You scan the room cautiously and there, like a diamond in the ruff is someone you feel compelled to approach. Mustering every ounce of courage, you walk bravely across the crowded, noisy room, rehearsing your lines and getting yourself “in the zone” It all seems rather surreal, (like in Wayne’s World when Wayne approached Tia Carrere to the theme of “Dream Weaver”). You confidently tap this person on the shoulder, look them in eye and say “We don’t know each other, never had a date nor even a conversation, but would you marry me?” I’ll let you finish the story in your own “Theater of the mind” style, but I’m guessing in this case the guy doesn’t get the girl? In the spirit of beating up the obvious . . . Why?
Aside from not knowing each other, there has been no conversation, no establishing of mutual likes/dislikes, a first date, trust and about a million other elements which comprise a relationship.
All in all, a ridiculous scenario but not too uncommon if you ask me. I not only see it every day on Social Networking venues, I’ve been both the receiver of such proposals as well as the one on bended knee.
Some examples of what I’m talking about:
Someone “@” me on Twitter several times wanting an appointment to discuss my company’s social media strategy. Innocent enough, but I don’t know this person, our paths have never crossed, we have never shared “tweets” or have had any interaction. Probably not a good initial contact strategy, but to each their own.
When you accept someone as a “friend” and they immediately launch into a sales pitch.
You’re in a group discussion on Linkedin and someone sends you a private email about how their company is the bestest company in the whole world and can help you with that thing you happen to be discussing.
There’s a change taking place in the way many people want to do business. It wasn’t so long ago, that two people would do business with each other and the relationship would form after the transactions began. That’s when you would really get to know them. That’s when this crazy thing called “trust” would enter the picture. The trend now seems to be the exact opposite. People want to get to know you, and trust you on that type of level BEFORE doing business with you.
For the sake of clarity, I’m not talking about due diligence. That’s always existed. I’m talking about the relationship part of the process. It really seems to have been front ended to a much higher degree.
I believe there are several reasons for this:
Our current economy has buyers more concerned with risk than ever before. A bad choice is viewed as “raising your hand in class” and the fear is that they could be the next person cut from the organization.
Its easier and safer to begin online. It’s easier in that there’s an immediacy in Googling, checking a profile, a blog etc. If someone has an online presence, they have in essence, “left a trail” for us to learn about them. It’s safer in that we can sort of “lurk” without someone seeing that we are checking them out. Its safer in that if we become “friends” and if for some reason there becomes a discomfort in that “friendship” we can un friend, un follow, ignore, delete etc.
There is a huge cultural shift due to more and more Generation Y’s moving into decision making/influencing positions. They prefer more online, virtual interaction as part of their process.
We can go on and on, but I think you get the point.
So if the trend is in fact moving more towards getting to know someone via an online courtship . . . how could you go about accomplishing that?
Like anything else, it should begin with the proper mindset. In this case it’s a mindset of Patience as well as Urgency. Patience in understanding that this is a long term strategy. How long is long term? Let’s go back to the proposal at the beginning of our blog today. When does “love” happen? Traditionally, is it on the 7th date, 7th month, 7th year or is the answer something more along the lines of . . . Love happens when it happens? Your online courtship should be no different. The urgency mindset means that you shouldn’t get so hung up on a long term strategy that you lose the “fire in the belly” to get going now!
Watch for the many “clues” that you can leverage:
Their status updates. You can learn a ton about someone based on what they decide to tell us in their status update. We can also comment on their status to validate the things that are important to them.
Tripit . . . where are they traveling to? Can we learn something from that? Sounds like another opportunity for a conversation starter.
Their involvement in groups. What are their opinions, beliefs and philosophies?
They may include a link to their blog which now becomes yet another opportunity for you to learn about as well as connect with your prospect. Let’s take a look how.
Another great opportunity for you to get inside their head. See how they think. Find out about their pet peeves, philosophies, interests, sense of humor, likes, dislikes etc.
An opportunity for you to comment and move away from being a “lurker”.
Another opportunity for you connect!
Might open a door to a blog or article they have written
Sometimes you can get a “play by play” on what they are working on, challenges, opportunities etc.
A chance for you to learn “buzzwords” from their industry you may not know that you can use when you approach them in the future.
Another opportunity for you to connect
I think Facebook is an opportunity to you get to know someone in a more "business casual" atmosphere. I use it to show people my more casual side. I talk about my guitar playing, what we did over the weekend, my kids, my family.
I can find out someone's birthday. Can that help me get in the door? Well it worked for Charlie Sheen in Wall Street when he brought Gordin Gecko those cigars for his birthday so what the hell?
At the same time that these things provide clues and opportunities for you, they provide opportunities for them to get to know how you think, behave. Its an opportunity for them to evaluate your reputation.
Here’s the key . . . its an opportunity for you to start building a little something known as “TRUST”
Try proposing to someone without that one!
Here’s where I begin to worry.
Since venues like Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook etc are still rather new (as is the concept of social networking) many of us are rushing the process involved for these forums to work their magic. We become impatient and then quickly write off either the venue or the concept of social networking.
I guess all of this is simply a long winded way of reminding us to allow for a proper courtship before the marriage.
Do that and you have a higher probability of getting face to face.
You’ll lower the probability of having to dance around objections. Why? Because you will understand each other properly and will have established the necessary ingredients of rapport and credibility!
Much in the spirit of a strong marriage, you will retain your customers longer. Why? Because you took the time to really understand each other.
I’ll leave you with something to think about, a bit of a challenge if you will. Understand that this concept of an online courtship is a bit counter intuitive for most of us. It can be real easy to jump the gun and just approach someone you have no relationship with in the hopes of getting a face to face appointment. Resist that urge! Instead, take an opportunity to have that courtship. And for how long? How about, however long it takes?
Wishing you all incredible courtships leading to lifelong marriages!
Paul Castain is the Vice President of Sales Development for Consolidated Graphics (CGX) one of North America’s leading general commercial printing companies. Paul has over 25 years of sales and sales leadership experience. He has trained, mentored and coached over 3,000 sales and sales leadership professionals. An accomplished public speaker, Paul has delivered numerous key note addresses. He has authored numerous training manuals, articles, blog posts and is currently working on his first book for release in 2011. Feel free to email Paul firstname.lastname@example.org.
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