Honest dialogue can change things fast. It creates connections, seeds ideas, and is the critical thread in the fabric of relationship. It is about seeking to understand.

The fact that dialogue doesn’t come easy is one reason relationships are so difficult. Self-interest, posturing, and the need to be certain we make our case tend to frame much of what masquerades as conversation — in both the personal and professional context.

Then there is the fact that many pitch/presentation/proposal/business development conversations sound just like the one presented yesterday…and the one that will come tomorrow — seeming interchanble — deep experience, proven capability, blah, blah, blah.

And changing nothing.

But when it comes to business development, better conversations and on-going dialogue are differentiators.

So here are 3 ideas that, if implemented, will change the tone of any conversation.

1. Practice an “Intentional Listening” mindset.

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

Some might argue that this is at odds with the process of business development and sales. Not so. 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. (This is why client interviews are so valuable — it’s an opportunity for the client to be heard.)

2. Know your Target’s story.

This is closely aligned with intentional listening. It encompasses listening to the data, diving into the research, understanding the industry and having an idea of the challenges of the specific business. The conversation (or pitch) that focuses on your qualifications and capabilities sounds like the pitch of every other provider in the marketplace.

On the other hand, ask the right questions — instigate a deep dive into the issues that matter most to your Target — and you’re on the road to productive dialogue. There are no cookie-cutters; but here are three ideas around questions that touch on what might be top-of-mind for your prospect.

  • What are the greatest roadblocks to success in the near term?
  • What does success over the next three to five years look like?
  • What one or two issues would you most like to see disappear?

3. Build a bridge to the next conversation.

In a quality relationship the next conversation can seem to pick up right where the last one ended. The best conversations are part of an on-going dialogue. Almost everyone experiences this at a personal level.

When it comes to business relationships, try approaching every conversation with the goal of building a bridge to the next.

The best business you develop — the business that is most rewarding and most likely to endure — will come in the context of great relationships. And quality relationships are the by-product of better conversations.