I recently attended a networking event and had the pleasure of meeting a dynamic young woman who was just starting out in her sales career. I personally love attending networking events and go with the intention of just making “business relationships”. I look forward to hearing what others do, what they are creating and how they are doing it. I make it my point to talk to at least 5 people I haven’t talked to before. Not because I want to hammer them about what I do, and score a sale, but to make real “connections”. I advise you, if you are attending networking events to go with the same attitude.
When I first saw this young lady, we’ll call her Ann for the sake of the story, she was sort of off to the side–a proverbial wall flower. Ann was in her late 20’s and was dressed in an appropriate suit, her highlighted hair pulled back severely into a low pony tail, heels that were maybe a bit too high, and jewelry that was made for a much older woman.
There were about 30 other people who were waiting for the main ballroom to open, all getting acquainted with each other. It was obvious some knew each other well and some that were jumping right in with others they had never met. It was a room that was filled with greetings and laughter and it was that positive, open, increasing noise level one would expect from a networking event. Ann wasn’t making eye contact with any of them, she had scurried off to the side as quickly as she could after checking in and retrieving her name badge from the registration table and honestly, didn’t look at all interested in doing so. Ann leaned up against the wall closest to the restroom while rustling through a black leather portfolio, while scrolling through her Smartphone. She had brochures and cards, notebook paper, pen, a large handbag and she was juggling them all better than a clown in a circus!
I decided to approach her first because it was obvious she wasn’t very comfortable and I didn’t want her to be on that wall alone for very much longer. When I approached her, and introduced myself, it startled her, but she looked up quickly with a nervous smile and an exuberant handshake. We all know what happened then…YEP! The portfolio and brochures as well as the Smartphone and cards flew in the air and fell with a clatter to the floor. About 10 of the other attendees who were around us turned quickly to see what had happened and then realized it was a minor situation and turned back to their conversations. Ann quickly dove toward the ground on the wobbly high heels, while tugging at her jacket and pushing back a piece of hair that had come out of the pony tail and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe this happened. I so wanted to make a good first impression.”
I knelt down to help her and said with a reassuring smile, “I’m the one who is sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
As we were collecting her things, she let me know that this was the first time that she was attending a networking event on behalf of the company she worked for. She was a brand new sales representative for a small, local company, and her employer had asked her to attend. Prior to working for her new company she had done retail sales for about 3 years, but the retail hours were killing her family and though she loved sales in that environment, she wanted to advance her sales skills. Ann had convinced the small business owner that because she had done high-end retail, she knew that she could learn and take that consultative approach forward with her company. Ann’s boss believed her, saw something in her, and Ann appreciated the opportunity to move into a sales role that was business to business and account management.
The only thing that was lacking was Ann’s CONFIDENCE! After we gathered her things, the doors opened shortly after. We sat at a table with a few people I had met before, though wanted to get to know better. I introduced her to the group and she calmed down very quickly. As we dined on our roasted “event” chicken and roasted potatoes she shared more about her experience. We found out that she was a college graduate, she was married and had a small child. She told us about all the customers that she used to work with and how she “got to know them before ever suggesting a thing for them to buy”. People had told her that she was a natural-born salesperson and that she was too good for the store. I could see as she settled in how likable she was, knowledgeable she was, and how passionate she was about her current company.
Hasn’t that happened to all of us at one point or another? We know we have skills, we know that we can learn, we know that we can be excellent for our clients, but something inside just grabs a hold of us and we totally lose it? Prior to Ann even getting to that event she was already wondering and doubting. She started ruminating, over thinking and wondering if she was out of her league or if the other people at the event would see her as the professional she knew she could be. She had over-inflated their roles because they had titles, and had successful track records in their fields–or so she thought. She made assumptions without knowing anything about the people who were there.
Though she didn’t have a great deal of experience in her current position, Ann tried to “play the part” and cover all the bases with the outfit, the professional hair, the brochures and cards, but none of that could stop the doubts from racing through her head. That lack of confidence kept her from engaging with the people who were there with the defined purpose of networking. Wasn’t that the exact reason WHY she was there? By not engaging and running to the wall, she was telling everyone in the room to stay away. She was acting unapproachable–rustling through the brochures, playing with the phone. That’s a sure-fire way to not get rejected, but it’s also the best way to come away from an event with no new contacts, which perpetuates even lower self-confidence.
I recently heard that you have 7 seconds to make a good first impression. If that is true, how many people made an assumption about Ann that was not only inaccurate, but would mean loss of business for Ann’s company? And why did they get the wrong impression? Because of Ann’s lack of CONFIDENCE…not her lack of being a GREAT business contact. I can’t wait to work with Ann more. She is so awesome and it’s going to be a blast to watch her skyrocket to the top of her field!
As I work with sales professionals, especially women, I find this to be an ongoing theme. I work with many to just change that one aspect and their careers SOAR! The results after we work together can be astronomical and they go on to achieve great new heights, and achieve what they really want…just by making the CHOICE, TO TAKE THE CHANCE, and MASTER THEIR CONFIDENCE!