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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

The Proper Way to Start a Business Conversation

business questionI was lost. I had the address, I knew the destination, but I was lost. To make things more challenging, I was in a foreign country, and many of the people around me did not speak English.

I approached a man on the street, address in hand, and asked, “Can you tell me how to get to 157 Rue Saint-Honoré?” In reality, I did not say the address. I merely pointed to on the paper in my hand.

“No, no, no, no… this is not how we start a conversation in France!” was his response. “Let’s start over, you should say good morning or 'Bonjour!' and then ask your question.”

I smiled, and tried it again, “Bonjour, can you tell me how to get to 157 Rue Saint-Honoré?”

His response was, “Oui! Walk two blocks, go right, and the store you are looking for will be on the right. You see, that’s how to start a proper conversation.”

“Merci beaucoup!” I responded and went along my way.

The End Depends on the Beginning

Salespeople often make the same mistake when starting a business conversation or conducting a needs analysis. They know their destination, and they jump into the conversation without a proper beginning. Doing this causes the customer to respond in a guarded manner, unwilling to engage in a dialogue about their desired business results.

Superstar sellers understand the fact that the beginning of the conversation impacts the outcome of the conversation. They employ a different approach during the first ten minutes of a business conversation.

How to start a proper business discussion:

  • Begin the meeting with a proper greeting like, “Good morning.”
  • Thank the customer (or prospect) for taking the time to meet.
  • Engage in some dialogue about the person—perhaps about something you learned when reviewing their LinkedIn profile.
  • Restate the reason for the meeting or the valid business reason used to secure the meeting. It’s okay to ask why they decided to meet with you.
  • State the purpose of the meeting. If it is a needs analysis meeting, the purpose is not a sales pitch. The purpose is to discuss their desired business results with the goal of providing a solution.
  • Discuss expectations of the meeting—theirs and yours.
  • Review how you do business and tell/show them how you have helped other people.
  • Review the agenda of the meeting.
  • Start out by asking some easy to answer questions.

Skip at Your Own Risk

Some might think this is way too much to accomplish in ten minutes and clients are too busy to go through this process. In reality, following this method will seem a bit clunky and very different than the typical “sit down and start firing questions” approach used by many sellers. Initially, it might seem this way, but as you follow this process it will become the conversation… the proper way to start a meeting. Most importantly, the proper way to uncover the desired business results that lead to a closed deal!

Bonne journée!

Free Download: Needs Analysis Record Worksheet