3 Conversations You Should Be Having with New Business Prospects
June 11, 2020

To those of us responsible for generating relationship-based new business – whether for ourselves or our companies – getting the first conversation with a prospect is often a gigantic, headache-producing challenge.

And it’s never been harder. Mainly because prospects are being slammed by outreach from sellers who are too focused on themselves and their products or services. They don’t respect their prospects’ time. They don’t provide value or a good reason for a conversation. They don’t act like humans.

The reality is that prospects are self-focused. You know this. It’s a scientifically proven fact. But sellers, for some reason, continue to confuse their products and services with something strangers care about.

Here’s what I’ve learned: prospects are more open to an initial conversation that centers around them – especially if it allows them to contribute their expertise in the name of helping others.  

The Conversation Spectrum

Think of it this way. There are three types of prospecting conversations you can – and must – have with a potential client – or anyone with whom you want to establish a relationship. 

  1. The prospect talks about themselves
  2. You talk about the prospect
  3. You talk about you

It will come as no surprise that the vast majority of saleseople try to go right to the third type of conversation – they want to talk about themselves, their product, their service.

I can feel you nodding your head and rolling your eyes – no example needed here.

For anyone seeking to build strong long term relationships, this approach is the worst one to take. Sure, send enough messages/emails, make enough phone calls, bore enough people and you’ll hit on a few who just happen to be looking for what you’re providing. But at best you’ll miss way more people who could use you, your product or service, and just don’t know it yet. Worse, you can do lasting damage to your personal brand (aka reputation). Nobody likes a spammer. 

What works best

The best conversation sequences start on the left side of the Conversation Spectrum(™), with the prospect talking about themselves, and move to the right. Conversations can be combined, but not skipped. 

Properly framed, a “prospect talks about prospect” conversation is the easiest to get and the best one to begin a relationship with. This is not a typical discovery call where the prospect gets hit with a bunch of questions about their needs related to whatever it is you’re selling. 

I’m talking about asking the prospect to share their expertise, experiences, opinions in a way that can help others – and, where possible, increase their visibility.  It’s a good conversation, because the prospect comes into it feeling comfortable, not protective. They’re not feeling like they’re going to be sold something. 

In a conversation like this, it’s easy to begin learning about the prospect and whether or not you want to continue building a relationship. If the answer is yes, you move to the second conversation, “you talk about the prospect”, where you begin to provide value, ideally something the prospect can put to use right away and is relative to your product or service.

In going through the first two conversations, you’re building trust, familiarity and comfort. If the prospect is a good it – and at least reasonably polite – you’ll now have the opportunity to talk about yourself. Often the prospect will naturally ask.

Example sequence

Here’s how you could put the Conversation Spectrum to work.

Conversation 1 – Prospect talks about themselves. Invite your prospect to be a guest on a podcast, contribute to a book, provide insight for research, join a community. Be creative. 

Conversation 2 – You talk about the prospect. From information you gather in the first call, conduct an executive briefing, offer a free assessment as a thank you, put together a short workshop. 

Conversation 3 – You talk about yourself. The 2nd conversation almost inevitably leads to an opportunity for you to talk about your product or service and how you might work together. If nothing else, Cialdini’s Law of Reciprocity opens that door. 

A word of caution — whatever you use as an invitation for the first conversation must be real.  Whether it’s a podcast, a book, a research paper, a community – it has to be appropriate for your market, something they are comfortable participating in, and it has to be real. You can not build trust based on something fake.

Why does this work?

For years we used the “Prospect talks about Prospect” approach without knowing why it worked. It just worked, so we kept doing it. 

And then I ran across some research that was done at Harvard in 2014, where they hooked people to MRI machines, and had them talk about themselves. And it turns out that the portion of our brain, the reward center of our brain lights up when we talk about ourselves. This is the same area of the brain that lights up when we have a good meal, a glass of wine, terrific sex, whatever, it’s that same area of the brain. 

When you give your prospect an opportunity to talk about themselves, especially in a way in which they’re helping others, you’re giving them a brain buzz. Not a bad way to start a relationship. 

The “you talk about the prospect” conversation comes comfortably after the “prospect talks about prospect” conversation. You’ve just naturally begun to get to know the prospect and learn a bit about their business and their priorities. You don’t have to be a sterling conversationalist to include a mini discovery call while the prospect is talking about themselves.

Does leading with “you talk about you” ever work?

I have seen two situations where leading with “you talk about you” can work. Both are rare. In one situation you have something truly unique that cannot be obtained anywhere else; no competitors are even claiming to do it; and prospects know they need it. It’s so rare I can’t even think of an example right now.

The second situation occurs when — disruption / urgent demand truly overwhelms supply. You may not be unique but that doesn’t matter; prospects need you. Some of us are in this situation now, with Covid-19. 

For most of us, in nearly all situations, starting on the left and moving to the right is going to give you the best results.

How can you create an opportunity for prospects to talk about themselves?