“Is she friendly?”
“Well yes, totally. Except… she might not be friendly to you, because she growls unexpectedly sometimes in a way that might make you think she’s going to eat your dog. But she’s really the sweetest dog in the world.”
That’s a common conversation I have when I’m walking my dog Nola (50-pound labrador mix) and someone else with a dog (usually a little one) approaches us.
People want to know if their dogs are safe approaching Nola, and I don’t blame them. The answer is twofold: 1, I never really know, because Nola is unpredictable, and 2, of course they are, she’s the sweetest dog in the world. But when you first meet her, it’s hard to know which version of Nola she’ll be.
I thought of this the other day when the team here at BTP Unite was talking about how to reach out to new prospective customers in this age of virtual communication. How do you find customers when you can’t look them in the eye, shake their hand, buy them a meal or cup of coffee to get to know them better?
Even more important, how do they know if you’re “friendly?” How can they tell if you’re someone who they should get to know better and interact with more deeply?
How do humans do our version of sniffing each other’s butts, when butt smells can’t permeate computer screens?
I have two potential answers. One is super low tech, and one’s a little higher tech.
The low tech one starts with simply asking them how they’re doing.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unique because in the past, tragic events like this have mostly been experienced separately, by small groups in specific places, like terrorist acts or natural disasters. In this case, we’re all experiencing it together, at the same time, in much the same ways. So we speak a common language, and that can provide a basis of conversation between two people who don’t know each other.
If there’s someone you want to reach out to who you don’t know, you could start with a basic human question like “How are you?” or “”What’s something fun you’ve done?” or “What is or was the first meal you’ll eat or ate in a restaurant” or “What’s the first place you’ll go when you get back on a plane?”
Start human. See where it goes.
A second, slightly higher tech solution is to become someone’s new digital professional friend by connecting on LinkedIn, without asking for anything. Just get them engaged in a conversation. If LinkedIn isn’t your jam, use the platform that is.
Start by sharing commonalities and interests. Develop a virtual connection. Take your time. Things take longer to happen in the digital space. When it feels right—and this will be different for different people—you can tell them how you might serve them and their business.
Then get them off the platform and get them on the phone, or onto email, or Zoom, or wherever you’re comfortable furthering the discussion. Maybe then they’d be up for a socially distanced walk in the park. You can still buy the coffee! It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Whether you prefer the lower or higher tech versions, give one a shot. Do a little online butt-sniffing and see if the person you’re reaching out to is friendly. You never know where it could go.
“Is she friendly?”