
In order not to seem too intrusive and straightforward, tell how you have solved similar problems for other people or participated in similar projects. Say if you know someone who can help. At this point, give some more detailed information about yourself and your business, but avoid unnecessary technical details.
Step 6. If your interests coincide, make an appointment
When the interviewee asks about your other customers, the cost of services, the timing of the task, he/she is ready to cooperate. Continue the conversation, but do not give too much information, do not begin to solve the problem, do not discuss money matters. Make an appointment, during which you will be ready to discuss the subject in more detail.
It is recommended to always begin and end any business conversation with a casual conversation to establish a trusting relationship with someone. Thanking for the opportunity to meet and talk, repeat the date of your next meeting, express your joy from the forthcoming opportunity to collaborate. This tactic is not just a courtesy; it is a way to arouse positive feelings in the interlocutor. Even a few common phrases addressing the potential customer can give you an advantage over the competitors. It has been proved that people prefer buying goods and services from open-minded people who inspire confidence.