Are You Talking to Strangers?

By Katherine Tarbox, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

Have you ever stood in line at Starbucks and thought about striking up a conversation with the person standing next to you, but then decided against it? Approaching strangers is weird, you may have thought, and they probably don’t need a real estate agent anyway.

But they might be considering buying or selling a house, and even if they aren’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t somehow benefit from the experience of meeting them, says David Topus, sales expert and president of communications consultancy Topus.

Two weeks ago, I met with Topus at the Starbucks on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Topus has a strong background in sales, having worked for years at The Wall Street Journal and other publications before founding his own business, which serves many Fortune 500 companies. He says that you can meet anyone, anytime, and this belief has led him to strike up conversations that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of new business for him.

Topus says that we have to keep the following points in mind when it comes to meeting new people:

  • The world is open and friendly, and people do want to meet you.
  • Almost anyone can be met. Strangers are people waiting to be met.
  • Everyone you meet has something to offer you. While you might not know what this is immediately, time will reveal this.
  • You have something valuable to offer people.

Armed with these beliefs, Topus started talking to complete strangers at Starbucks. “Start with something that is happening in the moment,” he says. “Comment on the room temperature, the music.” Another quick way to find out about something is to ask a person how they like their phone. Follow up with a question about what they do on it. Is it for work? What kind of work?

As they answer these questions, Topus suggests scanning for windows into their real estate needs. “You shouldn’t be asking random questions, but rather go on a conversation path that will lead you to the answers you want.” One conversation path he recommends while standing on the soccer field could be:

  1. Are you familiar with this part of town?
  2. Do you live in this area?
  3. Do you like this area?

Topus notes that it’s important to engage strangers with an authentic curiosity about them and not with an immediate impulse to sell to them. The new contacts may provide some kind of insight into consumer thinking, they might bring you actual business, or it could be that you just enjoy the encounter. But all results will be considered successful in some way.

As we sat at Starbucks, we met a man who was looking to open up another bar and was in need of a real estate practitioner to scout locations for him. We met another woman who was relocating and also was in need. We discovered all this in a 15-minute span, simply by talking to the people sitting right next to us. All this shows that you don’t really know who is standing next to you until you ask. That stranger just might be your next customer.

  1. Striking up a conversation with random strangers can be a bit intimidating, however, I think most people are open to having a conversation. I know that I don’t mind speaking to strangers when asked a question.

    I do like the part about taking the conversation down the path you want it to go and I might use that in the future.

    Thanks Katherine!

  2. I agree. You simply cannot be a secret agent when you are in real estate business or infact in any business. I’ve noticed in my experience meeting strangers for the first time by complimenting them for any matter. I play basketball in the evenings and when I see someone’s making a good shot I applaud them.

    I haven’t seen anyone including myself not liking a good compliment.

    Always smile. It’s free but it gravitates people around you to be closer and there you get the chance to start a convo.

  3. I agree about the smiling part, it can help break the ice.

  4. Social media has opened the world up and made it more friendly in general. Talking to strangers has become more common place and less creepy. I am finding the more open I am in general, while on my computer or out in the world the more opportunity finds me.

    I love complimenting people on their clothes, earrings, boots (I definitely have a boot obsession). People love validation of their choices. It’s a great way to instantly connect, validate and appreciate their taste and possibly strike up a conversation.

    People want to connect and share and engage. Just look at the billions on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In!

  5. I totally agree! I love talking to strangers especially in places like starbucks, waiting in line at Target, Kohls, etc. I normally start the conversation by complimenting them and give them my smile. People really do appreciate your validation. After the validation, people start opening up to you and start talking about the news and sometimes what’s bugging them that day. Sometimes, just by giving your smile make their day brighter.

  6. Absolutely! You never know when an authentic smile and friendly conversation will lead to an opportunity. In just a couple of days I picked up two new clients. One a fellow graduate while we were waiting in the procession line to graduate from college. The other a nurse taking care of my mom in the hospital! Genuine interest in others can really open doors.