Five Things Not to Do in a Customer Conversation

  1. Don’t talk about yourself.

If you’re a successful business developer you’re probably proactive and very people-oriented.  And you like to talk.  About yourself.  It’s natural. A little of that is fine, as it can increase trust as the customer gets to know you.  But if you don’t quickly shift to letting customers talk about what they’re interested in, all they’ll hear is Blah, Blah, Blah and they’ll place you in the same category as their cousin Franklin the physicist, who can’t stop going on and on about nuclear fusion.

  1. Don’t be waiting for your turn to speak.

You’ve finally got a meeting with a great prospect and you can’t wait to tell everything you know about your product.  The customer begins by talking about completing a marathon over the weekend, how hard it was and what emotions were felt at the finish line.  The customer is smiling.  But instead of paying attention, you’re watching their lips and waiting for an opportunity to pounce. When they pause, you launch into a description of all the cool features of your product.  The customer is not smiling.

  1. Don’t interrupt.

This is hard.  You love talking to people or you wouldn’t be so good at selling.  You’re filled with words and experiences and you want to share all of them as quickly as possible.  The customer makes a comment and you’re reminded of something really clever.  You can’t help but insert yourself when they take a breath and hijack the conversation.  But you’ve pirated their line of thinking and made them a conversation hostage.  Pirates are not great salespeople.

  1. Don’t directly criticize the competition.

It’s tempting to criticize your contemptible competition.  Their scheming and shoddy products are delaying the purchase of your dream vacation home.  But if you criticize them in front of your customer, bad things can happen. Consciously or subconsciously, your customer may begin to fear you’ll say similar things about them.  So they become distrustful and stop talking.  If the customer starts talking about the competition, however, refer to rule number 3.

  1. Don’t make the conversation an interrogation.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of smart aerospace engineers and technical people.  They go into customer meetings well prepared. They have a list of questions they want to ask.  That’s great, but then in the meeting many of them go down the list one-by-one.  The customer begins to feel like it’s an interview at best and an interrogation at worst.  Great business developers have the same list of questions, but get to the answers in a more artful way.  Try using two or three open-ended questions allowing customers to talk about all their important topics first and then use follow up questions to get the rest of what you want to know.  Let them talk – let yourself listen.

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