Your 60 Seconds Are Up

 I remember it like it was yesterday.  September, 2004 and I had a 45-minute meeting with the EVP and head of commercial real estate at one of America’s largest banks.  When I walked into his office I glanced around and saw on his wall a backlit display containing a Boston Marathon bib, a Finisher’s Medal, and a newspaper article, something like “Local Man Runs Boston Marathon.”

For years I have been training salespeople in this simple concept, that to succeed in sales calling you have to positively differentiate yourself against your competition, and one thing your competitors often do, because they aren’t prepared to sell professionally, is make a lot of small talk with their prospects—“I see you play golf,” pointing to a golf trophy on the desk.

I also hear this in training programs or read about it in sales literature, “Engage your prospect on a personal level,” and because of this many salespeople believe this gives them permission to waste a lot of valuable time in small talk.

But if you are really thinking like your customer, you should know that this time-waster is exactly what your prospect does NOT want.  Often your prospect is a salesperson too, and he or she is waiting for you to demonstrate how professional you are, ask meaningful questions, point out trends and risks for his industry, or immediately add value in some other way.  Just please, don’t point at the picture of his family and comment on how beautiful they are. The prospect already knows that.

So on that day I practiced what I preach, ignored the display and stuck to my agenda.  We got a lot covered in this tightly scheduled meeting and after thanking him and getting up to leave, we had this conversation:

(I pointed to the display) “I see you ran the Boston Marathon this year.  Good for you.”

“Thanks.  My wife made that for me.  It was my first Boston and I was pretty excited about it.”

“You should be if you ran it this year.  It was awfully hot wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but how did you know it was hot?”

“Oh, I was there too, mid-eighties, brutal.”

And on that note, the client followed me back to the office I was using in the corporate tower, talked to me about distance running for another 45 minutes, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

So the next time you think you’re building rapport by making small talk at the front end of the call, try differentiating yourself by sticking to your agenda in a professional, business-like way, and add the small talk to the end of the call instead.  If it has any value, your client will continue to chat with you, and if it doesn’t you will soon be out the door.

It’s just another tip to help you

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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