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.