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The art of schmoozing
April 6, 2011 11:34 AM   Subscribe

My company is hosting a private convention for clients next week, and my assigned tasks are to 1) attend all sessions and 2) chat up clients as much as possible. I could use some pointers on how to do the latter.

I feel incredibly dumb having to ask this, but having never been in a client-facing position and being relatively new to the company has me feeling tongue-tied already. I've only been at my job for a few months and am still learning all the ins and outs about the company itself, the industry, and our client base.

So, with those limitations in mind, how do I best mingle and chat with clients about whom I know very little? What kinds of questions can I ask them without coming off as a total ignoramus? How can I carry my end of the conversation when I'm not sure I'll know enough about what they're talking about to respond intelligently?

My company is in consumer and market research, if that's relevant. Any suggestions gratefully accepted!
posted by anderjen to Work & Money (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
//I've only been at my job for a few months and am still learning all the ins and outs about the company itself, the industry, and our client base.//

And asking the customers about their businesses, what they do, how they help their clients, what your company can better to help them etc. will be a brilliant crash course in getting up to speed. So just ask lots of questions and let the customer talk.
posted by COD at 11:57 AM on April 6, 2011


50% of business conversations are (IMO) playing a drawn out version of 6 degrees of separation. It's basically a game and the object is to find a third party (person or institution) that both of you know.

In order to play this game, you have to suss out some relevant details from a person: "what brings you to this conference?", "who do you usually work with in our organization?", "why did you choose this session/speech?". If your speaking with a new or potential client, just change the questions where appropriate: "how did you hear about us?", for example. Likewise, you have to proffer information that might help the other person find a connection with you.

Sometimes this is a very short transaction "I joined 3 weeks ago to help John the CFO on new business", "Oh sure, I know John". Sometimes it takes much longer.

By finding a mutual connection, ideally an authority of some kind, you both vouch for each other and signal that you are part of a larger community. You are also signaling that you 'belong' in the room/at the event/etc. and put the other party at ease. It sounds dumb given that you are are a conference of clients, but it's an important mating dance and will put you and the client at ease.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:19 PM on April 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


How to work a room (pdf).

Also: How to work a room (completely different content).
posted by alms at 12:25 PM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you haven't, read "How to win friends and influence people" it will go a long way to making yourself more like a salesman (in a good way).
posted by SirOmega at 1:56 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


First of all, recognize that everyone there is there to chat and schmooze. So feel absolutely comfortable to walk up to people, introduce yourself, and ask an icebreaker question. e.g. "Did you find that last session interesting?" "What brings you to the conference?" or "Have you tried the pigs in a blanket yet? They're fantastic!"

Ask lots of questions...everyone loves to talk about themselves. If people ask you questions, don't be afraid to admit you don't know the answer. Just say "That's a good question. Let me get your card and have Person X get back to you. He/she will be able to go into more detail than I will." Or something similar.

Remember that 90% of the people at the event are bored silly and desperately hoping for interesting conversation on something - anything! Discovering a shared interest with a client is a brilliant way to establish a rapport. So's shared grousing about a bad session, or whatever.

Also, feel free to play up the "I'm new" angle. People love to feel like experts, and educate you about what they do/what they need from your company, etc.

I say this from experience, and as someone who HATES networking with a fiery, burning passion: the only thing that will make this experience miserable is if you don't make an effort to start conversations. Just make that effort, and everything else will work out from there.
posted by psycheslamp at 3:33 PM on April 6, 2011


Seconding Dale Carnegie's famous book "How to Win Friends and Influence People"
Everything you need is in that book.
posted by Flood at 5:11 PM on April 6, 2011


Wow, thank you, guys. I feel a lot better about this already. It seems so simple now that I've read your responses, but I was really drawing a blank before. I haven't read HTWFAIP yet but I'll be picking up a copy as soon as I can.

alms, that second article is great. "He tilts his head like my shih tzu and gets all sorts of credit for being a great listener" gave me a genuine LOL moment.
posted by anderjen at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2011


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