When I began in professional sales, one of the first training sessions I attended talked about the importance of being aware, informed, and doing something called a content interview or a 10 second interview. The concept was to look around a prospect’s office to identify discussion points from pictures on their desks or certificates on their wall. This would allow you to build rapport during what many sales people call “jelly beaning” or “chewing the fat”.

What would really happen is that you would waste 5 or 10 minutes talking about something that would not help you in understanding the person’s motivation or goals. You learned nothing that would connect your solution to their need or future. Then after 10 minutes, you would abruptly change gears and try to offer the benefits of your organization and have to rush at the end to gain commitment or another appointment.

One of the greatest challenges for any meeting is how to get the conversation started. In a sales or fundraising, you want to get to know or understand the person and organization in front of you. In today’s world, knowledge is abundant. Thanks to Google, LinkedIn, and FaceBook information is everywhere. As valuable as knowing something about your prospect before you meet with them is, you do not want to miss the opportunity to engage the person to understand them.

As I became seasoned in outside sales, I learned that there was plenty to talk about just by the fact you have an appointment with a decision maker. A colleague of mine explained that one had to earn the right to ask personal stuff OR for the business. You earn that right by being a professional, and engaging the person on their professional level. As a fundraiser, even if you are meeting with a donor in their home, instead of asking about a kid’s soccer picture, you ask about how they achieved their current position and what made them a success. Instead of asking about their college experience, ask about their role in the community. Instead of comparing vacation stories, ask about where they see their role in the future.

Instead of loosing time on niceties that have little to do with your organization, the person you met with just told you about what they considered success to be and what motivates them and what their goals are. Now you have information that you can mirror to your organization. You can discuss success in their terms and tie the organization’s goals to the donor’s goals for their community.

It takes only a few key questions. Most important though is to listen and to focus on what is being said, not trying to figure out your next question. The only way accomplish this is by practicing these professional rapport building questions that focus on personal success, community vision, future impact/ growth, and their role.

Be engaging and have a professional conversation.

Don’t ask about the soccer picture, Engage professionally.
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