Don’t waste time in bad conversations

Ever feel stuck in a customer conversation that is going nowhere? Let’s fix that.
Check yourself
The first thing to consider is whether or not this conversation is really a drag because there is no mutual exchange of value to be had or if you’re just checked out. Moms and third grade teachers everywhere were right, attitude is extremely important. It will color how you view conversations, people, and events. The world is a more interesting place if you can adopt a positive attitude about what others might have to offer. You can meet really interesting people in the most unexpected places. I recently made friends with a national sales director for an outdoor company merely by being friendly on a flight that sat us next to each other. One of the guys I cold emailed for Whitetail Scout turned out to be a prolific tycoon that built a railroad company in Brazil, had an Ivy League background, and just happened to be in the deer business as an amusement in retirement. He also lived within an hour’s drive. That is just shy of next door in Texas. If you have a lot of people that want to talk to you (good for you) you should try especially hard here. At some point you were on the less important/famous side of those interactions. The golden rule still applies.
Stay polite
You never know when the tables might turn, your business might pivot, or an uninteresting prospect becomes the perfect prospect. I recently heard someone give the advice that you should never be mean to anyone. There is no good that can come of it. I tend to agree. Be nice. Stay classy. It makes you more likable and more marketable.
So, what do you do to politely exit a conversation that is dead on arrival through no fault of your preparation or attitude?
Schedule things with an out
One tactic to get out of bad conversations is to schedule anything that has risk into a tight window. Make 15 minute appointments. Schedule it a few minutes before another meeting, lunch, or the end of the day. This gives you two outs. One is the obvious maximum time commitment cap. The other out is to be able to say, “Wow, there is more here to X than we can cover in Y minutes…” The next sentence might be “Let’s reschedule some time to handle that later. Did you have any other brief topics to address?” or “…so let’s focus on <other subject> for the time we have left.”
I don’t tend to offer to reschedule conversations I don’t want to have, but often changing the subject is enough to save the conversation. I wouldn’t lie to anyone about follow-up. Pick an approach that fits the situation.
Stay in the driver’s seat
My advisor for my PhD work was a young professor that came to our department while I was there. The introductory training for professors taught them this tactic to avoid time-wasting conversations. The primary aim for the professors is to control physical conversations and the main tactic is to stand in the doorway to your office. You lose control if the students walk in and sit.
The tele-equivalent here is to be prepared with a list of questions and keep in control of the conversation. Ask questions that target only what you are interested in and don’t be afraid to gently direct people back to the primary line of questioning, “…that is a great story. How did it figure in to <problem> in your business?”
You aren’t the only beautiful and unique snowflake
If you think the prospect has nothing left to offer you, then close the interview. There is no reason you need to ask every question to every prospect. In fact, you should order your script to qualify leads as quickly as possible. When you find someone you can’t help, be honest. “Oh, you guys use X for distribution? I’m afraid that we can only support Y at the moment. Can I follow-up with you as we add that feature?” They don’t want to waste time either. Most conversations are mutually unsatisfying once they are broken.
If you use these tactics together, I bet you won’t find yourself in many useless conversations. If you do, you should improve the quality of your leads and list generation.

Cold Email that Gets Answered

An excerpt from my cold calling book


All most people will see is the ‘To:’ and ‘Subject:’ lines. Make them good.

Your subject should be terse and free of useless words. Be specific and summarize the email. If the email includes a deadline or a date, then put it in the subject. You can use subjects to interest the reader but not to create the promise of things that are not there. Much of the advice about writing a good headline also applies here.

If you have something to sell, you should use the headline to make a value offer that they find interesting. If you just want to talk to them, you can do the same if you have an offer to make. If there isn’t a value offer or resource you have fewer options. I usually go with honesty in the best light I can.

If I want to talk to dentists about problems in the dental industry I’m going to research enough to write a specific headline that shows I’ve done the homework. I may try a few different specifics in the subjects I send out and figure out which ones strike a chord with people. You won’t get statistically significant data, but you can pick up on how they react. Repeat what works and continue to experiment.

Start a blog: Interview <Business Name> for <Blog Name>

The blog might be a place to feature businesses or a collection of posts about how businesses in the industry handle best practices.

Write a report: 7 Ways to Improve X in <business>

Be honest and specific: Chat about handling <problem> in <business>

Name drop: Jackie Brown said to ask you about <topic>

Don’t start the conversation with a bad subject.

Lazy: talk about problems in your business

Bad blind sales: Dentistry Practice Software

Feels false: Double your business today!

Follow up like Gravity

I had a physics professor in college that started every class by pushing everything on the table in front of the chalkboard off the far edge. He usually did it all in a rush. After the clattering science equipment settled, he would say, “Still works. Gravity is relentless.” Email requires that you are relentless. You should do so at 7-10 days without a response and then every thirty days after that. Use, boomerang, or similar tools to help keep you on schedule. The prospects might get annoyed in the first couple months, but they get over it. You will get some respect for tenacity and you might catch them when they have a free moment. The cold email game is a battle for hitting the inbox at a time when you can get a response. If an email is more than a couple days old, the chances are that it won’t get attention. You can use major mailing list service providers like Aweber or Mailchimp to see your own email statistics, I have included some common rates for a few industries in a table below.

Type of Company Open Rate Click Rate
Business and Finance 15.47% 2.77%
Software and Web App 15.57% 2.49%
Retail 17.80% 2.41%




Data from MailChimp:


If you enjoyed this excerpt, you should check out the cold calling book.