Imagine you are at a party, and you see someone with whom you are acquainted. You and this person don’t know each other well, but whenever you run into each other, you enjoy talking. You’re enjoying the conversation when, suddenly, you notice the conversation has taken a new course. The other person is pitching you, trying to sell you something. Subconsciously, you take a step backwards. Your shoulders tense a bit as you automatically take a defensive posture.

What could he have done differently, enabling him to transition the conversation to a sales conversation without causing you to have this response? After all, maybe he’s selling something you want to buy; how could he have gotten you interested by taking a different approach?

Reverse roles and imagine you are the salesperson. You are in a conversation with someone who might be a social acquaintance of yours, a business prospect or even a long-term customer. As the conversation unfolds, you see that this person could really benefit from something you are offering. How do you move in the direction of a sales conversation without alienating this person?

How do you transition from not selling to selling?

The challenge you face is to navigate the conversation to a point where the discussion is not only about your customer, but about how the two of you can work together as well. You want to transition to a relationship conversation.

Whatever you do,
don’t start talking about yourself

A recent issue of this newsletter was titled The #1 Sales Rule: Don’t Talk About Yourself. This concept may seem counter-intuitive, but not talking about yourself is one of the key ingredients to a successful sales conversation.

A great sales conversation is primarily a conversation about the customer, not about the salesperson and his offerings. This holds the customer’s interest. The art of a great sales conversation is to integrate, at the appropriate time and in appropriate ways, components of the salesperson’s offerings into the conversation, while still maintaining the customer as the main subject of the conversation.

The Gentle Turn

Integrating your offerings into the conversation must be done very gently and judiciously.

Imagine you are in a conversation with someone, and you would like to sell this person something. You are asking questions, but the conversation is not yet moving in the direction of a sale. Let’s now look at how you make the “gentle turn” from not selling to selling, while maintaining a conversation about the other person.

  • Always ensure that you only say things about yourself that can be easily “attached” to something about the customer. For example, if you sell insurance and one of your products is Directors and Officers Liability Insurance, don’t mention that offering unless the subject of the conversation turns to the potential client’s board of directors and concerns about their risks. Or, if you sell women’s clothing, don’t talk about cocktail dresses to a customer browsing through a rack of jeans until she starts talking about clothes she needs to by for an upcoming event.
  • Only add ingredients about yourself in small doses. The way to do this is to ensure that the conversation stays a conversation about the customer and doesn’t become a conversation about you. If you maintain an awareness of this, constantly monitoring that the conversation is about your customer, you will automatically be careful not to say too much at one time about yourself.
  • Be patient. This is really important. Have a look at this issue– Sales Tip: Leave things in your pocket. Don’t fall prey to premature elaboration. Constantly remind yourself that just saying something isn’t what is important. Being understood by your customer is what’s important. Wait for the right time.

If you follow these principles, your customer will be more likely to start seeing how you can work together. He will start buying, without you having to resort to the vain pleas of a sales pitch.

However, if you turn too abruptly from conversation and start pitching (the image of the “Bat-turn” from the ’60s TV show Bat Man comes to mind), you’ll lose your customer. The turn must be gentle.

Don’t ruin the progress you’ve made

And here’s the next caution: Once you make the gentle turn, there’s a good chance that your customer will show interest in what you have to say. Resist the tempation to launch into a pitch!

The customer’s interest will be a sign of willingness to keep the conversation moving forward, not a willingness to hear you monologue. Have a look at this issue, Time for a break (The one-paragraph rule), for ideas on how to protect yourself from poisoning the progress you’ve made up to this point in the conversation.

One challenge of ditching the pitch is to create a sales conversation that actually turns into sales. The successful — and gentle — turn from not selling to selling is one of the keys to selling effectively.

Read the newsletter: “The Gentle Turn: From Not Selling to Selling”

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