Individual companies are no different from nation states when it comes to building their business. The nation may refer to it as “the economy” but that’s simple semantics. Both become successful when their salespeople (or citizens) engage in the most basic form of human interaction, that of conversation selling.

I’m currently reading David McWilliams’ “Renaissance Nation” and as usual he tells a great story. I love his human approach to economics, it brings what can be a daunting topic down to an understandable level. So, what has this got to do with conversation selling you might ask? Well, let me explain.

McWilliams argues that the economy is driven from the bottom up and not from the top down. That the success of the Irish economy over the past 40 years (notwithstanding the property crash), is down to a multitude of micro decisions made by ordinary people who decided to “give it a go” and not as a result of macro-economic policymaking by the government.

Conversation Selling

In turn, these decisions are driven by conversations, positive conversations, between all sorts of people up and down the country. People encouraging other people that to engage in an activity, where a profit could be made or a standard raised, would be a good thing, so why not “give it a go”!

Talk Matters

“Talk is important because we humans are sociable and highly susceptible to having our minds changed. If our minds can change with the ebb and flow of talk, the direction of the economy can change too. When you think about it, what we call ‘the economy’ is only the aggregation of the small decisions we all take every day. Every time you make a small decision – to buy something, to invest, to sell, to save – you are affecting the economy and affecting the mood of those around you. It all matters.” – David McWilliams, Renaissance Nation.

If this is true for the nation’s economy, and I believe it is, why wouldn’t it be true for a company (of any size)?


Truth is, very few people make buying decisions without discussing the ramifications of their decision with somebody, more often with more than one person. These conversations happen between colleagues, advisors, friends, family and of course possible vendors. Advice is sought on the basis of other people’s experience or exposure to similar problems. Pros and cons are analysed and more advice is sought, adding up to a lot of conversations.

Salespeople are the ones who drive business. Marketing have their input, more active in some companies than others, but the role of marketing in a B2B context is usually to generate leads for the sales team. So how do salespeople drive business? Through conversation selling of course, and the more conversations they have the more business they drive. You might refer to these as sales calls but to think of them as conversations could put you in a very different mindset.

People like to talk and nobody likes to be sold to, so why not approach your selling in that frame of mind? How would you feel if your daily quota was to have 10 meaningful conversations with people instead of making 30 sales calls? The ratio between sales calls and opportunities might be 30:1 but the ratio between meaningful conversations and opportunities could be more like 10:1, so for the same net result, your workload is reduced by two-thirds!

What sort of conversations?

Relevant, positive and meaningful conversations is the simple answer. Successful salespeople understand the industry they’re in and the hot topics surrounding it. They read industry magazines and journals as well as daily newspapers and the sports pages.

Sports topics are great conversation openers, ice breakers if you like. But don’t confuse an ice breaker with a meaningful conversation. Use the icebreaker for its intended purpose, to get dialogue flowing and then move swiftly on before your prospect decides that you’re wasting their time.

Conversation selling needs to be relevant to your prospect’s business, their concerns and problems. They need to be positive so that they feel like their problems can be solved and meaningful so that how the problems can be solved is explained.

If you talk to as many people as possible and your conversations are relevant, positive and meaningful, you will succeed in sales. Obviously, you need to follow your process: qualification, presentation, closing etc., but if you’re not having the conversations to begin with, you won’t have the opportunities to execute your process!

Proactive Pipeline work with B2B sales teams to help them improve their overall sales performance. If you would like to know more about structured sales processes, please visit our contact page to request a call-back.