Is it about them… Or you?

I had a conversation with a new acquaintance recently, to discuss opportunities for collaboration and to explore the potential for making referrals to her. I was looking forward to learning more about this person and her work. What I got was almost a monologue about what she’d done and how well things had turned out for her. Collaboration? Not so much. Interest in the clients I might refer? No. Further conversation? Probably not.

We all want to make a good impression with potential clients and referral sources, and part of that is telling them how we can help. We need to know something about a service provider, of course, but getting a barrage of information is rarely useful in making a decision to move forward.

So, how do you get information across without running the risk of an off-putting “me me me” conversation? These tips should help.

  1. Lead with questions. Whether it’s a sales conversation or exploring referral opportunities, knowing what the decision maker needs and finds valuable will let you frame your comments. What are her concerns? What qualities or qualifications matter to him? Once you know this information, you know how to talk about yourself in a meaningful way. (For more on how to do this, see Chapter 16 of The Reluctant Rainmaker.)
  2. Talk about your experience in terms of benefits, not features. Features are facts like the school you attended, how many years you’ve been in practice, or how many patents you’ve prosecuted, etc. Benefits are the reason someone should care about the facts.

    If you feel stuck, try stating the fact that you find relevant and connecting it to the reason that fact should matter to a client or referral source. An example might be, “I worked in my family’s small business for eight years and experienced the business’s chaos when my mother died, so I understand family business continuity issues and know how to avoid the things that can go wrong.”
  3. After you’ve been talking for a bit, pause and ask a question to gauge whether your comments are landing. Whether it’s a simple “does that help?” or a more in-depth question designed to deepen the conversation, simply shifting the focus to the person with whom you’re talking will help to ensure the conversation is relevant and helpful.

If you follow these three steps, you’ll likely find business development dividends in conversations, and you’ll avoid the dreaded drone-on. You can also turn them around if you find yourself listening to someone going on and on about himself, and perhaps rehabilitate a conversation.

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