How to Make a Stranger a Client

There's an urban legend about a San Francisco art gallery showing high ticket art. The gallery maintains an array of photos of select Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who can afford the paintings. If any of them visit the gallery, the staff is on alert to try to engage them. What are you doing to engage people you might want as clients?

Let's say you're attending a charity event: it could be a major gala or a simple fundraiser at your children's school. The room may be full of potential clients—how do you connect with someone?

Observation. You study them for a few moments. If they are in a fluid group setting with people coming and going, punctuated with smiles and laughter, it's likely they are approachable. If they are huddled with three similarly dressed somber people and papers are being reviewed, they are mentally still at the office. Intuition plays a role. They might be "In the room" but are they "In the mood"?

Strategy One: The Introduction. Look around for people you know. Do they know a person you want to meet? If so, will they introduce you? People who attend community events likely serve on different committees or are involved in other groups with cross pollination. If they are on a peer level, arranging a social introduction is a polite gesture peers do frequently. Here's how it might go: "Jim, I'd like you to meet Paul. He's with [firm]. I know him from the tennis club. The two of you have a lot in common. You both travel to China frequently and collect California wine. You have a lot to talk about."

Strategy Two: The Friend in Common. The person you both know isn't present. That's not a problem. Reference them in their absence. Knowing the same people validates you are in the same broad social circle or professional community. They will be curious about the connection. The conversation can proceed like this: "I believe we have a friend in common." They ask who or you volunteer the name. Usually they ask: "How do you know [name]?" You explain the connection and ask "How do you know them?" After establishing the connection and complimenting the absent friend, you have gotten your conversation started.

Strategy Three: The Compliment. Walking up and paying a compliment is a great icebreaker. Consider that wherever you are, you're there for the same purpose. People enjoy compliments. You can never thank people enough. Start like this: "Ms. [name], you don't know me. My name is [you]. Thanks for creating and donating so many costumes for the school play. How did you get involved in theatrical costuming?"

Answering "What do you do?" It's the next step in most conversations. As an accountant, you likely have several answers tiered by the perceived level of understanding of your listener. You know the drill: The object is to get them asking questions. If you work in the comptroller's office at a multinational oil company, and your listener is a college professor, you might explain: "I'm in finance." It's short. If they really aren't interested, they will change the subject. If they are curious, they will ask more questions.

Suppose you work with individuals and couples as their family accountant. My CPA has a great answer to the question: "Have you ever received one of those registered letters from the IRS?" the listener involuntarily shutters and says "Yes." He replies: "We help people with problems like that."

Sometimes they don't ask about your profession and you want to bring it up. This might happen if you are on a business trip and having a nightcap while sitting at the hotel bar. Instead of asking them or volunteering your profession, create an environment where they seek to draw you out. "This is the busy time of year for me. I'm so glad to relax for awhile." Since April 15 just passed, it's likely they will inquire if you are an accountant. This allows you to position your profession and draw them out.

Do not dwell upon yourself. Do not talk for long periods. You've attended networking events or Chamber of Commerce functions before. You know when someone is pushing business. Instead, redirect the focus of the conversation. You've just learned what they do. So why do you find it fascinating? What have you always wanted to know about their profession? Smile and take a genuine interest.

Regardless if they are a baker, broker, biochemist or billionaire, it's easy to start conversations with strangers.

About the author:
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book "Captivating the Wealthy Investor" can be found on Amazon.com.

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