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By Dorothy Leeds

Making the transition from small talk into a full-blown sales discussion is a difficult leap. Even the most seasoned salespeople find it difficult to get from Point A (the small talk) and Point B (the sale). According to Dorothy Leeds, author of PowerSpeak and the upcoming The Seven Powers of Questions, if you plan carefully, you can make it work to your advantage. To do this, try these techniques:

  • Avoid small talk altogether. With some prospects – especially those dominant driver individuals – you don’t even have to engage in small talk. These are the people who like to get to the point and who want just the facts. You can usually tell these people a mile away and after a few sales calls with them, you should be able to pick up on their personality and whether they like small talk. If they don’t, skip it.
  • Set up the “agenda.” Begin your call with letting your customer know what you want to talk about: “The reason for my call today was to see how things are going and to see if what I have to offer suits your needs.” This approach makes it easier to make the transition, because you are setting it up. You are telling the prospect that you want to hear about her, but that’s not the only reason for your call. When you do make the transition, ask a smart question. Questions are the easiest way to control a sale and a helpful transitional tool.
  • Make the concluding statement and ask your opening question. A transition, after all, is the bridge between ending one thing and starting another. Therefore, an easier transition is made by ending the small talk. For example, “John, I’m so glad everything is going well for your family and I know everything will go okay with your new house.” This summarizes what you were talking about (letting him know you were listening), plus ends the small talk. Now’s the time to move into your sale talk.
  • Use what is being said in the small talk. This technique works great if you plan well, or if you are just quick on your feet. Use the subject matter of the small talk to transition into the sale. For example, imagine your prospect is an avid golfer and on your next call, the small talk is about his latest trip to the course. When you are ready to move on into the sale ask, “So, Fred, some of your competitors think we made a hole-in-one with our newest model. Why do you think that is?”

Small talk is tricky, but remember this: The prospect knows why you’re there. Very rarely will she think you are making a social call. Be polite and interested, because you want to build a relationship with this person, but don’t let the small talk take over the call. Remember: Questions are a great transition, since they give the salesperson the control


Listening is a often talked about skill, but few know what to do about it. According to Dorothy Leeds, author of the upcoming The Seven Powers of Questions, listening is often ignored because it is not quantitative – in other words, there are no reward programs praising the “top listeners.” But, it is essential to selling – how else do you know what your customer needs and wants. It is up to each individual to begin to listen better. Leeds recommends three keys to improving your own listening and, in turn, improving your sales.

  • Review and summarize. After a prospect has stated a feeling, an objection, or a belief to you, repeat what she said in your own words. Try to condense what she said and tell her what information you gleamed from it. And then ask, “Is this correct?’
  • Listen for what isn’t being said. Sound backwards? It isn’t. For example, your client is praising your product and says how great everything about it is – but, she doesn’t say a word about price. This speaks volumes and you should question her about her feelings about the price. As any good psychotherapist knows, what people leave out is sometimes the most important.
  • Listen like a teacher. A teacher has to explain many things. When you are listening, listen with the intent that you will have to describe everything that was said to someone who knows nothing about the subject. When you do this, you will find yourself asking a lot of clarifying questions, because you need to understand everything. This is the best way to listen.

Listening well offers you many benefits and when you don’t listen well, you are missing out on opportunities to make the sale. Questioning and listening are the most important tools in making a sale. And, remember, like love and marriage, they should go hand in hand.


The opening of your sales presentation is your appetizer; it is not meant to satisfy but to whet the appetites of your listeners. According to Dorothy Leeds, author of PowerSpeak and the upcoming The Seven Powers of Questions, getting attention is the key task of any opening, but it’s not the extent of your opening’s responsibilities. It is also the most important part of your talk, since first impressions are unfortunately long lasting. People are willing to give you a chance, if you don’t let them down. Here are some criteria for a powerful opening whether you are talking to one or many:

  • Build a bridge between what went on before and what is to come – your presentation. That’s why people thank the introducer or refer back to previous speakers.
  • Let the audience know your purpose and objectives.
  • Let the audience know you are in control. Give directions as to when you will take questions or when you will pass around handouts.
  • Let the people in the audience know you are glad to be with them. They should feel that you would be no other place but right there speaking to them. This is often done by your body language. You should smile and walk toward the audience or customer. Use direct eye contact. Connect with everyone in your audience.
  • Do not turn off or dim the lights until you’ve built a connection to your listeners.
  • Build realistic expectations of what is to follow. Be careful about starting with a great joke you’ve practiced and then going into a list of facts and figures; your audience will feel let down.
  • Give the listeners confidence in you. Show them how they will profit from and enjoy what you are about to say.

Hook your listeners at the outset, and you’re well on your way to winning the battle for their attention. As with everything, practice your opening extensively – never wing it. At the very least, you will have aroused enough curiosity that they will want to see what comes next.

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

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