Turning Conversation into Client Relationships

What I’m reading: In One Person by John Irving
What’s on the iPod: Wild Angels by Martin Sexton

Not long ago, a couple came to our door. They were Jehovah’s Witness followers, and since I have known some followers, I invited them in. I served them tea and we started chatting.

The husband/wife team were there to recruit me, naturally, but instead they served as an excellent example of how important the approach is.

The husband was new to the religion. Maybe it was his newness or maybe he was just an all-business kind of guy, but he launched right into his spiel (no offense to JWs, but his was a spiel). No getting to know me, no breath in between sentences–just a recitation of what sounded like an elevator speech loaded with focus. It felt as though his only goal was to recruit me, and once on topic, there was no stopping him.

The wife was born into the religion. Maybe that’s why she was more content with my trying to have a conversation with them about various religious views. She smiled, engaged, sat back calmly and listened, and interjected personal stories of her own that were not about recruiting me (mostly about her pets and her wedding).

At one point, she and I had a great conversation going about various views of religion. It was almost jarring to then have her husband butt into the conversation and try pushing, almost forcibly, our conversation back to his intended mission — to get me on board.

They came back a few times after that, and I did welcome them in, though each time the husband was just as pushy and unbending in trying to reach his goal. In truth, had he come back alone, I’d have sent him packing. The only reason they were invited in was because his wife was interested in dialogue, not diatribe.

There’s a lesson in that.

When we writers approach new clients, the goal is often to convince them to hire us. So what happens next? In my own experience, contacting 50 clients a month may result in two of them wanting more information.

It’s time to shift the focus and the message.

Like the wife in my anecdote, we writers can bring clients to our side before they ever hire us.

Don’t make it all about business. Lighten up and have a conversation instead. Imagine someone at a trade show who’s been standing in a booth for three days. You come by, start a conversation, and tell them about your services. The person takes your card and asks how the show has been going for you, but you keep selling –“Have you considered a blog? How old is your brochure? I can refresh that sales sheet for you.” Instead of letting the conversation take shape naturally, you forced your agenda. And you’ve lost your prospect’s interest.

Network, don’t sell. It’s so tempting to say “I do this, and I can help you this way — are you interested?” It could be a few people are interested, but if you give them time to know you, your network could become a healthy go-to source for projects. When you do make a contact, make it count — for them. Give them something of value that also helps them remember you. If your network remembers you as the writer who sends out a great marketing newsletter, whose name do you think comes to mind when they need someone like you?

Ask for their ideas. One contact in my network would call me with articles he said I should be writing. He was right, too. One of those articles generated a huge conversation with the audience. The editors were thrilled, and I scored major awesomeness points thanks to my late contact’s idea. Don’t be afraid to ask people you’re meeting if there’s any topic they’re particularly interested in reading about. By doing so, you’ve brought them to your side and shown them you’re easy to collaborate with. And they’ll remember that you valued their opinion.

Ask a smart question. Nothing makes you more memorable to a new contact (or an existing one) than having a conversation about something that affects them. What’s challenging for your business right now? Where do you think [topic of the day] is heading? How do you think [industry trend] will change business as usual? Get them talking and join the conversation with your own ideas or follow-up questions.

Send a news item. I like to send a link to something the client and I have discussed that appears in the news. I include a little banter about it, or I ask what they think about it.

Writers, how do you turn the conversation into a business relationship?
What method works best for you?
Have you seen a difference in the length of relationships for those you didn’t start out selling to versus those you have?

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  • Paula March 26, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    When will salespeople learn that no one likes the hard sell?

    But there is one thing you have to watch out for when building relationships: getting so friendly they expect a lower rate.

    One friend of mine (the narcissist) is a customer who tries to sweet talk salesmen and service people into lower rates. Perhaps sometimes it works, but it's usually all in her head. She said the (younger, married) salesman she bought her car from was "courting" her by taking her to lunch. I said, "Yeah, only he was courting a sale, not you." It proves flattery is a good sales tool. She also says he gave her a 0% interest loan because they really hit it off. Um, I think her 800+ credit score is probably what got her the 0% percent auto loan.

  • Lori Widmer March 26, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Paula, that's funny. Sounds like someone really is that self-involved to think she's being flattered. Hilarious. 🙂

    I remember a woman who came to my house twenty years ago. She was selling pre-packaged steaks and meat products — in farm country. She was all charm and compliments until we said no. Then she slammed her briefcase lid closed and huffed out the door with barely a goodbye.

    Foolish — if she ever got another job in sales, there's no way I'd buy anything from someone like that.

  • Meryl K. Evans March 26, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    You know those long-form copy landing pages? (Salesy, yellow highlights.) I wrote one for a client. It's not that he loves it — but we're testing it against a shorter version. Never understood why those see high conversion rates. They make me click away. Can't wait to see the outcome of the test.

  • Lori Widmer March 26, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Let me know how it goes, Meryl! I've never been attracted to those, either.