Four Simple Elements of Engaging Conversations

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Four Simple Elements of Engaging Conversations

An engaging and challenging conversation, built on mutual respect, is far more effective in connecting with your reps and customers.


My Gastroenterologist appointment was set for 7:15am.

Despite the time of the day, he was his usual upbeat and talkative self as we discussed some of my intimate bodily functions. Don’t ask.

Thankfully we quickly moved past the questions involving “urgency, frequency, and consistency” (again, don’t ask) and got onto the management and treatment options of my ailment.

As we talked further I noticed that some of the topics we covered really sparked a surge in his energy.  And it was at these high energy points in our conversation that I also had a greater sense of personal connection.

So, in the spirit that we all want to engage and connect with the people we talk with, whether they be your sales representatives, customers, or colleagues, here are 4 ingredients that should be in the mix for every productive conversation.

First, “what’s happening (in the market)?” This is a kind of an informal overview of what’s happening “in the real world” away from the various formal market factors that (eg) journals and marketing provide.

As a sales representative, my customers always asked, “what’s new?” or “what’s happening out there?” My answers were always discreet and maintained confidentiality, but it always struck me that talking about what patterns I noticed or what other customers were seeing in the market always improved my relationship with them.

This is not to be confused with spreading gossip. Everyone exists in some kind of closed-in space and despite technology would rather talk about and explore “what’s happening” than just read about or watch it. At the core of this is the very real human behaviour FOMO… fear of missing out.

So as my Gastro talked about his last clinical meeting with colleagues outside his practice and what they were seeing and how they were treating their patients, he was able to reassure me (and himself) that my colitis severity and treatment plan was on track.

Second, “what’s next?” This is not so much like looking in a crystal ball to get an idea of the future. Rather it’s more, as William Gibson said, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

As a representative, I know my customers liked the fact that I was aware of any trends, and could give them a “heads up,” on anything that could affect their business and their customer relationships.

What often surprized me was how it sparked a conversation around how “satisfied” (or not) they were their current products and procedures. I gained useful insights into how they actually conducted their idiosyncratic brand of business. Insights that I could possibly use to sell my product range.

So as I talked with my Gastro I was also reassured by his knowledge of coming treatment options and trends with current treatments. There’s a kind of comfort knowing that a Plan B is possible, if Plan A falls over.

By the way, my Gastro believes that the inflammation in my large intestine is caused by a bacterial infection. So he’s looking to advances in immunology and microbiology to discover a cure, rather than the standard approach of anti-inflammatory medication. If I was selling in this market this discussion would be gold.

Thirdly, “what are best practices?” This is the more formal, published side of the first question. It includes both evidence-based research and results published in the peer-reviewed publications.

The drawback, as my Gastro explained, is that all that research takes time to be published … its yesterday’s news …. and he has patients sitting in front of him today.

And as a patient, it’s almost a given that my Gastro would be treating and managing me according to best medical practices.

But here’s the thing.

I’ve realised that there are 2 kinds of doctors to avoid: those that don’t follow best practices, and those that only follow best practices.

The same applied to my customers.

So best practice discussions are really an opportunity to respectfully challenge the current thinking of treating and managing their patients or, for my customers, conducting business.

And, as I sat there as a patient, talking about all things bowel, I also challenged him on these best practices. I asked him a question taught to me by a colleague, Sharon Drew Morgen,

“How will you know when it’s time to adopt a different treatment strategy with me?”

He looked at me with the kind of fixed stare that comes from spending hours concentrating on a colonoscopy monitor and smiled.

Our relationship is strong and very professional; he knows I know my stuff and can hold my own in our discussions. His smile broadened and he said, “I know that even the best and brightest practitioners sometimes have difficulty changing their habits.”

What came next was a kind of thinking-out-loud explanation of how he thinks about, and reassesses his treatment options and approaches based on a fusion of these formal and informal findings together with his knowledge of my condition.

He then stopped one drug and upped the dose of the other based, in part, on the update of my signs and symptoms.

Lastly, the point-of-difference. It was 8am when he walked me out to reception, with his arm on my shoulder, saying quietly, “you’re not like any of my other patients. The conversations we have are different. I spend most of my time here basically telling people what to do. Our conversations are surprisingly refreshing.”

The Bottom Line: It’s time to move away from the obvious ego stroking that many people think is the only way to engage, connect, and build a solid relationship with other people.

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