Engagement conversation beats the 30-second commercial

by Jeffrey Gitomer

Published: March 7,2005

You’re at a big networking event. Hundreds of people, hundreds of prospects. You’re armed with business cards, incredible product knowledge and, if you must say so yourself, looking sharp. In short, you’re ready.

In stroll the rest of the networkers. Lots of food, festive atmosphere, a little to drink and a huge business opportunity.

Big question: How will you take advantage of this networking opportunity?

Bigger question: What strategy will you employ to engage your prospective customer so you can arrange a meeting outside of the networking event?

Your success depends on two things: your rapport-building skills and your networking strategy. Interestingly, rapport and strategy are connected: strategically connected and intellectually aligned in a manner that you actually employ both at the same time, in order to make the most out of each connection.

The easiest way for me to describe this is through my own expertise. I do sales training. I have several options. I could introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Jeffrey Gitomer. My company trains salespeople at seminars and on the Internet. We’re one of the greatest companies in the world.” I could also mention the names of some of my big customers and offer to send the guy a brochure. That would be a stupid way of beginning a relationship because I have no idea what the other person does, and I have no idea if he needs me.

So let me give you the ultimate way to create fast engagement and phenomenal results.

I walk up to someone and by looking at their name badge, I can tell if that person is a prospect for me. They’re either a CEO, vice president of sales or a sales manager. I begin my conversation with a brief exchange of names and by asking a direct question.

“Hi, my name’s Jeffrey. How many of your salespeople didn’t meet their sales goals last year?” (This question immediately begins to qualify the prospect. This question immediately makes the prospect think, maybe a bit uncomfortably. This question immediately tells me I’m dealing with a decision maker, and this question is about them, but they will respond in terms of me.)

This person’s answers will determine my direction. Remember, this is a strategy, not a pitch. Suppose the response is, “Seventy percent did not meet their goal.” I would come back and say, “Geez, that’s horrible. What do you think caused that?” Or I would ask, “Why do you think that happened?” Next I would ask, “What kind of plan do you have in place this year to help them exceed their goals?” I would also ask, “Is there a monetary value attached to that achievement?” I could’ve thrown in questions like, “Who’s responsible for their success or failure?” or “In your experience, what were the prime reasons they failed?” or “Is it the people or the market?” or “What will you do next year that is different from this year?” or “How are you supporting the team to encourage them to succeed?”

You see, I have 25 questions that I’m ready to ask based on responses that I encounter.

Now the close. “Sounds like an interesting challenge, Mr. Jones. And I don’t know if we’re a perfect fit or not. Let’s have breakfast next week. I’ll let you go into a little more detail and if I think I can help you, I’ll tell you, and if I don’t think I can help you, I’ll tell you that, too. I’ll even go so far as to recommend someone I think can help you the most. Is that fair enough?”

That entire engagement took less than two minutes. The other person did 80% of the talking, and I walk away with an appointment. Notice I never even said my last name as part of my sales pitch. I never said my company name. I never said how long I’ve been in business. I never said how great I am. I never listed my customers. What I did say was, “If I think I can help you, I’ll tell you, and if I think I can’t help you, I’ll tell you that, too. Is that fair enough?”

For years I have written about the 30-second personal commercial, all about how to introduce yourself to a group or at a networking event. It’s still valid, but I’ve modified it.

This is basically an engagement conversation, rather than a commercial. I’ve found over the years that people tend to skip the commercials so they can get back to their regularly scheduled program. The drama, if you will. And all I’m doing in my two minutes is engaging them in their drama and offering them an opportunity to analyze their problems — so I can offer them a number of solutions.

ADAPT AND ADOPT. I’ve given you this networking engagement exercise in terms of me and my business. You have to adapt it to you and your business. I’ll give you a couple of examples if you go to www.gitomer.com and enter NETWORKING STRATEGY in the GitBit Box.

Once you’ve adapted your presentation mentally, you have to adopt the strategy as one you will use until you’ve mastered it. You see, this is not a simple networking strategy. This is a complex process that requires preparation and hard work.
Ask yourself this BEFORE you go to the next networking event: Have I prepared the right questions? Am I proficient enough to “engage” the people I meet?

Answer those questions “Yes!” and sales will double.

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail
salesman@gitomer.com.

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