How to Turn a Conversation into Getting Hired

An ounce of self-restraint is worth a consulting gig

By Mark Goulston

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A few years ago I gave a presentation to the Institute of Management Consultants on “How to Turn a Conversation into Getting Hired.” The first thing I did was ask the audience, “How often do you have a first meeting with a potential client and at the end they lean across the table, wide eyed, and say, ‘How soon can you start and do you take credit cards?’”

The room broke out into laughter and I retorted, “Exactly! Never! Read my lips, ‘It never happens!’ However, there are occasions in life when a customer or client in certain situations will say exactly that.” Helping the assembled consultants “create gonna hire you” moments was the purpose of the presentation.

Here was one of the tips I provided.

I asked them, “What do you say after asking a potential client a number of revealing questions about their problems and they ask you, ‘So what do you think?’”

Several people in the audience replied, “I try to give them my best answer.”

“Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” I said, “Never respond to an initial question from a potential client with an answer.”

The audience collectively looked at me with an expression that communicated, “Huh?”

I continued, “After your first line of questions and their answers they have opened up at a pedestrian level that most consultants will get to. What you want to do is have them open up further so that they are more invested in your answers and that creates more traction towards you.

“To do this, be mindful of words containing either hyperbole or increased inflection and also of adjectives and adverbs. Hyperbole, increased inflection, adjectives and adverbs are inroads to emotional attachment.  In the latter two instances it is because an adjective is a way of embellishing a noun and an adverb is a way of embellishing a verb.

“In all of these cases they are demonstrating words that have an emotional charge for them. Then when they stop and ask you what you think, instead respond using conversation deepeners (which I cover in my book, “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone). For example you might say, ‘I can tell you what I think, but say more about _______ (whatever those words were).’ Then after they finish, either ask them to say more about something else or respond with, ‘Really?’ (in a tone that invites them to go even deeper).”

At this point, the other person might start being more insistent about asking you, “Well what do you think?” However, the increased emotion in their voice is not so much about wanting an answer from you, but unconsciously wondering if they revealed too much.  They may be actually unconsciously thinking to themselves, “Did I say too much? Did I sound too desperate? Did I sound like an idiot?”

Now that you have caused your potential client to reveal much more than they thought they would, the next step is still not to give them answers, but rather to get them to focus on something urgent enough to bring you in and do it soon.

Something I have done is to say to them, “I could answer your question, but before I do that, I’d like to take our conversation to the ICU.”

When I say that, they invariably say, “What is the ICU?” I then reply, “I was reviewing in my mind from what you said, what was most Important, as in the next year, what was most Critical, as in the next few months and what was most Urgent, as in this week.  I could guess what those things are, but rather than do that, why don’t you tell me what they are?”

What you’re really wanting them to reveal is what is most urgent, because that is the situation that they are most needing to address.

After they reveal to you what is most important, critical and urgent, they are again likely to ask (in a possibly exasperated voice), “So! What do you think?”

And this is where you do your final stall tactic. What you say to them is: “You have shared what is important, critical and urgent in your company, and I could give you an answer of what we’ve done with companies like yours, but it wouldn’t be my best answer. I can’t give you my best answer because I want to check on a few things first. The question is how urgent is it that I get you my best answer and is that something you want me to go through the effort to do? And if when I get that answer, what next?”

By doing the above, your potential client will have revealed more about what’s really on their mind and be more invested in what you finally say to them. What you’re wanting to do is have the other person initiate the next meeting as opposed to your having shared too much and then feeling like you now have to pursue them.

In conclusion, keep the following in mind:

When trying to persuade someone doesn’t work, or even worse, increases resistance, remember that it is less important what you tell others than what you cause them to tell you that creates in them a “self discovered urgency” (SDU) for your services or products.

A helpful exercise to try after every conversation with a potential client or presentation to a group from which attendees might hire you is to ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10 —where 10 = ‘When can you start?’ ‘What’s our next step?’ or ‘When can you meet with me and some people from my company?’ and 9 or below = ‘Very interesting. Can I have your card? Do you have a brochure you can leave?’—how much SDU did I create in the other person or in my audience?”

And then ask yourself: “If I could have done that over again what would I have done differently to increase their SDU?” Be sure to write down your answer to prevent it from slipping out of sight and then out of mind and causing you to repeat your less than “10” performance on your next opportunity to speak to potential clients.


Mark Goulston is an advisor and coach to consulting and professional service firms as well as the author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone