- Break the Ice - This is the most common stereotype of salesmen, and it is true. Salesmen will chat you up on all sorts of topics from the meeting room to the conference room. It can be as mundane as the weather, maybe even a warm-up to the business discussion.
- Just Get You Talking - You'd be surprised what people will reveal if you just get them talking - talking about anything. Once talking you can bring them where you need them to go, but if they aren't talking at all you can't get them there, and you get people talking by asking questions.
- Get Them To Correct You - This is one of my favorites. Ask something that isn't quite right about the industry, technology or something related to the business: "I heard SuperGlobalTek was in merger talks with ChinaTek?" The customer will jump right in to correct you to show you how smart they are. "They're not? I had it ALL wrong. So tell me what you heard!" And you're off to the races, getting all sorts of juicy tidbits and getting the customer talking. This also works for email by the way, but has to be used judiciously since you create a trail that could come back and bite you.
- Keep Them Off Balance - I actually do this a lot, not so much to keep a customer mentally off balance, but to keep the talks from getting too serious, keep the customer focused on the relationship more than the tactical business issues (i.e. keep the thinking emotional rather than rational). So I am the guy who throws in jokes and sidelines during the serious business back-and-forth. Not a "clown", but rather subtle observational humor that might get a chuckle or a smile.
And everyone thinks we just do it with our winning smile and personality.