Avoid Small Talk in Sales

I recently wrote a post about the difference between a sales person and a sales professional. A sales professional has recognisable traits that differentiate them from the sales person. One of these is how to focus on the business at hand and the avoidance of small talk - defined as Polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.

To help illustrate this in my training I share the story of helping one of my a client’s develop their sales strategy and skills. I attended a meeting with them, where we’d gone to a new client’s to get the order signed. It was first thing in the morning, we’d arrived early and on arrival the client asked us to sit down. I immediately pulled out the order form, quickly talked the client through each aspect of it and then asked them to sign it. They had no queries and were happy to sign it. I then explained how it would be processed, the next steps and who would be in touch. I placed the order form in my bag.

The client then asked if we’d like a cup of tea or coffee. I politely declined saying I had other clients to get to today so if they were OK, we’d make a move. They answered straight back “Great, because I’ve a lot to get through today as well”.

On leaving the client’s office, the person I’d gone in with turned and accused me of being ‘ruthless’ in the meeting. Somewhat taken aback, I asked them to explain. They answered “You just went in and asked them to sign the order and then you left.” I asked them what they thought we’d gone there for? “To get the order” was the reply. Hadn’t we just done, that I said? “Yes, but with no preamble, no real conversation, we just got straight to business”. In this instance, being focussed and professional was being mistaken for being cold and detached.

I reminded them that we’d already pre-qualified the client. We’d meet them before, exchanged a quote and had a couple of calls and, we’d verbally agreed the terms. As they were a new client, I wanted to sign them up face-to-face so we’d agree to meet to get the order. They’d said fine, and that’s what we did minus the small talk.

Being professional doesn’t mean we’re not personable, it just means that we understand the value of our time and the client’s. There was no real preamble, as we’d already established why we were there and we got the job done. The client valued the efficient approach as it left them with lots more time to spend on their business that morning. It didn’t detract from the relationship; I’ve no doubt it added to it. As both the client and ourselves got what we needed with the minimum effort.

The big learning was for my client and how they generally approached sales conversations. Their approach had been too casual to this point. They’d made small talk about their journey in, the weather, sport or something else. All of these touch points have the capacity to take the client away from the job at hand - in this case - to close the deal and sign the order. Someone on my sales training once shared they’d been sat in someone’s office and had spotted Manchester United photos and started a football related conversation as they too were a united supporter. It turns out they were in someone else’s office and the person they were talking with was a die-hard Liverpool fan. The conversation and the deal went sideways very quickly and they lost the customer soon afterwards.

When it comes to business, keep the conversation business related until the business is done. If someone then wants to share something about themselves -a passion, a hobby or the wider business then great but don’t be drawn into conversations or topics you have no interest in. A skill is to have a stock answer ready to deflect conversation around topics like football or BREXIT. Personally, I don’t follow football, but many of my clients do. I’ll keep an eye on their team’s progression so I can comment if needed, but I don’t pretend to understand or care to the levels that they do.

There’s a real skill to balancing being a sales professional who is adept at efficiently communicating with a client to get the deal done. You have to build rapport with the individual and recognise them as a person and not as a mark. Time is a precious resource and I believe that sales professionals value time and the deal process differently than a sales person does. Small talk tends to come about when a sales person is unsure of the sales process and hopes that the client will feel better if they are warmed up. These people major in the minor. Qualify your clients, and you’ll be able to take the conversation in a very different direction.

Clients prefer it when you lead the sales conversation and have a clear process that helps you, and them, understand and address their needs enabling you to close a deal. Long lunches, events out and other schmoosing activities are not the best way of doing business. My own view is that they attract a certain type of client that’s expensive to maintain.

Replace small talk with sales talk. To do this many sales people have to make investments in developing their sales skills, knowledge and attitude to make them better sales professionals. Know+Do help businesses deliver more profitable business. If you’d like to have us review your current sales processes talk to us.

Andrew Ramwell, andrew@knowanddo.com / 07507 327993 / @rammers02