Dialogue changes things. It connects people, seeds ideas, and is a critical thread in the fabric of relationship.

And (at the risk of meddling), one reason relationships are so difficult is that genuine dialogue does not come easy.

Self-interest,  the superficial and the politics of the moment serve to frame much of what passes for conversation.

But when it comes to business development, here are 4 ideas that, if implemented, will change the tone of any conversation.

1. Develop (and continually exercise) an “Intentional Listening” mindset.

This is listening with the intent to learn, versus an approach rooted in convincing, converting, selling or winning.

Admittedly difficult, this is not as at odds with the process of business development and sales as we may be conditioned to think. The shortest path to new business is to connect with the concerns of your target.  And the quickest way to identify these concerns is to listen far more than you talk. Think 4 or 5 to 1 if you need a benchmark. 

2. Know the story of your target.

Better conversations focus on the things that matter most.  If your goal is to provide a professional service that meets the need of an individual or business, avoid the temptation of making any conversation all about you and your enterprise.

Do some homework.  For starters, check company web sites, Linked In profiles, Facebook, Twitter, and Google (including a “News” search). You will almost certainly find a point of connection.

3. Build your (very few) talking points around your target’s story (vs. your capabilities).

Better conversations begin with 2 or 3 questions about your target’s business. Almost everyone, given the right set of circumstances, enjoys telling their own story. If you’ve done your homework (#2), this should be relatively easy; but where upfront research is impossible, three guiding themes should help:

a) What are the greatest roadblocks to success in the near term?
b) Same question, but with a long lens.
c) The magic wand proposition; what one or two issues would you make disappear?

4. Build a bridge.

An earmark of better conversations is they set the stage for on-going dialogue. Go into every conversation with this goal — even and especially when you ask for the business.

The best business you develop — the business that is most rewarding and able to endure — will come in the context of great relationships; and quality relationships are the by-product of better conversations. What additions would you make to these 4 ideas?