I just read a book called It’s Not All About “Me” - The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone by Robin Dreeke, who works for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program. His book gives a quick overview of how to engage strangers in a meaningful conversation within seconds of meeting them.
Although Dreeke goes into the psychology of putting people at ease and giving tips on how to accomplish establishing rapport, the whole time I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but think of one old-school salesman.
One of my earliest influences about business – and life – is my grandfather. He was a prime example of someone who never met a stranger. Whether he'd known someone for years or just a few minutes, Poppa was a talker. He was funny, he was charming, and he had the ability to put people at ease.
He was the quintessential salesman and worked in a variety of industries over the course of his career. He liked to say that he never had to apply for a job – one thing just led to another.
After he got out of the service, Poppa started off selling door-to-door. To everyone’s surprise, he was successful immediately. One day, as he was going through his pitch with a potential customer, her husband came home. Poppa introduced himself and continued. Later, the husband called Poppa and asked him to come back to discuss their order.
It turned out that the man was the regional manager for a company that sold restaurant equipment. Poppa’s easy manner and people skills landed him a new job! Several years later, while waiting at a diner to speak with the owner, Poppa struck up a conversation with a customer. Both that customer and the owner were very impressed with Poppa’s people skills. After a year of Poppa calling on the business and seeing the customer several times, the man offered a business card to Poppa and asked him to call about a job opportunity. Turns out he was the president of a growing business and needed to hire a marketing executive. Poppa jumped at the chance and moved to Wichita, KS, to work in the aircraft industry.
Ten years later, he took Grandma on a vacation. While sitting in the airport, he struck up a conversation with another gentleman waiting on a flight. They exchanged small talk. As it turns out, the man Poppa was talking to was the executive vice-president for one of the largest technology companies in the country at the time. They needed to buy 20 corporate planes. Poppa wasn't in sales, but he made the largest sale in company history while on vacation.
Naturally, he pocketed the commission, continued to work hard, but always kept an eye out for the next opportunity. It came several years later when he struck up a conversation with a man at a baseball game. The man was getting ready to retire, so Poppa bought the car dealership the man owned and worked there for the rest of his life.
It can be argued that these were just chance meetings that happened to work out in Poppa's favor. Another school of thought is that he was able to engage people and immediately make an impression. Both are correct. He was so at ease and an effective salesman without trying to be.
At each turn, he wasn't looking for anything in particular. He was genuinely interested in people, hearing their stories and talking with them. He would talk with people everywhere and anywhere. Maybe it wasn't immediate, but over 25 years, a lot of those people came to Poppa when they were ready to buy a car. They knew him, they liked him, they trusted him, and they had remembered him. They simply wanted to do business with him.
Although times have changed, and I don't make my living by commission, I still practice what my Poppa taught me. I’m not afraid to engage and listen intently to what people are saying. I try to get the other people talking about themselves by asking a few basic questions. It's become habit. Although I don't think I was ever as good as he was, I'm proud to say, I’ve made a lot of contacts.
Share your story: What are some of the unique situations where you’ve struck up a conversation with a person and unexpectedly turned him or her into a client?