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Freelancer’s Guide to Sales: Making Friends


We had one of those epiphanies on Sunday while walking down the street to surf Sharks (inspiring name huh). Peter & I were discussing the value of attending TED in 2008 and whether it is worth the $12,000 it costs if we manage to get tickets. For a 12k entry cost, he wanted to make sure that beyond learning, we drove some business from that investment. As we walked along, Peter wondered out loud how we could find an opening to give our elevator speech when we met people. After all, it isn’t your standard technical business conference but more of an orgy of learning.

I thought about it and bit and realized, we don’t. We go there to make friends. We meet cool people who are as passionate about learning, people and technology as we are. People who can afford a $6,000 ticket and a week in Monterrey, Ca. If you made a good enough connection, you follow up later. That is when you talk business.

The epiphany: All sales is nothing more than making friends. Giving your elevator speech, using the word which, all that crap, does you no good if you didn’t make a friend. As my wife told me not too long ago, stop thinking so much about your business and just try to have fun for goodness sakes.

I was all alone…

Very few people who know me today believe this, but I was very, very shy growing up. I went through this phase my freshman year in college where I quite lonely. I didn’t know how to talk to people. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, who was my best and only friend at the time. The weird part was that there were 20,000 students at UC San Diego and I never felt more alone in my life. People walked by me in the thousands and I couldn’t seem to connect with any of them.

I’d grab my longboard and skate down to Blacks to surf through the sunset into the night. Once I couldn’t paddle anymore, usually in the dark, I would climb back up the cliffs and sit in the that dip in the ridge where the warm wind blows up through the canyons. Staring at Orion, I would wonder what this life was all about and why I was so bummed out. After a few months of this, I made this resolute commitment to myself that I may not know how to talk to people and make friends, but by god I would figure it out, one way or another.

This was a conscious and determined process that lasted about 4 months and completely changed my life. I consider it the foundation to all of my current success, in my friendships, in business, in sales and in my marriage.

Weeks 1-2: Look People in the Eye

I started by watching people. I immediately noticed that the happy confident students looked people direct in the eye. I’d always felt uncomfortable doing that, like it was confrontational. Maybe I was just afraid of what someone might say or how they would react. So I set a goal for myself. On the walk between each and every class, I would look one person in the eyes. I have to say right now that it wasn’t exactly the miracle I was looking for. People usually looked at me funny, either with a curious or awkward look. I finally asked Becky, an acquaintance who eventually became a great friend, for some insight.

Weeks 3-4: Smile

“You just always look sad or focused.” she explained. I thought about that. I was actually feeling much better than I had in a long time and was pretty darn happy. I told her that I was in fact quite happy. She laughed and the poked me, “Then you might want to notify your face.” It was then I realized that looking into someones eyes while grimacing in discomfort, probably wasn’t going to make anyone my friend.

Most babies spend a good part of their day smiling. So, why do so many adults need to learn how? It still blows my mind that I had TO LEARN how to smile.

The first week my cheeks and the back of my head hurt from smiling so much. My muscles just weren’t used to it. I went around and smiled at everyone. Frankly, I would probably have scared you during those first few days if you had walked past me. This tall, skinny, barefoot (yup), long haired white kid would suddenly look up from the ground, stare you in the eyes, go from a grimace to a half grimace, to a 1/4 awkward smile, then sigh it relief as he looked back down. Kind of like a being slimed by the stupid green blob from ghostbusters. It got easier though, and people started to smile back. In fact, a lot of people did.

Weeks 4-8: Say “Hi”

The smile was rocking it. But, I wasn’t being swamped by a million new friends. I realized that most people would not start talking to me, I was going to have to take the initiative. So after many, many hours debating the best opening line to use when I was out and about, I decided to go with the absolute suavest, surest win. Hi. Then run. At least that was how it started. I took the look in the eyes, slipped in the smile, then said hi. And walked on. Did it over and over. People said hi back to me. Some added a few more words. Conversations came to life. By the end of winter quarter, I had a few people I was starting to hang out with. I made friends that took me all through my four years of college.

Weeks 8-now: Shut Up and Listen

Once I realized that people liked me (or seemed to), 18 years of word burst forth in a massive tidal wave. Gratifying for me, amusing for some, annoying to most. I’ve always believed most people have a natural number of words that need to be shared in a particular period of time. Most quiet people are great listeners. I was not. Lost some friends.

Back to basics. Look in their eyes, smile, say hi, shut up. I practiced listening and being interested in what people had to say. I realized I wasn’t that different, most people love talking about themselves, and the greatest show of appreciation is to listen with interest. In fact, I can usually spend 20 minutes listening attentively to someone talk about themselves and their life, say virtually nothing at all, and they will walk away thinking: “my gosh what a nice guy. We had the most interesting conversation.”

Sales is making friends

Most of our gigs don’t land on the initial contact, nor the second, not even the third. They come from having built a relationship with someone and being top of mind. What do I mean by that? When they think of us, they have an instant positive emotional reaction: “Gosh that guy is nice. I’d love to talk to him some more.” and maybe “It really would be fun and productive to work with him!” The goal of my initial contact is so that when I email them a few days after we initially meet, they are willing to make time out of their busy schedule to chat and talk business.

Next time you go to a mixer, ask yourself, “Did I Make a Friend?” If I call in two weeks, will they remember me?

As someone mentioned to me just a few days ago in a few comments on Christine’s post on sales at self-made, the core principles of sales and dating are pretty much the same thing. You want to make a friend.

So let me ask you all, what are some of the tips you have for making a lasting impression? How do you make it from small talk to long talk to friend?

Will you be my friend? I promise to listen to you and respond to all you comments. With feedburner’s help, I have put together a friendship subscription form if you would like to hang out with us regularly in the future. Oh, and if you liked it, help us out and digg it and Reddit it!