When you were young, your parents probably told you, "Never talk to strangers!" And this lesson sticks. People generally continue to avoid strangers into adulthood, waiting in lines in silence, walking with headphones in, and avoiding interactions with people despite literally rubbing elbows.
Not talking to strangers is great advice for children - but it's terrible advice for a businessperson. Many focus their development time on learning the newest skills, but this isn't enough to make your business successful. As technology and research develops, the skills you need change alongside them. It's people that are the constant. If you don't know how to make real connections, all your skills are for naught.
YPO member Joe Desch has made a career from connecting with people. He's so good with people that the company he sold hired him back just to work with their customer network. He also works with the Western Golf Association Evans Scholarship Foundation to teach young people how to start building their networks right away. Desch believes that no matter how lean things are, you have to plant seeds now so you can harvest them later.
Here Desch shares how selling your product is easier if you've first sold them on yourself:
1. Talk to everyone!
"In any industry, you're likely to meet many new faces on a day-to-day basis," Desch says. But most people don't realize how important these meetings can be. Desch explains, "Even a small connection can lead to many kinds of success. Use every interaction as an opportunity to grow your business and your brand." No connection is too small - you never know where it might lead.
2. Remember it's called social media.
Desch explains, "I want my connections to know the whole story about me. What I do, what I can do for them, what I do for the community, what I am passionate about." He advises filling out the profile as completely as possible. And those blogs you read? "Start leaving comments!" Desch urges. "Reading without interaction isn't networking -- it's just web surfing." Remind the digital world of what you can offer them and what you have in common, and they're more likely to want to work with you in the real world.
3. Don't forget about the real world.
Once you make the digital connection, you have to use it. "It's great to be on Facebook and LinkedIn," says Desch, "but you have to know how to use them to drive your reputation and your business." So follow up! Desch says, "I find that 90% of people never follow up on leads or LinkedIn connections. Get out of your comfort zone and follow-up." Real relationships require more than digital connections.
4. Be memorable - it's not as hard as you think.
This is do-or-die in the modern world, but it doesn't have to be complicated. Desch points out, "In a world of instant gratification, the sales process has gotten shortened. You need to make your potential customer feel comfortable with you immediately." Again, this requires more than a digital connection. Desch suggests, "Write a handwritten note. Send birthday cards. Mail your favorite book with a note on the inside flap. These are simple but underused ways of standing out." You'll be surprised at the impact of even these little things.
5. Listen up!
It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to make connections is to listen. Desch says, "Listening is about understanding. Connect on something that interests or drives you both, whether it's eating sushi or golfing." It's about more than a weekend social outing. When you find these commonalities, "You make them want to stay in touch with you," says Desch. And the dividends don't stop there, says Desch: "From there, introducing me to where they work and live, or to people they know is easy because it is already a comfortable connection." Listening is an opportunity to discover new ways to provide value to them with your presence, in business and in personal life.
6. Your connections are a reflection of you.
"I like to think that I was a human LinkedIn before that software was developed," says Desch. But your relationships require discernment. "Your connections, whether personal or professional, are a reflection of you," warns Desch. "The people you choose to work with, every piece in your portfolio, every business on your resume, every person who has given you a testimonial, demonstrates who you are." You want to come up in conversation between other people - but make sure there will only be positive things to share.
Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.