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.