The Token

They reminded me after my doctor appointment that I needed a token (coin) to get out of the parking lot. “Thanks for reminding me,” I said.

In my car, I shifted to reverse to back up and head for the exit. But there was a car behind me, then another and another. I looked around and saw that two lines had formed for one exit. 

One exit had a maintenance truck in it working on the machine for lift the gate that allows the cars to get out of the parking lot. The other lane had a car sitting there, taking some time to deal with the one operable machine. The lines quickly formed and got longer and longer. I wasn’t going to get out any time soon. There was clearly a problem with the car trying to exit. It appeared that the gentleman in the vehicle was struggling to figure out how to use the machine. Everyone was just sitting, waiting, not moving. I thought to myself, if someone doesn’t do something we may be here all day. Perhaps that someone needed to be me. 

So I unbuckled, got out of my car , went to the maintenance guy and asked him if he knew what was happening with the car in the exit line. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said grufly (like don’t bother me dude.) So while everyone sat in their cars and watched, I approached the guy at the exit. I saw he had a credit card in his hand. I asked him, “What’s the problem? Can I help you with something?” 

“I’m trying to get out,” he says.

“You need a token,” I replied 

“I don’t know where mine went, I can’t find it, and I can’t back up,” he said.

Gazing around at the growing line, I said, “Here use mine. I’ll go get another one. You’ve got to get out and it’ll take some time for the line to get smaller anyway.”

“Thank you,” he said

“My pleasure.”

A few smiles and nods greeted me on the way back to my car to lock up and head back into the building. 

As I started my walk back to the building I heard a voice. “Sir! Do you need a token?” It was the maintenance guy. “I found a token on the ground here. No need to walk all the way back.” 

That gruff maintenance guy that seemed to be ignoring everything was actually watching. He somehow had found the coin the guy had dropped. I trotted over, thanked him and hustled straight back to my car. A smile came over my face. Problem solved. Cars moving. Done deal.

As I sat and reflected, it struck me how God sees even the little things. That He who sees a sparrow fall, can see a token as well, and works through others to bless acts of kindness beyond our expectation. When we pay it forward it always produces positive results whether we see it or not. 

Some other applications from this little encounter:

Someone has to initiate. All it took was me, one person, providing a solution to break the jam. What can we do today to provide a solution to someone or something?

“God finds” I call them. Little things and big things so easy to overlook. Positive focus. Unexpected blessings.

How can we pay it forward today? Break the log jam? Help someone? Find the value proposition and act on it?

Sometimes all it takes is one small token.

Sometimes it Seems Random

It was 7 or 8 years ago. I was cranking out decent miles on a trail run. I heard his footsteps approaching while leaning into a hill. He was stride for stride but not passing. I sensed this might be an unusual experience for him, but I didn’t like to get passed on my runs; stupid I know, but it’s a part of me; a throwback to my competitive running days. He finally pulled up next to me and we started to talk. (It’s a “runner thing.”) He had relocated here from Arizona. His wife’s family lived in town and she wanted to be closer to them while raising their kids. He took up running as an adult. He did triathlon’s as well. We cruised through 7:30 miles for the rest of the run and had some fun getting to know each other. We talked throughout. He was in fund-raising, business development, lead generation. I was in the business of engineering and construction. I sensed some connection between us.

Fast forward to present; just a few days ago in fact. My fatigue and the cold air led me to the local Starbucks this particular morning. And there HE was at the front of the line. The same guy. He reached out and said, “Hey do you have time for a visit?” I said, “Yeah for as long as it takes to get my drink.” (I was in a rush.) He rolled his eyes, pulled me to the front of the line, and said “Tell me what you want to drink.” Obviously he meant business. He wanted to talk.

Let’s rewind; two weeks ago.

He had emailed me via LinkedIn asking if I’d ever thought about employing a business development professional to advocate our business, open doors, and build relationships (yes, of course.) I’d asked him why, and questioned if he was still in his present job. He informed me that he was. He was looking to the future and to more possibilities.

