While attending an entrepreneurial conference in Dallas, I found myself in an interesting and surprisingly eye-opening situation. Most evenings of the show, many of us found that the hotel restaurant/bar was a great place to meet one another and to conduct business. One particular evening, another conference group had usurped this entire space. As I realized this, one of the attendees from my conference posted on our group Facebook page that a small group of them were going to an off-site restaurant for drinks and appetizers and that others were welcome to join them. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to meet up with the smaller group.
I had not met any of the members of this group, but because I am always eager to engage with other people, the idea didn’t intimidate me. To make a very long story short, we had a great time and discovered that we had many things in common. Hold that thought.
A similar situation occurred on my flight home. After the ridiculous effort it took for me to get to my seat, which is a whole different story, by the time I did get there, I had already made friends with a number of people on the plane, including my seat mate, who was not an attendee of the conference I was at. I shared a few words and some laughs with him because of the nature in which I finally ended up at my seat, and then we both minded our own businesses for the majority of the plane ride back to DC. It wasn’t until the very end of the flight that we finally ended up in a conversation. When he discovered what I do for business, his mouth fell open. It was then that I learned that it was just the day before that he had posted a job posting for a website developer to promote his business. If I hadn’t engaged him in a conversation (which wasn’t quite as easy), this possible deal wouldn’t even be on the table.
So why am I telling you this?
Engaging People = Doing Business
In both situations, it struck me that if I hadn’t initiated in situations that, to many people, would feel pretty uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have opened the opportunity to new relationships that could create several potential deals in the works. In addition to those two situations, another engagement at this conference lead to another deal that more than covered the cost of the trip and conference.
When I was with the small group at the restaurant gathering, one of our conversations touched on extroverts versus introverts. It was fascinating to me how many of the group identified as introverts because they came across as the complete opposite. It’s easy to picture the classic extroverted business person with lots of charm and salesman-like skills in top executive positions. However, there are actually many introverted individuals in top business positions.
To explain the minds of extroverts vs introverts on a deeper level, introverts are not all quite people, and extroverts are not always looking to engage with others on a 24/7 basis. I myself am an extrovert. I love being around and engaging with others, but the effort it takes can be exhausting, and I tend to need downtime to recharge. When it comes to introverts, they can come off as extroverted, meaning they do well in social situations, but they generally prefer not be in large groups.
To return back to the restaurant gathering, we dove deeper into this fascination through a role-playing game for the purpose of demonstrating how I engage with others in business. I offered to be the token guinea pig. One of the other individuals chose random topics to start off and I had to respond and keep the conversation going.
When I returned home, it struck me that many people - particularly more introverted ones - might benefit from what we discussed. To that end, I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to share some personal experience on the subject in hopes of helping others have more successful engagements in the business world.
A few of the biggest misconceptions that I witness from those who struggle to engage with others are that:
Others won’t want them to join their group or start a conversation with them
Other people won’t find them interesting
They need to keep other people amused and/or regale them with personal stories, witticisms and anecdotes in order to hold their interest
Though there are certainly times when these are true for all of us, they’re generally not the norm. I believe that the best rule of thumb is to remember that the number one thing that will make others want to engage with you, is if you’re interested in them.
That’s right: in them.
Like it or not, what almost everyone wants is for someone to show interest in them, to want to hear about their lives, their families and their businesses. We all feel that way. And remembering that is bound to reduce a significant proportion of the stress that many people feel in networking and other social situations.
We’re talking about this for one very good reason: it’s crucial that people trust you and genuinely like you for them to want to do business with you. And that is built by genuine engagement. It is through this engagement with others and becoming more adept at doing that is what helps successful leaders create meaningful business relationships.
If this is a challenge for you, or is somewhat (or maybe quite a bit) uncomfortable, where should you start? Think of each engagement as a chance to get to know the other person. Ask them questions:
Don’t just ask them if they have children; if they do, ask them about their children’s interests: do they play sports, love crafts, have favorite books?
Don’t just ask them what they do; ask them about trends in their industry, current challenges in that line of work, do they travel a lot, recent projects; ask them what about their work they find most rewarding, and what they’d like to change
Don’t forget to ask them what they enjoy! What do they do for fun; are they in a chess club? Do they play in a tennis league? Are they in love with Russian literature? Are they a foodie? Do they love nature, national parks, hiking and camping?
It doesn’t have to feel strained or forced, the conversation just has to be a flow naturally. Occasionally the awkward conversation does happen. Even I have run into some people that just have no interest in engaging with others, but this is rare.
I think you’ll find that when you view every encounter with other people as nothing more than an opportunity to learn more about them, it becomes a lot easier. And that interest shows the other person that you care and that you’re pleasant to work with. Hopefully it also opens the door to share with them what you do and what your business can provide.
Business, at the top levels, usually involves salesmanship to some extent. And it can be easy to think of sales as an unwanted attempt to pressure others into purchasing what you’re selling. But for people to whom this comes naturally, sales and forming relationships are integrally linked.
What I have discovered is that in the process of forming relationships, solely for the sake of getting to know and engaging with others, the conversation inevitably comes around to what I do for a living. And by the time we’ve gotten to that point, the other person and I have already found common ground on a completely different topic. Very often, after someone discovers what my company offers, they tend to deep dive more on what I provide for my clients. I almost never have to pursue a sale. I naturally pursue people and relationships and it inevitably often results in sales.
If there’s anything that you take away from this, it’s that you should concentrate on people - on getting to know them and caring about them. If you’ve got a good product or service, people will tend to be more open to want to buy from you because of the engagement you have begun to build with them.