Even the most outgoing people struggle when it comes to making small talk with people they barely know. Especially when that small talk is just killing time before you ask for something—and mostly that something is money.
Luckily, we at The Muse know a thing or two about chatting up clients in a way that makes them excited to pick up the phone and talk to you.
Do Your Research
Make sure you go into every new conversation with a few small talk options beyond the generic stuff. Think about information they’ve provided you in the past about their hobbies or familes, or if necessary, stalk their social media. And do it in a way that’s not at all sketchy.
For example, let’s say you’re looking at my LinkedIn profile before your first call with me. You could talk about similar interests: “I saw in your bio you’re into yoga. I took my first yoga class last week and it was amazing!”
Or, you might notice where I went to school: “I don’t mean to be creepy but I noticed you went to Colgate University—did you happen to overlap with [Person’s Name]?”
Or, you might come across my recent activity: “I saw your company was just featured on one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative’ lists—congratulations! Did your office celebrate at all?”
(Obviously do not say something like, “I checked out your Facebook profile and from what I can see from your privacy settings, your kids are super cute.”)
Avoid Opening With Business
Why? For one thing, it’s disrespectful. It shows you care more about closing a deal and hitting your own goals than you care about the client’s needs and interests. And yes, I know that at the end of the day, you’re not spending time with this person for fun. But in the same way you wouldn’t walk into an interview and start with, “Here’s a list of the skills that make me qualified…” you have to ease into the conversation.
In addition, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to build a stronger, longer-lasting relationship. You may think you only need to get them to like you now, but who knows what this relationship could lead to? Maybe they move on to another company and you find yourself having to resell to them. Or, maybe you’re looking to find a new job and they could serve as a great reference. Consider the long-term and put real effort into your small talk.
With that said…
Keep it Professional
Like I said, this is ultimately a meeting about business, so make sure you’re being appropriate. Hint: Avoid bringing up anything that’s incredibly personal or controversial (oh, and read this article if you’ve ever struggled with this).
Go Generic When All Else Fails
If the person’s still not opening up to you—say, they only said a quick “good” when you asked how their weekend was—you have my permission to pull out the basics. And by basics, I’m talking about the weather. It can be as simple as saying, “It’s pouring rain here, but I hear it’s going to get nicer later in the week so I’m looking forward to going to the park this weekend!”
Anna Fajkowski, a senior account manager at The Muse, loves to ask her clients, “What would you be doing today if you didn’t have to go into work?” This breaks them out of their shell a bit and helps you get to know their personality a bit more.