4 Ways to Develop the People Skills You Need to Grow Your Business
My esteemed colleague, Walt Levengood, and I recently discussed the finer points of business development. We don’t agree on everything -- I’m a sworn enemy of suits and ties, for instance -- but Walt's advice encapsulating years of experience is a must-read for any young entrepreneur hoping to make a strong start in a highly competitive world.
The term “business development” has a cold ring to it. It suggests an activity that is purely opportunistic, calculating and strategic. It isn’t personal, it’s commercial.
In my experience, it’s both. Mastery of the personal aspect takes just as much commitment as wheeling and dealing; but to hear someone say, “Pleasure doing business with you,” and know they’re sincere, makes it all worthwhile.
Here are four simple suggestions for personalizing business development:
1. Make a good first impression.
First impressions are important. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” are words to live by. Whether you’re at a conference or a trade show or whatever, what you wear shows your level of respect for the people you interact with.
Some wiseass might respond, “I want to be the CEO of Apple or Facebook. Dad jeans and hoodies are all I need.” But it’s obvious that the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are the exception that proves the rule. Eccentric geniuses who build empires in their 20s don’t worry about first impressions; their achievements took care of that. Unless you’re one of those, put on a tie.
A firm handshake, confident body language, direct eye contact -- all this stuff still matters. Even if you somehow defy the odds and never find yourself in a position where old-school manners are an advantage, it can’t hurt to cultivate them just in case.
2. Learn how to dine out.
Ordering a good meal with potential and existing customers is an art form. It’s a ritual. It’s an opportunity to sit down in an environment where fun and formality coexist, allowing you to form new bonds and strengthen existing ones because you can let your guard down without throwing decorum completely out the window.
Avoid these simple mistakes:
Never, ever drink too much. Don’t get lit. You might feel smarter, smoother, more confident, but that’s only because your IQ has dropped about 50 points. Clients will definitely notice.
Speaking of booze, respect the customs and/or religious beliefs of your fellow diners. A good rule of thumb is to avoid ordering a drink altogether if nobody else is imbibing. (I break this rule now and then when I know my teetotaler companions well enough that I’m sure not to give offense, but these are rare occasions.)
Try to have a sense of the occasion. Avoid taking cues from Mad Men; treating a potential business partner to steak and lobster on your first meeting isn’t necessarily going to win them over. Save those special meals for when you seal the deal.
Related: The Art and Science of Networking
3. Network, network, network.
You are your brand. Build that brand by networking at all times. Network to the point that you’re able to call people and drive value to them. If I read an article that I find valuable, I try to share it with folks in my pipeline. Even if they’re not in a position to help me personally, they’ll remember it in the future.
I’ve got a contact Rolodex that I’ve been carrying around since college. Below each contact’s name, there are little footnotes. The number of kids they have. The name of their spouse. The universities they attended. “This guy likes golf, this lady likes tennis.” Etc., etc.
Thanks to tools like LinkedIn, you don’t have to record that stuff with a pencil anymore. But you sure as hell have to know it. You have to connect. Break the ice. I used to have my sales reps watch SportsCenter every night, because knowing the latest scores was an easy ice breaker. Same with the weather. “Hey, I hear you’re getting hail out there; how are you handling it?”
It’s not rocket science. Small, everyday gestures of goodwill have an almost miraculous power when it comes to opening minds, hearts and doors. You just have to 1) practice them until they’re second nature, and 2) mean them.
4. Be a problem solver.
If you’re selling a product, don’t be content to just pitch it. Use it to guide others to success. Take a consultative approach; enter the trenches and show your fellow human beings how to solve real, existing problems.
This attitude will positively impact every facet of your career. Bring that spirit to your clients and coworkers. Solve a problem, offer a solution, help someone meet a goal. Your energy and dedication won’t be forgotten anytime soon.