Have you ever suddenly realized that you’re in a sales conversation? I don’t mean suddenly realizing that you’re being sold to (we’ve all been there) but suddenly realizing that someone is potentially interested in purchasing from you.

Perhaps you are in a conversation with someone in a non-work setting and they start asking about your company’s offerings. As they keep questioning you, you realize that they’re not just making conversation and don’t just happen to be unusually  interested in your work. Instead, they have a problem and they’re wondering whether you might be able to solve it.

What do you do in this situation? For me, my initial reaction is something like this:

Oh $#!%, I’m in a sales conversation. If I had known this was a sales conversation I would have been more intentional about what I was saying and I would have been talking less and listening more. Crap.

And while my initial reaction is still the same, I’ve experienced enough of these surprises that I now follow this reaction with a new thought: Oh well. If they happen to be interested despite whatever I was previously saying then I’m in a good position.

While all of the above is an internal monologue, the first thing I say aloud is to give a 3-5 sentence summary of my offerings and the high-level problem they solve. Then I start asking questions and listening. I begin with a question like, What are you trying to accomplish that makes you interested in these products?

I then continue with follow-up questions, starting with “why?” I don’t turn it into a full discovery conversation (unless, of course, it’s clear that this is how they want to use the time). If their responses make it seem like there’s a possibility for a good fit, then I ask if they would like to schedule a time to meet to have a longer conversation to discuss their current situation and desired outcomes.

When someone initiates a surprise sales conversation with you, it’s likely because your interactions with them up to that point helped to establish their trust in you. They weren’t concerned that you were going to strong-arm them into a sales conversation.

Perhaps surprise sales conversations don’t happen to the people who believe that you should “always be selling.” For the rest of us, these surprise conversations can be a delightful way to gain new business. We just need to be able to recognize when we’re in this setting, get past the initial shock, and begin asking questions.

Receive Owner's Manual's weekly article in your inbox by subscribing here.