A few years ago I decided to take a trip. My business partners and I had been working with a number of university alumni associations for several months, and our business in this segment was continuing to grow. I decided to schedule a trip to the Midwest and see if I could schedule discussions with several leaders of alumni associations – some of whom I knew pretty well and some I had only been introduced to in passing. I requested meetings with these leaders in that target market (4-5 of them) with only an outline of an agenda. The idea was simply to have some direct discussions and strive to deepen our relationships. I was clear that these we simply conversations – NOT sales calls. The result was eye-opening. Not only was I able to have thee conversations, but they were deeper than I had imagined. We discussed our work, their organizations, challenges they faced, ideas they had for our work (“I’d really like to see you guys do this….”), potential projects they had in mind, and introductions they were willing to make for us. In my opinion it was a rousing success.
What was the main thing I learned by doing this? That richer and more in-depth discussions could and would take place in-person vs. those that we may have some other way. And in many cases we touched on subjects that would have never discussed on the phone. In some cases, project ideas were openly discussed that I think would never have happened over the phone or email. So, in the end, what did these meetings accomplish? A deeper, richer relationship with these individuals. 1-2 new projects. Several new introductions - some of which kept filtering in over subsequent days, weeks, and months. Invaluable insights directly from our market about how to build our brand in their community.
Why? People are human. They still enjoy in-person conversations. They appreciate it when you make an effort to talk with them in person. They are willing to talk more openly when you are with them face-to-face in a way that they might not otherwise.
How do you make the most of these conversations.
I know the temptation’s there. Trust me, I get it. Whenever we get ourselves in front of a potential client we want to pitch...and pitch...and pitch. After all, our time is limited in front of them, so we need to "make the most of it". In my opinion "making the most of it" needs to have a longer game. It's not always appropriate to sell, sell, sell. I have found that the best thing to do is to strive for a longer, deeper, more human/personal relationship. Too much salesmanship gets their guard up and they are more careful about what they say.
As a matter of fact, I try to make these conversations professional, yet informal. They are information sharing, gathering, "get-to-know-you" types of meetings. Be very up-front that selling is not part of your agenda.
Respect Their Time
If you ask for an hour, take only an hour. If you hit the end of the time you asked for (or as you get close to it) acknowledge it. It’s always a good idea to say “I know we planned on about an hour, and it’s getting close to that. I’m enjoying our conversation – and would be happy to keep chatting. I know you may have other things scheduled, and so just want to be respectful of your time.” It shows that you are living up to your work and (most importantly) you are respecting their time.
Prep in Advance
Don’t waste people’s time. I like to think of thee discussions as open discussions within a framework. I like to have a set of probing questions about them. It’s not about you. And I use these questions to guide the conversation – especially at the beginning. Then I let the conversation go where it will go. It’s a great way to zero in on your true goals and expectations. It makes you think explicitly about the purpose of your visit. Think of it as a somewhat loose agenda.
Be Open and Human
Sometimes these conversations head in directions you didn’t plan or expect. That’s okay. Don’t try to control them. Just go with the flow. Let the other person lead the way. Let them talk!
Sometimes (more often than I would expect) I’ve had these conversations become increasingly personal – bringing family, etc. into the conversation. That’s okay with me. I believe it is a sign that the person on the other side is more and more comfortable with you as a person (or wants to get to know you as a person). Know what your limits are and tactfully have ways to steer away from things you are not comfortable discussing.
These are just a few things that you can do to maximize the time you get with your target audience. And it's a longer-term game. These types of conversations are relationship-builders, not sales calls. Those deeper, richer, more open relationships will pay off for months and years to come. So my message for you today is to get out from behind the technology and strive to develop those deeper, richer in-person conversations happen.
Please feel free to reach out and get in touch and let's explore how I can help you and your business succeed. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas. You can reach me at (713) 907-8429 or BCohen@IDiscoverConsulting.com I hope you are enjoying these blog posts If so, please help spread the word. Tell others about IDiscover Consulting Group and IDiscover Journal. Share these posts. Comment on them. I’d really love to hear your ideas!