Redefining the ‘Sales Conversation’: How to Get Sales Leads From Offhand Remarks

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One of the common misconceptions of the sales process is that sales can only happen during formal “sales conversations” that are specifically scheduled and focused toward sales. It’s true that every sales organization needs to have an organized sales process, a sales funnel, and a strategy for working customers through the various stages of the buyer’s journey—but another underrated truth is that sometimes sales opportunities will emerge from unexpected conversations. Some of the best sales opportunities can come by just going deeper into a seemingly unrelated conversation with a business contact or a sales prospect or an existing customer.

The best salespeople don’t just make cold calls or initiate new “sales conversations”—they know how to spot opportunities and listen carefully to go deeper into everyday opportunities that emerge from casual conversations. Sometimes when we’re talking with people in a business setting, they will make a casual remark or an offhand statement that reveals more about their underlying business needs.

Here are a few examples of remarks people make that, without their realizing it or meaning to, can often represent the start of a deeper sales conversation.

“Our supplier hasn’t been pulling its weight lately.”

Sometimes one of your existing customers, sales prospects, or just a colleague or contact at another company might casually mention that they are not very happy with their current supplier or vendor. This is an opportunity! Without being overly aggressive or bad-mouthing that supplier, try to ask some follow-up questions about the situation—find out what the supplier is doing wrong, what needs to happen to improve the situation, and what is the root cause of the unhappiness. You might uncover an opportunity to bid on a new piece of business—or suggest alternative solutions to fix the customer’s problem.

“Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you; we’ve been having systems issues and I’m working lots of overtime.”

If you’ve been trying to reach a sales prospect for a while now and they’re not showing up for sales appointments or not returning your calls, it might be (paradoxically) a good sign! Especially if they mention being overworked recently due to technical issues or issues with their operations—there might be a chance here for you to sell them on a better solution. Find out more details—ask about their systems, ask about the technical issues they’re having, find out what effect the issues are having on operations. And then be prepared to offer a way to help improve their operations—with the solution you sell.

“Everyone’s on pins and needles here—we might be getting a new boss.”

Times of great uncertainty often bring big sales opportunities. If you have a prospect or contact who seems to be worried about some internal change or reorganization happening at the company, that could be a sign that your solutions and services will be needed soon. This situation must be handled carefully, however. Be sensitive to the prospect’s immediate worries—he might be worried about losing his own job, or he might be preoccupied about the impact of a new boss or a new org structure on his immediate team and his daily work. So don’t act jubilant or overly excited—but it’s fine to go deeper into this conversation by expressing sympathy and offering to help if you can. Sometimes just being a friendly ear for a prospect can help you learn more about what’s really going on at the prospect’s organization—and it’s always time well spent to establish trust and build stronger relationships that lead to future sales.

We’ve been having a hard time getting contractors to bid on this project.”

Usually the sales business is portrayed as a never-ending chase for customers, but sometimes it works in the opposite direction—sometimes buyers can’t find good contractors or vendors, and sometimes there are reasons why they’re struggling. If you ever hear someone mention that they’re having trouble finding good suppliers, use this as a chance to go deeper. Ask about their bid process, ask about the project scope, offer to take a look at the situation and offer advice. Sometimes great suppliers and contractors just don’t have the bandwidth to take on new projects, but sometimes a company might not be well informed on the best way to work with suppliers—the buyer might be driving people away without intending to. (Or you might learn that the customer’s expectations are unreasonable and their project scope is too poorly defined, or the projected budget is too low—sometimes there is a reason why companies can’t find good help.)

Bottom line? Don’t neglect the value of casual conversations and offhand remarks when you’re talking with people in your everyday business life. Listen carefully to the hidden subtext of what people are saying; people don’t usually come right out and say absolutely everything that is on their minds—they often are more reticent than that. But sometimes people reveal more than they intended. Those are the conversations where you have an opportunity as a salesperson to be a good listener and to open up the conversation for further details. Probe for pain. Go deeper into these conversations and really get to know the prospect and uncover more about what problems they’re having in their business operations and what solutions they really need for their business. Some of the simplest conversations can lead to your most expansive business opportunities.

Gregg Schwartz is the vice president of sales at Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation companies for B2B major account lead generation and appointment setting services. He leads his firms content marketing and SEO strategies.

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