Getting Business from Strangers
By Marc Kramer
How many times have you flown on an airplane or ridden on
a train and sat next to or across from someone well-dressed and wondered
what he or she does? All of us have, but few of us act on our impulse to say something. We
are all concerned about embarrassing ourselves.
No one wants to appear nosey or say something wrong, so
we just hide behind our magazines and laptop computers and pretend that the potentially
interesting person doesnt exist or that maybe they will take the initiative and
start a conversation.
Dont be so afraid or preoccupied. You can catch up
on your reading and work later. Listen to that friendly voice inside you, and let it out.
Say hello and find out who this person is, and what he or she does for a living. You never
know what doors that person next to you can open.
The success of a casual contact will depend on how prepared you are to turn it into
a relationship. Make sure you are prepared to network anywhere you go by always carrying
the following in your brief case or computer bag:
- Business card
- Sample of your work
Rather than give you a set of rules for developing a new contact, Ill
tell you a true networking story that led me to
a sizable new piece of business.
I was on the afternoon train from New York after meeting
with a client. I was mentally exhausted and had a lot of work ahead of me. I found a seat
at a table in the club car. Right after I sat down, a well-dressed
businesswoman sat down across from me. She took out some work papers and her laptop and
began to type away.
I noticed that her stationery had the name of a company I
was vaguely familiar with. I asked her if she worked for the Smith Insurance Company and
she said yes. I asked her what she did at Smith and she proceeded to describe her job and
what she was working on. (Starting a conversation is easier than you think, because the
other person usually takes the ball and runs with it, sharing more information about
themselves than you might expect.)
When I asked for her companys web site address, she
explained they didnt have one, but were going to build one. Before I could say
another word, the woman asked me what I did.
I told her I developed web site marketing and content
plans. I opened my briefcase and showed her a copy of one of my plans. (There is nothing
like concrete evidence of your skills when you want to turn a casual discussion into a
serious opportunity.) She said we would be interested in speaking with me further and we
traded business cards. The next morning, I had an e-mail message from her asking for a
date to meet. This chance meeting lead to a $40,000 contract.
Make The Connection
Obviously, not every stranger sitting beside you will need your services. But
unless you introduce yourself, youll never find the one that does. If the odds seem
daunting, consider this. No matter what kind of work you do, part of your job is marketing
yourself and finding people who need to buy your services. You get paid for making new
contacts; perhaps not immediately, but eventually. That day on the train I collected a
$40,000 fee for being a nice, outgoing guy every day I rode the train.
To be a good networker you have to be willing to take the
initiative. Here are three ways to open a conversation with the person sitting beside you:
- If you get a glimpse of their stationery and you have
heard of the company, say to the person, "I see you work for the XYZ Company
is that the company that makes the worlds greatest
widgets?" If you arent
sure what the company actually makes, take a guess.
- If they are using a laptop or some other device, ask them what they
think of it. That will start a good conversation because everyone likes to talk
about the performance or lack of performance of their
- If they are reading an interesting book, ask if the book
is good. If its a magazine, ask if one of the articles on the cover was interesting.
Once you get the conversation rolling, keep it casual and
friendly, but move on to the following more relevant questions:
- What is your position at the company?
- What do you do?
- How do you like the company?
- What is their take on the company and the industry?
- What is your companys (or industrys) biggest
People love to talk about themselves and their companies, whether they like the
company or not. If they love the company and their job they are only too glad to boast. On
the other hand, people who hate their company are thrilled to open up to a complete
stranger they dont think they will ever see again. Either way, listen. You will
learn a lot.
After the person has answered all of your questions, they
will undoubtedly ask you the same question you asked them. Be ready with a concise
description of what you do and have some examples of your work to show. Before you part,
make sure you ask for a business card. Its just as important to share your
own business card, but it is critical that you get theirs if you plan to follow up
Within 24 hours make sure you send an e-mail as a follow-up if you are interested in meeting that person again. If you
dont take action, youve wasted an opportunity.
Remember: no matter how awkward it seems, it doesnt
take much to get a conversation started, and the reward can be as simple as a new
acquaintance, or as significant as a new business contract or a new job.
That person sitting next to you might be your future. Say
Please tell us
what you think of this article.
Marc Kramer is the
author of Power Networking, a book that provides a methodology
for improving your business networking skills. Marc is also president of Kramer
Communications, a Philadelphia area firm that develops business, operating, sales,
marketing and Internet content plans. Marc can be reached at marc@kramercommunications.
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