I run across a lot of people, in my day job and in the writing community, who are stressing about how to best go about marketing. And I run into a whole lot of other people who are doing it atrociously. So for everybody looking for the secret to stellar marketing and networking, here it is: Don’t do it.
Don’t hand your business card to everybody you meet. I know you’ve heard lots of people tell you to do the opposite thing. They’re wrong.
Don’t talk about your own work on a panel at a convention or conference that isn’t about your own work.
Don’t force a conversation to go somewhere that’ll give you an opening to talk about your product. Don’t listen to a conversation waiting for the opening where you’ll get to jump in with the thing you want to talk about.
Don’t introduce yourself to a person entirely because you’re hoping to use them for something later.
And for the love of all that is interesting and worthwhile in human interaction, take Dale Carnegie’s ABC (Always Be Closing) and toss it out the window post-haste.
If you do these things everything, including your career, whatever it is, will be better.
You have that? Read it again. Understood? Better read it one more time, just in case.
That’s the 101 lesson. Because on this topic, unlearning all the bad things everybody has been teaching for decades is actually really, really important. In fact, go read it again. Trust me, it’s important.
Alright. Here’s the 201.
In professional environments, and this includes social environments where you’re marketing or networking, there are two kinds of spaces. There are “storefronts” and “everywhere else.” The storefront is where the customer has come to you (or asked you to come to them) and consented to you trying to sell them something. It’s your listing appointment, or your buyer interview, or your warm body behind the dealer’s table or your website or any number of other places where the potential of a transaction is salient to all involved parties. At the storefront, and only at the storefront, you may proceed to qualify, pitch, and close your customer. I have opinions about how you should do that, but this is not that topic.
When you’re in the storefront, go ahead and hand people your business card. Talk about yourself. Talk about your product. Everything you just read five times before getting here? That’s not about this space. That’s about the other space, i.e. “everywhere else.”
Your goal, your single, solitary, only goal, when interacting with people in “everywhere else,” is to get them to, happily, intentionally, seek you in a storefront. Get them to go, “Would you talk to my nephew? He’s thinking about buying a house.” Or track you down in the dealer’s room, or look up your website, or whatever.
How do you do that? You forget your product, your industry, your career, all of it, and you sell you. You’re a good listener, an interesting conversation partner on whatever the conversation is, you’re friendly, you have a reputation for being helpful. You show up. You’re present when you do. You’re a complete person with a full range of interests and you’re willing to share a part of that with people.
I don’t mean that you have to be a singing, dancing, volunteer machine who invites everybody into every aspect of their personal lives. In fact, don’t do that unless you actually are a singing, dancing, volunteer machine in which case decorum and restraint are still awesome things you should hang onto.
What I mean is that when you’re at the grocery store and chatting with the check out clerk, ask them about their day, their job, the neighborhood, the weather. Do not say, “Hi, I’m Anaea Lay and I sell real estate,” or, “I see there’s a magazine rack nearby. Have you read my book?” Rules of polite conversation mean it’s very likely they’re going to reciprocate by asking you about you. Then you get to say, “Oh, me? I’m in real estate,” or, “I write novels.” Are they interested? They’ll probably say so. If not, ask them something else.
Here’s a secret about people; they tend to be curious. And then tend to be responsive to genuine friendliness. Note the use of “genuine.” That means being friendly within the local conventions of politeness and approachability. In Seattle that means that public, open weeping in tea shops is common enough that I have my favorites ranked by how often it happens, but you do not ever talk to somebody on the bus or street corner. The check out clerk at the grocery store? Might not want to talk. Don’t make them. They will remember you if you force them into conversation. You will never get them to your storefront.
Yes, if you pay for your groceries and walk away without successfully starting a conversation, you have failed in getting them to your storefront. What you’ve also done is preserve them as a future contact you can try again another time. Maybe they’ll be more chatty next week. Or maybe they’re shy and once you’re more familiar they’ll be more willing. Or maybe they’ll never ever give you the time of day, but if you keep hard selling they’ll warn their co-workers about you and now nobody at the grocery store is going to your store front. Also, now everybody at the grocery store thinks you’re a dick. You don’t want that. I’m friendly with the folk at my grocery store. They’ve asked me to please do them the favor of taking peppers without paying for them.
Be the guy the grocery store wants stealing peppers from them.
When on my way to a party I didn’t want to go to (remember: show up) I once commented to a companion that it would be successful if I handed out one business card. “That’s easy,” they said, imagining I could throw a card at the first person I saw and then flee.
“Nope,” I replied. “I never even pull out my business cards unless somebody asks me for one.”
I have different business cards for the different careers. I keep a few of each on me. You’d be surprised how often an event meant for one career becomes an opportunity for a different one.
It’s not that you aren’t ever selling anything in the space that is “everywhere else.” It’s that what you’re selling is you. It doesn’t matter whether the person you’re talking to right that moment immediately requests a trip to a store front. If you think it does, you’re committing the crime of being the desperate salesman. It’s a fatal crime. Play the long game. The person you’re talking to is a full person who knows lots of people and even if they aren’t a viable prospect for you, they could be a source of viable prospects. You have to be worth it to them, though.
Pushy sales people might be quick results, but they’re burning their long tail. Modern sales environments require customer satisfaction, personal referrals, and repeat business. The best thing you can do for your third transaction out with a client is make sure they were happy and deliberate when they wound up in your storefront. You can repair some of the damage once they’re there, but there’s only so much you can do with that space and time; don’t constrain your opportunities by wasting it on fixing something that wouldn’t have broken if you had more patience.
As a final note, I highly recommend that you study pick-up artistry. Then test everything you’re thinking of doing against their techniques. If it’s something a pickup artist would nod sagely about and approve of, skip it. The premise of pickup artistry is that you don’t want repeat business. Consequently, their manuals are great catalogs of techniques designed to avoid it.