I always keep an extra Wisconsin shirt in my car. I grew up in Wisconsin, and I’m an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers. I still follow those teams closely, even though I split time between Chicago and Florida now. The biggest difference between those two places is the weather, and I cherish the opportunity to go for a walk on the beach each day before starting my work. These walks allow me to clear my head and start each day fresh. I leave my phone and my worries at home, but I always make sure I’m wearing a Wisconsin shirt.
This might seem like a small thing, but it isn’t just an act of loyalty to my homeland. Whether it’s because they grew up in Wisconsin or simply root for the same team, someone always seems to say hello or reach out for a high five—but I don’t let the conversation end there. I love meeting new people, and this is one of the few times when I can’t be distracted by my phone or work. I always stop walking and talk to them. What about my shirt interested them? Where are they from? What are they doing here? What might we have in common?
I have these same interactions everywhere I go. For example, I don’t board an airplane without a Wisconsin sweatshirt on, and someone always says something about it, and thus the conversation begins!
This is how I’ve solved one of the most challenging problems in the sales industry today. It’s never been more difficult to get a potential client’s attention. Typically, you’re lucky to get just a few minutes to hook someone’s interest before they get distracted—by their friends, their phones, their food, or whatever else.
This isn’t a new problem, and one of the first things they teach you when you start working in sales is that you need to formulate an “elevator pitch.” Business owners only have a short window of time to talk to someone they’ve never met, and it’s your job to formulate an elevator pitch that makes the most of that time.
But an “elevator pitch” is still a sales technique, and I’ve found that one of the fastest ways to end a conversation is to make the other person think you’re trying to sell them something. Instead, I skip past that entire process. I love meeting new people and making new friends; and over the course of building a friendship, I can begin sowing the seeds of a productive business partnership if the opportunity presents itself. You’d be surprised how often those opportunities present themselves!
To be clear, I am currently writing this blog while on an airplane. I just finished an hour-long conversation with a man who runs a mid-stage startup. We had a great conversation about our destination (warm sunny beach!), our families, and finally our work. I now have an appointment with him to meet his co-founder and discuss how 8th Light can help their new business take the next step. Just last week I shared a cab with a woman who runs IT for a cable TV network. We also have an appointment scheduled. In both cases our careers were the last things we talked about, and that’s how I’d prefer it.
The most fulfilling professional relationships are the ones built on personal connections. This is especially true at 8th Light, where our process of building custom software only works if both sides are wholly invested in the process of building high quality software.
Our clients must make themselves available for daily stand ups, in addition to larger planning meetings held each week. They also need to be engaged in the planning process to define what a successful feature or project will look like. On the other hand, clients need to be receptive to our craftsmen’s advice when they’re speaking from their own expertise.
This is often more difficult than it seems. I’ve never written a line of code in my life, and most of the stakeholders I talk to never will either. For most people, software only exists under the hood, and it’s difficult to think about products in terms of their code bases. Clients see their applications as life-changing innovations; a distillation of their life’s dreams. Seeing them broken down and pulled apart into a language they don’t understand can be a tense and sensitive process that doesn’t respond well to criticism.
But any project worth building will always struggle through a period of unexpected complexity, and the best way to navigate these pain points is through close collaboration. The success of the software we build is dictated by the ability of our clients and our craftsmen to communicate honestly, openly, and frequently. This requires a strong foundation of trust.
This is the biggest reason why my model of relationship selling has been so successful. When you dive into a project that requires so much hard work and close collaboration, you need to know that you’re doing so with a partner you genuinely like and trust. The quality of these working relationships will shine through in the resulting software. Because of my un-sales approach to selling that focuses on building the personal relationships first, I know that all of our relationships are of the highest quality. Our software is proof!