The Icebreaker Blues

Sep 24, 2009 | Building Relationships, Prospecting, Sales Coaching

by Jeb Blount 

Listen to the audio version of this article.

 I often get asked about using icebreakers to initiate conversations with prospective clients like this one from a Sales Gravy subscriber named Stephen: “I do sales on the phone. What are some good icebreakers when talking to prospective clients?”

Just this week while out on the road speaking to sales teams I was asked this same question four times. Each time the question was asked I saw many heads nodding in the audience. Turns out breaking the ice is an important issue for sales professionals these days.

The thing is though, I hate the term ICEBREAKER. To me it says that prospects and customers are ice cold, frigid people, frozen in place and we as salespeople have to break the ice around them before they will talk to us. I happen to think this is bull.

The prospects you call on are just people. They are not cold or frigid. They have emotions and motivations. They have a job to do that likely feeds their family. Your prospects are busy and though this may be a shock they, not unlike you, don’t really like having their day or evening interrupted by salespeople.

So when you call there is rarely a warm reception. As soon as they realize you are a salesperson – which is usually after you say something like, “Hi this is Stephen from the widget company, how are you today?” – the instinct to get off the phone and back to whatever they were doing kicks in. And while you are talking as fast as you can to keep their attention, they just want to hang up.

This has absolutely nothing to do with ice. It has to do with not wanting to spend their precious time speaking to you, which in turn makes you feel rejected, leading you to seek out icebreakers, that will somehow make this exchange easier on your emotions.

Instead of worrying about breaking the ice you should be thinking about how to get them into a conversation. Now consider the anatomy of a conversation. It is basically two people who have a common interest, discussing that interest. The best sales conversation is when your prospect is talking about their interest and you are listening. Of course the problem you face, as I just mentioned, is as soon as the prospect finds out that you are selling something their desire to run kicks in and, unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about that. What you can do though is get them to engage by making a short statement that should be of interest and asking a relevant question.

Here is an example: “Hi John. This is Jeb Blount from The reason I’m calling today is because I noticed you were hiring salespeople. One of your competitors hires all of their sales talent on Sales Gravy and I thought this might be of interest to you. Can you tell me how many salespeople you plan to hire this year?”

Did you notice that I didn’t ask, “How are you doing?” There is a reason for this: It is a stupid question. John was going about his morning happily when his phone rang, interrupting his day. Then he realized his mistake in picking up his phone when he learned that a sales guy was on the other end of the line. Suddenly his stress level moved up a notch and his flight mechanism kicked in. That’s how John is doing.

This is why I get right down to business telling him who I am, why I called, and asking a relevant question designed to engage him in a conversation. This methodology has three benefits. First it demonstrates that you are a professional and that you have respect for your prospect’s time – save the idle chitchat until you have established a real relationship. Next by asking an easy but relevant question the prospect has an opportunity to discuss something of interest to him. Finally, if there is an objection like, “I’m too busy”, “we’re happy”, or “we don’t have a budget”, I’m going to get to it quickly which will allow me to ask more questions designed to determine if the objections or real or just blow offs.

What all Sales Professionals need to come to grips with is meeting new prospects by phone or in person is rarely easy. Meeting strangers is always tough and especially so when those strangers don’t want to talk to you. And the reality is more prospects will reject you than will engage in a conversation with you. However, the one thing that I know to be true is prospects are people just like you. They don’t want to be tricked, they don’t want to be “ice broken”, and they don’t want to be manipulated. What they do want is to be treated with respect. And when you give them the respect they deserve and focus on what they want, you’ll be amazed at how well you are treated in return. 

Jeb Blount is CEO of, the most visited sales website on the internet. He is a leading authority on sales and sales leadership, the author of Power Principles and the new audio book 7 Rules For Outselling The Recession.

Alice Heiman

Alice Heiman

Alice is nationally known for her expertise in elevating sales to increase valuation for companies with a B2B complex sale that have exceptional growth potential. She’s originally, from the widely known Miller Heiman Group. Spending her time strategizing with CEOs and their leadership teams to build the strategies that find new business and grow existing accounts is her passion.  Her clients love her spirit and the way she energizes their sales organization.


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