Whether you’re new to your business, or have been going for a while, it can be difficult to know how to spark a conversation with your customers…and conversation is the skill you need for networking and building relationships.
Conversations you have with customers will be slightly different from those you have with your family and friends but are vital to build valuable relationships and build that all-important rapport.
Starting a conversation
This is sometimes the hardest part. But a good way to start is to ask for information. It’s the most effective and natural way to start building that rapport. Ask them about themselves or ask about their business.
- Do they have a family? If they have their own business, how do they work that around their family?
- How did they get started?
- What made them choose their particular business?
- What is their ‘why’ – why do they do what they do?
- How are they hoping their business will evolve in the future?
- What problems do they encounter in their line of work?
- What inspires them?
These are just a few things you could ask, but you get the picture!
Probably the most obvious way to start a conversation is to introduce yourself. But be brief! No one wants to hear someone rambling on about themselves. Tell them a little bit about yourself and what you do, then you can go on to the other conversation starters I mentioned above.
Pay them a compliment
The most important thing about this one is to be genuine – if you can’t think of anything, don’t use this one as it is easy to see through someone who isn’t genuine!
If you love something that they do, or something they’ve made, or have seen a social media post that you particularly like – tell them. And say why you love it.
Comment on something you have in common
This could be anything, from something that’s happening in the world that they’ve commented about, the weather, an event that’s happening, or a situation that you’ve both experienced. Usually, you can pick up on something like this from social media posts.
Sometimes conversations can be started because you find yourself in a position to be able to help someone. Offering your assistance can help you earn trust and show you as a likeable person, especially if the concern or help you offer is genuine. As in everything when meeting and talking to new people, the key word here is ‘genuine.’ Don’t offer to help if it will be difficult for you to manage or you don’t really have the time, as this can cause more damage than good.
Ask for help yourself
Asking someone for their advice or help is a highly effective conversation starter. It works well because it makes the other person feel like they’re being helpful and useful. You could always offer them help in return, which will really help build a relationship. We often find we do this without thinking, it’s a natural human behaviour to ask for advice or help.
Talk about a shared experience
Shared experiences are great to talk about. It might be that you are a crafter or artist and have attended the same market or gallery to show your products. It could be that you attended the same conference, or even went to see the same concert. It doesn’t have to be work-related.
This kind of conversation is great, as you’ve both done the same thing, so conversation flows more easily.
Ask for an opinion
I see people doing this a lot in social media networking groups. You may have a new product or service and would like an opinion on it. It’s a great way to start conversations. People naturally like to help, so if you post your question on social media, you will get plenty of answers…some of those you will be able to message to find out more about what they think.
Show genuine interest
Primarily, and I know I’ve said this several times, be genuinely interested in what people have to say. Actively listen to them, which is focusing completely on the person you’re talking to. Repeat back what they say, so you confirm your understanding.
If you’re talking to someone face to face, for example at a networking event, respect their personal space and don’t get too close. Make eye contact, and smile! But be aware that not everyone likes eye contact, so it could make them uncomfortable. If it’s obvious that they are not interested in talking to you, move on and don’t get offended – you can’t please everyone!
I’m sure that you can come up with loads of ways to strike up a conversation with customers or new contacts…if you have any other suggestions, please put them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.