As a rule, the faster you can dive into the purpose of a call or meeting, the better. But simply picking up the phone and saying, "Hello. Let's start talking about ... " is a bit jarring. Especially in sales, a bit of small talk is necessary to warm up the relationship between rep and prospect and set a friendly tone for the meeting. 

However, sales is also about differentiating yourself and your product from other sellers and their offerings. With this in mind, inquiring after the prospect's weekend or asking about the weather is probably not a good idea. While these small talk openers are tried and true, they're also tired. Everyone asks them. Plus, they're not terribly titillating subjects for either party. 

So what conversation starters can you use instead? Here are eight suggestions to help melt the awkwardness of the first few seconds of a call while setting yourself apart from the sea of similar small talkers. 

1) "I noticed that your company recently announced X. What are your thoughts about that?"

With this question, you're showing your buyer that you're interested in their company in general and that you've done your pre-call research. In addition, asking for their opinion puts them in the spotlight right from the jump, and reveals how they think about their organization and its strategy. With any luck, you might pick up a few tidbits of useful information to shape how you present your product or service. 

2) "I saw on LinkedIn that you were recently promoted. Congratulations! What are you most excited about?"

Far more personal and interesting than the weather. This question also works for awards if you tweak the last bit to "What did you do to earn this honor?" 

3) "Have you read the blog post everyone's talking about? What's your take on it?"

Stick to well-known publications here (think the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, etc.) instead of more niche blogs. Depending on the article, this is a great opportunity to pick the prospect's brain about pressing business trends, or get a handle on what they think of new ideas. 

4) "Did you watch the Superbowl/Oscars/other significant event last night? What did you think?"

There's always something to talk about after a large national event. While this question has little bearing on the purpose of the call, it can do a lot to form a bond between rep and prospect, and uncover more about the buyer's personality.

5) "I saw you recently posted/commented on/wrote X. I loved it -- great insights!"

Everyone likes receiving compliments, and just a few kind words can endear a salesperson to a prospect. Also, by commenting on a post a prospect wrote, shared, or commented on, the salesperson demonstrates their interest in the buyer. But be aware that a fake compliment is worse than none at all. For this reason, salespeople should only kick off their calls with praise if they truly mean it.

6) "I noticed you are connected with X on LinkedIn. I know her as well -- how are you two acquainted?"

A common connection can warm a buyer up to a sales call in a hurry. Depending on the nature of the relationship between the buyer and the shared acquaintance, leading off with this question could make the salesperson's credibility skyrocket. 

7) "You have a unique title/job. What does your role entail?"

Not only does this get the buyer talking about themselves and their problems right off the bat, the answer could also help the salesperson qualify the prospect. 

8) "What's the most interesting thing about your role/company?" 

The strength of this question lies in its specificity. Instead of the vague "How do you like your job/company?" this asks the buyer to narrow their experience down to one single attribute, and their selection could inform your pitch. For instance, if an HR manager says recruiting is the best part of her job and you're selling an HR software suite, you might want to emphasize the recruitment tools. 

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Originally published Mar 3, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated August 31 2017

Topics:

Building Rapport