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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: LMiller  |  October 01, 2011

Online Discussions: How to Kill A Sales Conversation

Originally published for

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or under a rock, you know you need to participate in social media, particularly the forums and discussion groups. Many of us are pretty good at finding the best groups and taking time to post comments. The challenge now is learning how to use these interactions to create a following, drive traffic to your website, and find cool opportunities.

Here are four popular tactics that look good on paper but keep buyers from expressing interest in our work. These stories are true; I’m exaggerating to protect the guilty — but only a little.

Silly Post #1: Ask Loaded Questions

What this looks like: “Hey, you wanna get rich right now? Here’s my article that tells you how!”

Yes, we all want more people to read our blogs and sign up for email campaigns. One way not to entice people to check us out: ask a compelling question and say the answer is in this link.

Why it doesn’t work: You are not inviting discussion. You are asking people to read your stuff. Do this too many times and you look like you only want to distribute information, not have a conversation. That’s why posts like these are ignored.

Do this instead: Ask the provocative question first. As the discussion ensues, offer a detailed comment, then point to the blog post for more information. The key: give specific answers. Anything else will look like a set up to pass along your blog post.

Silly Post #2: Use the Same Answer for Every Question

What this looks like: This comment appeared on a thread about technology, “Just follow your heart and everything will work out.” The person who posted that said the same thing (with different words) in four other threads I follow.

This happens a lot with folks who either passionately believe something or are pushing a specific solution. The old saying “If your solution is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail” applies here.

Why it doesn’t work: Politicians deflect questions with unrelated answers all the time. They come off like zealots parroting the party line, as do we when we don’t address the issue at hand. Worse, these posts make us sound like one-trick ponies who can’t address nuances or provide insight. These comments get the discussion off track, and folks assume you don’t understand the topic being discussed.

Do this instead: Vary your answers and make them more specific. I’ll use myself as an example. Instead of saying, “Look at what the buyer wants” all the time, I’ll post something like, “I’m hearing that buyers are looking for…” And then close with, “Hope this helps–good luck to you.” The specificity keeps me from sounding like a broken record, but I’m still making the point that you have to pay attention to the market.

Silly Post #3: Answer a Question by Saying, “Hire Me and Find Out”

What this looks like: “I work with folks like you all the time. I’ve checked out your material and they (and you) are terrible but can be redeemed. I can help. Here’s my website. I’ll call you in ten minutes.”

This was a real post from someone who helps speakers. There’s a difference between excitement about what you offer and providing unsolicited advice in public.

Why it doesn’t work: This is a case of first impressions. Once you come off that aggressive, no advice you give will be viewed as objective. You come off as if you have an agenda. No one trusts your advice or views. You’re seen as just another vendor trying to sell something.

Do this instead: I like to blend private and public posts here. First, answer the question, give some detail, and refer to your article that goes into more depth. Then privately email the person and give more specifics and open the door to further conversation. The caveat: if you offer to help, get ready for your brain to be picked–for free–until you say otherwise.

Silly Post #4: Comments With Nothing But Platitudes and Atta Boys

What this looks like: “Well, first you have to think positive thoughts. Then you have to do positive things to support those thoughts. Then just see what happens and go from there. You can do it!”

Life coaches and motivational speakers are the guiltiest among us for doing this. This uplifting advice creates a reason to hang out with you. It doesn’t inspire hiring you. This is kindness without credibility.

Why it doesn’t work: You come off as if you don’t have anything substantial to contribute. Encouragement is always welcome but not at the expense of depth. If people can’t learn from you, they won’t consider working with you. The buyers won’t see the business case.

Do this instead: Combine encouragement with objective information such as a study or article written by someone else. Comment on what you agree or disagree with in the article. You’ll come off as a resource and more strategic rather than someone who has an opinion but not much else. You’ll also stimulate more discussion. Do that several times, and people will want to know your opinion on their situation.

Bonus Silly Post: Attack Someone for a Reason No One Cares About

What this looks like: “I think you are stupid because of all the typos in your post. Here, I’ve made a list of all 20 of them. You’re an idiot.”

I am not making this up. Only the post was in the form of a funny (only to him) metaphor lasting several long paragraphs about how typos are the scourge of our society. The offender apologized and questioned the tone of the attack. Mr. Comedy went ballistic, and the moderator had to step in. The result: while correct about the typos, he ended up being the most marginalized.

Why it doesn’t work: There’s a fine line between disagreeing with a comment and being disrespectful. That line gets crossed when you use biting humor on someone directly. You come off as arrogant and unapproachable. Worse, you’ve taken focus off the substance of the conversation and turned the discussion toward the attack over small stuff. That makes you look petty and mean. Both are definite conversation stoppers.

Do this instead: Briefly mention the faux pas and move on to the substance of the discussion. Save your ire (and sarcasm) for the big issues you disagree with, and use your comedic talents sparingly. Funny metaphors are fine, but the briefer they are the better.

Post Like a Pro

It’s tempting to justify all the time we spend on these discussions with slick tricks to promote our blogs and offers. Don’t do it. Instead, if we focus on posting specifics with insights, both the participants and the lurkers will reach out. Good luck and happy posting!

About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.