When I work with sales people and consultants, I can always count on one question being asked when we begin to talk about opening tactics: “How long do you schmooze for?” It’s a great question… and a complicated answer.  For those who don’t know what the word “schmooze” means, the Webster dictionary defines it like this: to chat in a friendly and persuasive manner especially so as to gain favor, business, or connections.

I met a doctor once whom I felt had the perfect approach to this schmoozing question.  When I met him, I was there to have my eye looked at, and I was a little nervous. He came rolling into the small waiting room, looked at me with a big smile and said, “Would you like me to look at the eye and then we’ll schmooze, or would you like to schmooze and then I’ll look at the eye?”

I’m social in nature, and he was clearly social in nature as well, so it was the absolute perfect opening for me.  I chose to schmooze a bit, and then he took a look at my eye. If only it were that easy for the rest of us.  What made that opening work was the doctor’s ability to understand his patient’s social tendencies, and fit in an approach that was ideal for the situation.

What about the rest of us?  As much as I liked that particular opening and approach to how to balance schmoozing and business, I don’t think that technique would work for most of us.  So, how do you know when to shift between socializing and business?  The answer lies in the personality of the person you are conversing with, and it means you have to focus on three things:

  1. Clues Beforehand. You don’t have to actually see a person to get a head start on his or her personality. Emails or phone calls will often tell you all you need to know.  If these exchanges are short and to the point, you’re probably dealing with a more dominant person who is not going to want to spend a lot of time schmoozing. On the other hand, if those emails tended to have social information upfront, or the phone exchanges tended to get a little chatty, get ready for some upfront schmoozing.
  2. Clues On Hand.Perhaps this particular meeting represents the first time you’ve ever met the other individual. Begin by taking a good, fast look at your client’s appearance.  Is his or her clothing conservative in nature?  If so, once again you might be dealing with a dominant person and you’ll want to get down to business relatively quickly.  On the other hand, if that clothing is slightly more colorful, or pushing the envelope a bit, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a social person, and that means more upfront schmoozing.
  3. Clues On The Wall. If this meeting takes place in your client’s office or home, take a good look around you. A bare office or home with little out or on the walls indicates a more dominant personality, while a little more on the walls, and a little more clutter indicates a more social personality

When I know I have business to discuss, I really do wish I could turn to every friend or client I meet and ask them, “Would you like me to look at the business issue and then we’ll schmooze, or would you like to schmooze and then I’ll look at the business issue?”  Unfortunately, that just doesn’t work well in my industry. However, trying to anticipate the social leanings of those you are meeting with, and putting some thought into when and for how long you’ll schmooze, you’ll find that you are a step ahead.  Remember: If all else fails, you can just ask.

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