Rewind again, this time to a month or two ago. We “randomly” cross paths (again.) This time it was just outside the trail entrance on the road. He was running and I was finishing a power walk. He’d recently started training again. I jumped in with him for a bit. It was totally spontaneous. He talked about his most recent position as a business developer for a General Contracting firm. I knew where he was working through our LinkedIn connection, and through his messaging from time to time. He mentioned how he’d helped to increase the GC’s bid opportunities from $2.5M to $12M.

I’d lost track of him before this, between the initial run on the trail and now, except for an occasional encounter at the grocery store, on social media, or around town at random. Now our paths seemed to be continuing to cross. I know more about his background because every time he changed jobs, he let me know. Every time he changed he got closer and closer to what I do; the business of engineering, design and construction. He’d been in fund-raising for a non-profit,  development for a college engineering department, and one prior construction company gig; business development, people stuff, talking, finding a fit, opening doors, designing connectivity; this is what he loves. It’s who he is. It’s a lot of who I am as well, but CEO duties in a growing organization make it harder and harder to build 1-1 relationships myself unless they are very specific and have high potential in scaled opportunities.

My quick encounter at Starbucks turned out to be a 20 minute conversation while I finished my mocha and he drank his coffee. He talked about his goals. We discussed my business. We talked about roles, philosophies, his and my approach to client and business development. Back and forth, back and forth.

I find it more than “random” that I bumped into him at Starbucks. I find it more than random that our paths have gently crossed over the years. I find it not random. People encounters are unique. They aren’t always planned and aren’t typically scripted. It’s important to take notice when recurring themes and people continue to present themselves. This got my attention. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t plan it. I was just going about my daily business. There’s a message for me in this perhaps, regardless of what it is or what I do with it.

We never know what relationship or interaction may turn out to be something of significance. Something that changes the way we think; the way we view life; how we interact. I am not sure yet what will happen from this. I’m still reflecting.

Sometimes strategy is planned and initiative. Sometimes is spontaneous and reactive; “opportunistic.” It’s important to watch, to listen, to stop for a moment, to reflect on what might really be happening; to decide what we want to do with it.

LinkedIn, LA, Coffee

He sent me a LinkedIn request the week before I was heading to Los Angeles. I didn’t know him, but he was a “second” on my LinkedIn network, and connected to the glazing industry. I was happy to connect and accept his request. I thanked him for the connection through the message feature. I told him that I was heading to Los Angeles the next week. What a “coincidence.” I suggested that perhaps we could get together. The product he helped develop and represents was somewhat new to me, but I was curious. I wanted to know more about the company and the product. I was also traveling with my son that week as he had some interviews in LA. If he was available I wanted him to attend some meetings with me just to get more experience.

My new contact’s response was immediate; “You need to connect with two of my colleagues. I’m not available but I’d like them to get together with you. You guys can arrange whatever time that works.”

So we connected. We set up a meeting. It would be over coffee at a location  we could both reach within an hour. I hesitated and second-guessed myself thinking that LA traffic would make it a mess, but decided that I’d just “play it by ear.”

The day prior, I had a meeting with another new client prospect. A large meeting was set with the CEO, Marketing VP, Director of Operations, Engineering Manager, and others. We met in the conference room. During that meeting the question came to me, “So do you have any other meetings this week?”

“Yes, I have them daily, including one tomorrow with some folks I met through LinkedIn.  They have a specialty product I’d like to hear more about.”

“Oh we know them. In fact, we’ve used their product, says the CEO. Let us know if you find out anything pertinent that might be helpful to us as well.” (World gets smaller…)

The day came. My son was available. Traffic showed a clear, 1 hr, LA drive. We loaded up Google Maps and headed to the meeting. We arrived right on time. After navigating through the parking lot, then the coffee shop, we found our LinkedIn friends. They were sitting outside. It was warm. The air smelled fresh. A light breeze was blowing. The atmosphere was inviting. My new friends were very welcoming and engaging. The discussion started. It moved quickly to common points of reference and insights. Shortly into the discussion, it became obvious to me that there was a potential opportunity to leverage our friend’s product with people and companies that I knew (dots to connect as I say.) To connect them to people and products that had influence and application. Discussion became deeper. I asked questions. My son asked questions. We were all deeply engaged. We were looking at  product samples. I asked them to tell me more about their story. I asked them about their goals and plans within the space that I was familiar. They stated them within A Five-Year Plan.

