Learning How to Move the Conversation

Learning How to Move the Conversation

Recently, I have been at many discovery calls with clients. They are getting the meetings with decision makers, but need support on an initial few actual discovery calls. They need to shift their thinking from “sell them my sponsorship package” to “understand their needs and build them a program that meets those needs.” In simple terms, shift from selling product to supplying solutions.

Lately, I have been focused on laying the groundwork with clients to move the conversion where we want it to go. The problem is that all of us tend to start the conversation in the wrong place. We talk about us instead of listening to them! We need only to ask questions and then listen to learn!

Here is what I am talking about. Perhaps you work for a sports team, an environmental organization, or healthcare charity. Typically, I am seeing us go into the room talking about “our topic.” (Our clients are pretty good. We have gotten them to stop talking about themselves and their organization specifically, but they still talk about their sector!) So as a healthcare charity, we lead the conversation by talking about healthcare issues and healthcare overall. If we are an environmental organization, we talk about climate change or old growth logging. If we are a sport organization, we talk about our sport such as hockey and what is happening (World Cup, Stanley Cup, the new PWHPA league, etc.) at the moment. We talk about our own area of professional interest. We try to shorten the discussion to get to what is important to us (because we are still just thinking of ourselves), which is our sector, be it sport, municipalities, charities, or whatever. We need to shift from that to talk about what is important to the prospect, and then bring it back to our professional area of interest down the line. If you don’t know what the prospect cares about, speak about general topics.

Let me explain further. If you are in the prospect’s office, maybe they have memorabilia or pictures of things they are interested in, such as a sports team, alma mater, family, personal achievements, etc. Talk about those and then bring the conversation back to you down the road. If it is a Zoom call, look at their background (fake or real) and talk about that. What do you see on the shelves? Make the conversation about them, build rapport and trust versus jumping right in about you and your area of interest.

Once the conversation is free flowing, take it to your area of interest. Perhaps the prospect loves the Montreal Canadiens Hockey Club (don’t we all?) and you are a green organization focused on carbon emissions. Talk about Montreal, move it to the Seattle Kraken and the Climate Pledge Arena to transition into carbon emissions. You can move to the topic by getting their insights into it before you speak from your perspective and a sponsorship alignment to it. Don’t start by talking about carbon emissions. Talk about what is important to them. Perhaps you are with a mental health organization doing a phone call discovery and you cannot see the background or office of your prospect to grab a topic starter. Start with current affairs such as the pandemic (semi-current), the election, or weather. Get into that topic (say, the pandemic) and ask how it affected the prospect personally (their kid graduated without a ceremony or their mother passed away alone in a facility) or their business (they exploded with new customers, lost a ton of money, or they are now having hard times due to lack of staff, etc.) All of this will free flow into a great discussion—not about sponsorship, but things that matter to them. Then flow it to your topic. Ask if they sought counselling or help to deal with mental stress due to their loss and not being able to be there, and how that worked or didn’t. Ask them about the stress levels on staff and then segue into mental health and your organization.

The key is not to start with your topic of professional interest. Start somewhere else and “naturally” move to that topic in a casual flow of discussion. Don’t make it forced or forceful. Then the conversation will flow better, and by the time you are into your topic, they won’t even know it. You will be able to talk without sounding like you are cheerleading for your cause, but rather addressing their concerns and areas of interest.

If you are interested in learning more about discovery sessions and how to gain the information you need to build an effective sponsorship program, register today for the WSC – Alberta Forum.  At this event, you will engage with and learn from leaders who see the new world and are making it happen!

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  1. Useful tools for sure! We have all had those somewhat awkward first-meetings (myself included).

    Had to comment after you included the HABS in a TMC! Well-played, sir!

  2. Go Habs!!


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