Something to Talk About (Issue 485)

In which we consider a practical strategy  to connect with our prospects if we've not walked in their shoes.

I once listened to actor Peter Falk, star of the classic TV detective show, “Columbo,” tell a story about his efforts to break into show business in the 1950s. Curious to know what ‘real actors’ talked about, Falk followed three famous actors from a theater to a nearby restaurant, straining to hear their brilliant exchange. The three took a booth. There were no close seats. Falk sat at the counter, his head turned awkwardly to hear. The room was loud. He could hear only their last words as they rose to leave: “I’m putting my money into real estate in California. That’s what Bob Hope is doing.” So this was what famous actors talked about?

Many of us face the same problem when we’re calling on prospects and customers we consider “out of our league” by virtue of age, income, experience, cultural differences, or position. We’ve not sat in their chairs. We don’t know what they talk about. The result, our sales conversations seem cold, matter-of-fact, stilted, or awkward. We feel we don’t belong. We can’t engage “peer to peer.” We can’t establish meaningful rapport.

What’s the remedy? Make five friends. Five friends just like the people you want to call on and feel comfortable with. Five friends you can hang out with, listen to, address questions to.

Notice, I didn’t say, “five friends who can refer you to their friends,” or “five friends who might be prospects for your services.” Just “five friends” from whom you need nothing for your business.

So, how to do that? Well, you could follow fresh footsteps like Falk. Or: Find an overlap – your world and theirs – where you can engage them as peers. Fund raisers. Arts organizations. Community activities. Business associations. If you’re a parent, school activities and youth sports activities. Church. Your own schools’ alumni networks. Business lunches with speakers they go to hear. Civic organizations.

As you work with them, listen…. What do they talk about? As you become more familiar, ask them about their families, their business challenges, concerns, successes, what they’re reading – the same questions you’d ask friends. Develop a vocabulary, a set of knowledge and stories, so they are comfortable accepting you in their conversations and you are comfortable participating.

That comfort and the confidence that comes from your five friendships, will enable you to engage your target prospects (remember, the ones who are just like the five friends?) more easily. You’ll know what to talk about.

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