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Practice Management > Building Your Business

The Myth of “Small Talk”

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Sales experts have long touted the value of establishing rapport with prospects before moving into the sales conversation. This exercise includes looking around a prospect’s office to determine points of conversation or areas of commonality and then making small talk in order to bond with the prospect.

Recently, I suggested that salespeople should not use valuable sales time to engage people in social chit-chat. Not surprisingly, I received comments and emails from people who disagreed with me. And that’s OK.

But why are so many people stuck on this concept? There was a time when this strategy was extremely valid, useful and effective. However, decision makers in today’s hectic business world are far too busy to waste valuable time on social chit-chat. They honestly don’t care if you have something in common with them. And they certainly see through your attempts to use photos and awards to better connect with them.

If you really want to establish rapport with busy prospects, then get to the point of your meeting as quickly as you can. Or, ask them a question or two about their business.

A few weeks ago, I met with a new prospect and, as I was taking a seat in his office, I made a simple comment about the upcoming expansion of his business. This prompted him to tell me about the company’s plans and gave me additional insight into his situation. We were developing rapport, but it was not based on small talk or social chit-chat but something pertinent to our meeting.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. For example:

  • If you are waiting for other people to arrive, small talk is usually necessary. After all, you don’t want to sit there in complete silence. Not only would that be uncomfortable, you would probably be perceived as being a dork.
  • If several people are present and introductions are being made, there may be opportunities to engage some of them in social chit-chat. Be sensitive to the time and avoid spending too much time on pleasantries.

Is there a time and place for rapport-building conversation? Absolutely!

It just isn’t the same as it used to be. The key is to be selective and recognize when it makes sense to engage in small talk. Don’t do it just because you think it is the best way to open the sales conversation. Focus on the objective of the meeting first, get down to business quickly and, when you’re finished, initiate a personal conversation.

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Kelley Robertson helps sales professionals master their sales conversations so they can win more business at higher profits. Get a free copy of “100 Ways to Increase Your Sales” and “Sales Blunders That Cost You Money” at


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