The Critical Moment
Many people struggle with how to open a business conversation with a new person or prospects. Lets assume for the moment that you have solved that puzzle and are now actually engaged in a conversation, whether in person, on the phone or via email. Typically little thought is given to how to close a business conversation. Yet, this is a critical moment. Done with a little thought you set up the next conversation and deepen your business relationships with prospects and networking contacts. Before you say, “Thank you for taking so much time to speak with me.”(or whatever phrase you use to close a conversation), you must set up the next conversation with your prospects and networking contacts.
If you are in a networking situation, you have already determined that the person you are speaking with has interests in common with you. After all, as good networkers have we have developed skills at politely closing conversations with people with whom there are no common points of interest. For example, if you are an engineer and meet a mortgage broker at a networking event, you know that this person is not worth more than a polite smile and a swift exit, “Nice meeting you and good luck with the rest of the evening.” On the other hand, if you meet a person whose business or technology interests match up in some way with yours, you will have a brief chat during which you will ask them an open ended question to get them to tell you something that will fill out what they are up to. Then you will respond and establish your credibility with a good story about a project you are working on or have worked on, or some other engaging bit of technical content. At this point, as an experienced networker you will probably be pushed to close the business conversation because there are more people for you to meet at the event. But you have two tasks to accomplish before saying thanks.
The First Close in Networking
First, you want to establish a follow up time and method to continue your conversation. “Gee, this sounds really interesting. I’d like to talk further with you about this. When can we get together? What’s best for you, coffee next week or a telephone call?” Almost always they will say yes. Now is the time to establish a time. “When is a good time?” So now you have done the first and most important part of closing this sort of business conversation.
The Second Close in Networking
Time for the second part of the closing. You undoubtedly know people who have the same interests and you can say, “I know so and so who you should meet”. Your interlocutor will almost always be glad to learn their names and this gives you an opportunity to make these connections. Then you can ask, “Are there other people you know who you think I should meet?” Sometimes this will lead immediately to someone else who is in the room right now. Or, they will answer in the affirmative and you can then get a commitment for a follow up email or telephone call to capture these new contacts.
Prospects present a different situation for the close of conversations. Generally, conversations with prospects are about some problem they have that they need help in solving (of course you need to be sure to qualify the problem as real and requiring immediate or near term solution). Without going into the complete taxonomy of this class of business conversations, the close of these conversations must include a commitment to continue the discussion. You must get a date and method for you to reconvene with your prospects. (Remember that you are never selling in this phase of business development – the conversation is all about the problem, never about your solutions) Even in situations where the problem is ill-defined or they are already talking with another party, ask for a time when you can contact them again. This next contact may be to talk further about what the problem really is or to just check in that they are making progress in solving the problem. The former situation is obviously more interesting because if you help them define the problem you will very likely be invited to the party. But even where you are not part of solving the immediate issue, your interest will be remembered. This further bonds you together. your prospects will become much more productive
Follow up is incredibly important. Follow up to both networking and prospects the next day, not next week. This step in follow up is an email that thanks them again for the conversation or meeting and reminds them that you agreed to contact them again at some specific point in the future and what the purpose of that business conversation will be. If you mentioned people they should meet, give them the contact information again. Let them know that you have alerted your contacts to expect a call or email from them. Again, do this immediately, not next week. If you follow up immediately they will always read your email. After all they met you just the day before and they will want to know what this message is about. In a week or two weeks they may have forgotten you or at the least the urgency will not be there.
Photo credit: The Conversation by William McElcheran (photo by Danielle Scott [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons)