When I started my sales job for a big media brand, I couldn’t have been happier. Before leaving my previous job, I outlined the exact role I wanted and identified the specific brands I wanted to work for next. With that clear vision, some strong networking and smart interview skills, I landed my dream job.
Six weeks into my job, we had our first big event. This event was filled with the top media darlings including c-suite television executives, glossy magazine editors, and heads of agencies. In sales, I was comfortable navigating ballrooms full of people standing elbow to elbow, the air vibrating with voices and laughter. An extrovert by nature, I enjoyed meeting new people and engaging in interesting conversations with industry leaders.
45-minutes prior to leaving for my first event with this company, the ad director and publisher called an impromptu gathering of the sales team. New to the team, I was overjoyed by the prospect of having a rally before leaving.
Before we could even settle in, the publisher started drilling the sales team with questions. “What products are you planning on pitching?” “Who’s on your attack list?” “How many ad pages are you going to book into next week’s issue from your conversations tonight?”
I sat there, eyes wide, mouth shut and my mind was in shock, what the what?
Each team member mumbled the answers necessary to appease the publisher. They declared benchmarks on the spot (which at the time, I didn’t know we’d be held accountable). After the publisher finished her interrogation, the ad director turned to us and declared, “You’re all challenged with collecting the most business cards tonight. The winning salesperson gets $20.” I sat quietly in my chair and thought this has to be a joke. We’re valuing quantity over quality?
I was torn.
The seasoned salesperson in me knows heading into an event with industry leaders and this mindset was a disaster. Yet the eager newbie who loves competition wanted to put my stake in the ground and leave my mark.
Laser-focused on meeting as many people as possible, I approached the event with a mission and a goal. I won the contest, bringing back 15 business cards.
Before every event, the bosses gave the same speech drilling these ideas into us until it became our norm. I proceeded to be a mission-based networker for the next couple of years.
Then this happened. I was at an industry event and saw a potential client and started talking. As we were doing so, I kept bringing the discussion back to my agenda, because that was how I was trained. While doing that, I saw something, it was a split second subconscious tightening of facial expressions, but it was there, staring me in my face was their frustration.
It was at that moment I realized I’d been conditioned to engage as a hunter, going in for the kill and bringing home the meat. This wasn’t me, in my life or in my day-to-day with clients, so why would I be inauthentic with who I was based on my manager’s view on how to network? I had never been a yes woman, why start here, in this situation? My need to prove myself and fit into the culture overrode my personal beliefs.
I made a decision that from now on I was going to be me. The person who connects as a human, not with the mindset of how can I build my business but instead, how can I be of service to yours.
This new perspective on connecting catapulted my career. The shift was monumental. Not only did my revenue increase overall but it was bigger than that. I had made real connections, built relationships that went way beyond the sale or the business and my career opened up wide. No longer was I viewed, both internally and externally, as the lone wolf hunter. I morphed into a problem solver, idea generator and leader.
The demands to hit our numbers, build processes, and climb the corporate ladder in this instant gratification world has created bottom-line driven, don’t waste-my-time employees with one-track minds: Growth.
The hunter has its place but real growth personally and professionally comes when you learn to be human first.
Here are four ways to evolve from hunter to connector:
1- Kill the question, “What do you do?”
Regardless if you are at work function, social gathering or just happen to meet someone at the coffee shop, avoid asking, ‘What do you do?’ that people defer to when meeting someone for the first time. While it seems like a safe question, it actually isn’t the great equalizer everyone assumes. Instead, it has an underpinning of work equalling worth.
It creates a hierarchy between two people by plotting people on the success ladder. Change the question to something that will create real dialogue such as, ‘What are you interested in learning at the event today,” “what do you like to do for fun,” or “do you have a guilty pleasure coffee shop drink?’ Just changing the introduction question, will draw a real response in lieu of those pre-prepared ‘this is my title’ speeches.
2- Listen to Listen, don’t listen to talk.
There is science behind why people like to talk about ourselves, it feels good and provides you with a dopamine rush, the happy neurotransmitter. The next time you find yourself in a conversation, really listen to what the other person is saying and follow the conversation regardless of where it turns, even if it veers away from what you wanted to say. Listening without agenda and without thinking about what you want to say next puts you squarely in the present so you can serve the conversation not just yourself. Truly engaging from a place of curiosity provides you with a real opportunity to make a connection leading to a relationship.
3- Leave Judgment at the door.
You may think to yourself, “Of course, I don’t judge.” However unconscious bias surrounds us and in uncomfortable social situations like networking, it can be even more prevalent because we are in a heightened state. Have you ever been at an event where you are hoping to connect with someone for business and you meet a woman who stays home with her kids? Have you found yourself immediately looking around and thinking to yourself, this is a waste because she can’t help me? Or maybe the young woman just graduated from college and is job hunting? The best way to approach gatherings is to be enthused about everyone you meet by leaving your agenda at the door and see what occurs naturally.
4- Be a Dot Connector:
Networking is not about what you can get out of a situation it really is about connecting people so if you approach situations from a perspective of learning about people to see how you can connect them together instead of what you can take from them, I promise the energy will shift and the entire process will be much more enjoyable (and less stressful to boot). This shift allows you to listen for nuances and clues to how you can be an asset for them, putting yourself squarely in a listening mode where the magic happens.