” 5-years, I asked? You don’t have 5 years. What about two to three years?”

“What do you have in mind, they asked?”

“I tell you what I have in mind related to speed to Market. There’s no reason for you to wait 5 years. There’s front-end application for this now if the value proposition is clear. Buyers downstream need to understand the economics. This is an investment to facilitate a reduced life cycle cost downstream. There are events and groups where you need to connect. There’s Sales managers, business developers and marketers that you need to meet. You need to get in front of the right people. How about if I provide you with a proposal. I’ll help you evaluate the market channels and client prospects.”

“I think we would be very interested, they said. We’ll talk to the CEO and COO and ask them what they think.”

Much more transpired. We adjourned on time, shared business cards, created follow-up plans, and then headed our separate ways (My way was to the nearest In-and-Out Burger for lunch.)

The next week I got a message from my contact saying that the CEO and COO wanted a proposal. They were interested in what I had to offer. I asked for email addresses. They were provided. I set up a new job number. I started a proposal in draft form. It’ll be in their hands soon. There is an opportunity to help them get deeper into one of their market segments, to potentially increase their market share, their top-line revenue, and profitability. All from one simple LinkedIn connection request. From intention and interest. From a simple 1-hour connection point with people who care about their product and who want to improve their lives. All around a cup of coffee, at a table outside, on a sunny day in Southern California.

Related to LinkedIn as an example of a social media platform for business; we can simply accept connections and be done, or we can respond, be invitational, and start a conversation. When we create conversation, we may drive to a deeper level. If someone doesn’t want to engage back, they simply won’t respond. But if they do want to engage, it can quickly lead to more; and we don’t know what “more” may be. This is just one instance for me where a simple social media connection request turned into an opportunity to create and express value for both parties.

How are you doing in social media and relationship-building? Are you disregarding the potential value and connections with people, and with building relationships? Are you simply requesting and accepting connections without taking it any further?Are you posting things about yourself and your company without ever attempting to create value to others?

Everything has a context. Social media itself doesn’t build a personal relationship. It provides a connection point through a platform. Don’t simply accept a connection and sit idly without any further conversation. There’s a person on the other end, not a digital entity. There’s a person that works for a company who wants to continue improving their life, and the lives of those around them. Look for common interests or common spaces and places to connect. You’ll be surprised at the dots that can be connected over time. And even if nothing transpires from it related to business, the time invested in a relationship is worth it. People have value. People are looking to connect and build community. People have a story to tell. It’s enough to simply meet someone and share coffee together.

Here are a few follow-up thoughts and applications. These things are good to remember.

  1. Never take anything for granted. We don’t know where a connection will lead. I could write many more stories about my experiences.
  2. Initiate a conversation. A real one, not an auto-response. Make it relevant
  3. Remember, there is a real person on the other end
  4. If you are not generating potential leads through LinkedIn conversations, then you’re not getting the full impact. Dare I say, you’re not using it to the fullest?
  5. Share your email address directly in the message. Include your website link, even though it is already on your profile. It’s much easier to carry forward when you can reach each person via Outlook and set a Calendar meeting.
  6. Some of these connections and touches should lead to new relationships, new proposal opportunities, and new business. I’ve done it and experienced it 1st hand. The same is true for Twitter.
  7. Never say never, except to say “Never assume you know anything.” I’ve fallen prey to getting dry, lacking creativity, and being complacent. We know nothing about our connection’s real needs, their companies, and their desires, until we listen and engage
  8. It’s not about the number of connections. It’s about the depth of connections. Size matters, but only to the extent that the connections are relevant to your domain, interest, background, capability, values.

The next time you request or receive a connection, initiate a conversation. Make it relevant. Be interesting. Keep it succinct. As I stated in my blog post, “Inclusive or Exclusive,” you might be surprised at what happens.