Business Elevator Conversations

You meet people all the time.  You talk to them about the weather, sports, kids and eventually they ask the question you have been waiting for.  That question pops up, “So what do you do?”

As entrepreneurs we have been dancing around ways to answer this since we actually became proud of the answer.

The challenge comes in when you want to both spew out everything you do, why you do it, what is great about it and see if the person you are talking to is ready to buy from you right then and there.

But we can’t get all of that information out.  For many reasons, let’s list a few:

  1. People don’t care that much about all that you do.
  2. People don’t care that much about why you do what you do.
  3. People don’t care that much about what is great about what you do.
  4. People rarely buy that quickly, especially around here.
  5. Elevators move faster than you can get all of that out of your mouth.
  6. People want to talk with you, not be talked at.


So what is a budding entrepreneur to do in these speedy elevators (or beer lines, grocery store aisles, networking events or ball game concession stands, etc.)?

Your job is to get dialogue moving, control the conversation and ask for the next step.  Your priority is to qualify the person you are speaking with in regards to their interest.  Are they asking you because the weather is nice, sports talk has ceased, and political subjects are too taboo?  Or are they genuinely interested?

Are they a likely candidate to buy from you, do they have an actual need (from their point of view, not yours), or do they know someone that they would be willing to discuss your product or service with?

What is the most important thing that you could ask them at this moment?  

For a coffee meeting?  Perhaps a visit to your office?  Maybe just to take your card and “keep you in mind”.  That last one is the last resort. Rarely will anyone follow through on that.

What I recommend you do is to go down one or two paths as you qualify this person.  These paths will keep the person interested and the dialogue moving.

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Tell them a story.

When you ask a question, you continue the dialogue and control the conversation.  

For example, if I ask you, “What do you do?” and you answer, “I sell real estate,” we are stuck.  My question has been answered and the end of the conversation is nigh.  Much like listening to someone under the age of 24 have an in-person conversation with someone they do not know, it gets weird.  It can even get awkward.

However, if I ask you, “What do you do?” and you answer, “Would it surprise you that I sell real estate?” or “That depends if you have a house you want to buy or sell.  Are you in the market?

Whatever I say, a question will continue the dialogue.

A story is another great way.  For example, if I ask you, “What do you do?” you can answer, “I love when people ask me that.  Would you like to hear a story?”  This is followed by a “Yes!” because we all love stories.  Then you continue on with a story that brings about some emotion into the person you are speaking with.  Something along the lines of, “I met an older woman recently. She was so sweet and kind and her husband had just passed away.  She was overwhelmed with dealing with all that needs to be tended to with a family members passing and she wanted to sell her house.  The problem was she had no idea where to start. We met at her favorite restaurant…” and on it goes.  You get the point.

The emotion that you want to be brought about will be brought about because you have a great story to share.  Then you move in for the ask, at the peak of this emotion.

Think of it like a marriage proposal.  The guy tries to create some dramatic romantic scene and then pops the question.  Guys rarely ask while grocery shopping if marriage would be a good idea. There’s no real emotion for the response to be good.  Especially not after what he just put in the shopping cart.

In addition you want to control the conversation with questions.  There is power in questions and you can use them to control a conversation.

When you are asked a question, you have some options.  You can answer with a statement, answer with a question, or you can ask a completely irrelevant question, ignoring the initial question.

For example:

You get asked, “What is your favorite color?

You answer, “Are you hungry?


You get asked, “What is your favorite color?

You answer, “That’s an interesting question.  Would you mind sharing that with me why you asked?


Generally speaking, the person asking the questions controls the conversation.  Usually, you want to be the one controlling the conversation. Or at least know how to take control back when you need or want to.  You can give and take control as you speak by asking questions and answering questions with questions.

You can turn a simple statement such as, “Green is my favorite color,” into a question, “Did you think I was going to say green was my favorite color?

It may interest you to know that once you answer a question with a question, you often do not fully answer the initial question, do you?  Read that green answer again. Is that person’s favorite color green?

My final bit of advice is to not be afraid.  Be proud of telling people what you do. You started a business, you deal with all of the challenges that entrepreneurship entails and you deserve a lot of credit.  That person asking you probably has a wallet, spends money and makes some decisions (even if really, really slowly). Plus it is much more fun than just answering with boring statements.  It is in your best interest to qualify them and get them interested in what you do.

James Kademan is a Business Coach for Draw In Customers Business Coaching in Madison, Wisconsin as well as the author of The BOLD Business Book. When he isn’t asking people questions, he is busy guiding entrepreneurs to success in business and beyond. He blogs successfully to the world at If you are considering hiring a business coach, take a moment to call James at (608)210-2221.  Ask questions, get answers, take control.

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