Business Sales 101: How to Start a Conversation

Not a day goes by when I am not asked for tips on growing a small business from business owners in my community.  I visit many types of businesses and have never once discriminated based on ethnicity, condition or appearance of the business, or the language barrier.  The reason is:  You can NEVER judge a book by its cover, and all business owners need some form of help.  Whether that is help with finding the right staff, increasing bottom line, creating better relationships with customers/clients/patients, etc, the needs are many.  And sadly a large percentage of business owners struggle unnecessarily because they simply do not have the tools to overcome these hurdles.

You’ve heard me speak of ‘The Basics’.  You’ve heard me speak of promotional actions.  However, I haven’t really touched on relationship building, how to start one, and how to nurture them.  In this article I will cover a couple items that are often overlooked as they pertain to relationships and what these mean to your small business.  Many of you already know how strongly I feel about getting to know your neighbors.  And due to the ‘social awkwardness’ of some business owners, many feel strange when it comes to introductions and small talk.  It is understandable as there aren’t any schools I know of that teach one how to create relationships.  It’s really not your fault.  This is why I’m going to share some tips that work for me EVERY time I apply them.

Folks (Especially here in Phoenix) have a tendency to be a bit reserved and more private than in states such as NY, NJ, or IL to name a few.  I’m not sure exactly why, though a large percentage of Phoenicians seem to be uncomfortable with introductions and small talk.  It is neither good, nor bad – though what I have observed is a kind of apprehension that exists prior to any conversations taking place.  It is this fear in my opinion that all too often prevents introductions and meetings from happening.  Not a surprise, right?

The question is: How do we overcome this fear or apprehension?  How do we engage in conversation without a possibility of rejection or ignorance of what we are communicating?  I think it is safe to say that most of us have experienced this phenomenon at one point or another, not to mention the discomfort that comes with this experience.   Now whether that feeling came from approaching a pretty girl as a young man, or one’s parents with some sort of request during childhood, there were times when butterflies got the best of us.  And the only thing most of us thought about at the point immediately afterward was: “I should have…..” or “I shouldn’t have…” correct?  This is one of many reasons I urge you to continue reading.

Now as business owners we are faced with ignorance and rejection on a regular basis.  We kind of expect it.  Though when it comes to relationships and building them, there are a few things I am going to share that will give you better success with introductions and help you lower your chances of rejection.  Simultaneously these tips will probably also diminish the chances of receiving a backlash of ignorance from those you decide to communicate with.

The first question you need to ask yourself is:  What question can I ask my neighboring business owner that I already have the answer to?   It may sound corny, but I use things that I know I will create agreement, such as:  “Wow….one of the clearest days of the year isn’t it?” OR “Gas prices are always higher in the summer, huh?”  You get the idea?  You’re creating agreement here, or there is a very good chance of it.  “Man it’s hot today!” OR “I bet I could cook an egg on the sidewalk outside!”  Who would disagree when it is 113 degrees?  You see?  You keep creating agreement.  You keep creating agreement because doing just that creates MORE communication!  It tends to keep that communication rolling….MOST of the time!

Anyway that’s the first way.  The second way to ease into communication is to find something you like about the person you’re speaking with.  If you look closely enough there is probably at least one thing you can find that you admire about the person, maybe a possession, like a car, sign outside the business, or maybe the store owner’s wife put flowers in the window and they look nice.  It doesn’t matter.  Find something you admire and tell that store owner what it is and why you like or admire it. “Wow, I can see those neon lights in your window from two blocks away!  Great looking sign!” OR “You know your front doorstep is always so clean and neat.  That’s really cool…..most don’t seem to care these days.”  OR “Nice tie! Where did you get it?  You see?  Find things you like or admire  and tell them about it.  It works like a charm.  It’s a fire-starter and it’s effective.  One time I complimented a store owner on his sign and he talked for almost 30 minutes about how expensive it was and how it had paid for itself 10 times over.  The point is that I got him talking and it opened the door to more conversation on many different subjects.  The relationship was created just with admiration.

Now the third and last way I’ve found that works pretty well is to ask someone’s opinion of something. Obviously it should be something you have pondered, or it may come off as phony, such as: “Can I ask you something?  What’s the difference between a Michelin tire and a Firestone tire?” OR “Why do stackable washers and dryers cost more than those that sit side by side?”  OR “Why do teenagers think they know it all?”  It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re sincere and really want that neighbor’s opinion, or advice.  I once asked a store owner why his cookies were so rich and sinful.  She smiled and started talking about the recipe she had been given by her grandmother when she was 13 and the ‘secret ingredients’ she would never share with anyone.  So I started talking about my grandmother’s Pierogies and why they were the best in the world and found out right then and there that the shop owner was Polish!  Cha Ching! It was smooth sailing after that and it actually led to a sale within a few weeks.

It’s so easy that anyone can do it.  Small business owners are some of the easiest people to talk to because they are proud of being small business owners.  They love to talk about their business, its struggles, triumphs and most of all HOW they got to where they are, or how they’re not getting to where they need to be.  So get your foot in the door with the tips above.  Let us know how it works out for you.  As always, we want your feedback and we appreciate it!

Until next time, we hope you flourish and prosper beyond your dreams.

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