As a rule, the quicker you dive into the purpose of a BD conversation, the better. However, just picking up the phone and saying, 'Hi, just wondered if you're recruiting at the moment' is never going to cut it. With that in mind, here are 6 of the best conversation openers to use in any sales situation...
But first, it's worth pointing out why a good opener matters in business development. It’s all about easing a prospect from a conversation into your pitch. After all, if you were on a date you wouldn’t ask them what they wanted for breakfast while you are having your first drink of the evening. If you know what I mean… This is no different. A bit of small talk first sets a nice friendly tone for what’s to follow.
However, sales (like dating) is about differentiating yourself from the competition. It’s about explaining why your offering is better at overcoming their challenges than someone else’s. Bearing this in mind, hitting out with the same rubbish chat everyone else uses won’t cut it.
‘How was your weekend?’ ‘How are you?’ ‘How is the weather?’ blah blah blah *puke! While these lines are tried and tested, they are also tired, and worse yet, expected. All your competition are asking them day in, day out. And everyone gives the same, well-rehearsed answers. Plus, they’re not very exciting subjects for either party (especially in Glasgow where it rains 364 days a year!).
So, what can you use to start a conversation? Here are 6 suggestions to help make that awkwardness disappear and help make you stand out from the competition…
1. 'I notice your company recently announced X. Sounds great! Were you involved in this?'
With this, you are showing the person you are interested in their company in general and that you have bothered to do some pre-conversation research. Moreover, asking them their opinion puts them in the spotlight from the off and reveals what they think about their company’s strategy. With any luck, you can use how they respond to further tailor the next bit of the conversation to them.
2. 'I saw on LinkedIn you were recently promoted. Congratulations! What new stuff are you going to get involved with?'
Way more interesting and personal than the weather. You can also use this for awards if you tweak it to “What did you do to earn the award?” This type of open-ended question is great for showing you’ve done your research. But the prospect’s answer also lets you see what their plans are which is great for future BD conversations.
3. 'Have you read the blog that's going viral about X? Everyone's talking about it. What are your views?'
Stick to really well-known publications in your chosen niche here. Depending on the blog, this is a great opportunity to pick the person’s brain about pressing business issues and to find out more about what they think of new ideas. Even if they haven’t read the blog, use it as a starting point and offer to send it over to them afterwards. Adding value is always a great thing to do.
4. 'I saw you recently posted/commented on/wrote X. I really enjoyed your insights into X.'
It is in our DNA - compliments make us feel warm and happy inside. A few kind words can go a long way. Again, you are showing that you have done your research. You are demonstrating a true interest in the prospect as well. Be aware though, a fake compliment is 100x worse than none. Only kick off a conversation with praise if you truly mean it.
5. 'I noticed you are connected with X on LinkedIn. I know them too. How do you know each other?'
A mutual connection can turn a pretty cold call into a roasting hot one in seconds! Especially if the nature of the relationship between the prospect and the mutual connection is one that will quickly add to your credibility.
6. 'What is the most interesting thing about your company?'
The strength of this question lies in how specific it is. Instead of the vague “How do you like your company?” this is asking the prospect to narrow down their experience to one specific thing, and what they respond with can be used to tailor your next question(s). As an example, if they say, “working on the cutting edge of tech in our industry” you might respond with “how do you ensure you stay ahead of everyone else?”. This subtly leads towards a chat about talent and recruitment.
So, there you have it. The next time you are making some BD conversation try and start with one of the options above instead of the dreaded “How are you?” This should lead to more warm conversations.
Remember: even if you are under pressure to make a certain number of calls to hit your KPIs some extra time to do some research first can make all the difference to your chance of success. Good luck; go get ‘em!
To help you increase your conversion rate from your business development efforts, we've put together a free eBook on 'Why Marketing is Eating Sales for Breakfast.' Download it below.
About the Author: Cameron McLennan is a Predictive Recruitment Specialist at Firefish Software. He’s established in growing the Firefish family by bringing new clients who want to recruit smarter on board every week. In his spare time you’ll find him on the golf course, planning his next trip to a foreign country and settling into fatherhood! Follow him on Twitter @CameronFirefish or connect with him on LinkedIn.