Below is an excerpt from the book Sales Tales: The Hustle, Humor, and Lessons Learned From A Life In Sales which will be released October 20, 2021. This is a small snippet of the chapter called "I Collect People" which is about networking and building your community.
In April 2008, I went to San Francisco for a client networking baseball game. I ended up running with protestors looking for the Olympic Torch. My event was at 7:00 PM at Oracle Stadium (formerly AT&T). I arrived in the city earlier that day and had some errands to run. For some reason there was a requirement that all the salespeople wear matching outfits. The outfit I was supposed to wear, but did not have, was a white t- shirt with a white cardigan. A girl with ample bosoms like mine has a tough time wearing a cardigan. It is not very flattering hence the reason I didn’t readily have this in my wardrobe. In the spirit of sales unity, I complied and set out to find a damn white cardigan as soon as I got to the city. I walked from my hotel about two miles to The Gap. Surely, they would have a white cardigan, and they did. BOOM. The first one I tried on worked. I was golden. Now all I had to do was briskly walk back to my hotel, do some work for a couple hours, slap on my new cardigan and head to the baseball field. Boy was I wrong. I never could have guessed how the next two hours would unfold. As I walked out of The Gap, I noticed crowds of people forming lines on the street as if they were waiting for something.
I asked someone: “What is all the raucous all about?”
Street stranger: “Oh, the Olympic torch is being run through San Francisco on it’s way to Beijing for the Olympics.”
Me: “Cool, where’s it going?”
Street Stranger: “We don’t know. Maybe over there…”
He pointed to a terribly busy street that didn’t seem blocked off for such a monumental run. I was skeptical. I continued to walk down the street and somehow got tousled up with a wild band of protesters. They were fighting with another wild band of protesters. Each group had its own flag, and they were running fast, carrying their flags and flag fighting. It looked like they were each using their little flag poles as swords. They were running extremely fast as if they were chasing someone or something. I did not know what to do, but was curious, and had two hours to kill before the game, so I ran with them. We ran up and down so many hills in San Francisco. The run was aimless and while we winded around the streets, each group was screaming at the other group. I couldn’t make out the words they were using but they sounded really mad. I ran with them hoping to see the Olympic torch, but all I saw were protesters and counter protesters who looked like mice in a maze with no end destination.
The streets were very hectic with people arriving for the Giants game. There was also the standard insanity of a busy city with people walking everywhere and cars stopped, beeping at us and each other. I ran with one group for a bit and then switched to the other group. They were all so wayward. There was no route. They were angry. It was dangerous. I loved every minute of it.
After about an hour of this nonsense, I gave up and went back to my hotel room for a much-needed rinse off before heading to the game. When I got to the game, in the fancy suite at Giants Stadium, I was sharing my experience with one of the potential clients. He seemed jealous and envious of the story. I didn’t realize why until he laid out the back story, the real reason this was happening. While I was running with the protesters, I had assumed these wild wolf packs of flag carriers were just each proud of their own country and running to look for the Olympic Torch carrier. I was wrong. My potential client told me that protest group number one were China supporters & protest group number two were Tibet supporters. At that time, there was upheaval about the way China was treating Tibet and Sudan, and since the Olympics were in Beijing that year, there were protests in every city. I asked him about the torch route because it seemed like the yahoos I was with didn’t have any idea where they were going. He said, “That’s because they changed the torch route this morning after the opening ceremonies. No one knew where the torch was going and everyone was looking for it all day.” Apparently, the protest threat was so bad that the city cut the distance in half, changed the route to avoid protesters, and the poor torch man was hiding in a warehouse somewhere near the water. I had been flying from San Diego to San Francisco when this was shared in the news and had no idea this was about to happen. I was just living it, LIVE, in real time. The potential client said that he was trying to get off work all day to look for the torch and be a part of the excitement, but he couldn’t make it happen. He was really interested to hear about what I saw, play by play. I had no idea I was experiencing such a desired moment.
My torch run with the protesters sparked an awesome conversation with the potential new client. We talked about the Olympics, his thoughts about China, Tibet, Yoga, Zen moments, and all sorts of other topics that would never have come up had I not opened up about the weird several hours I had before the event. I learned, in that moment, that my client is a news and current events buff. He knew everything about the crowds, the number of protesters, and what the police were doing to keep everyone safe. I also learned at that moment that he was a facts and numbers junkie. This would later help me when we eventually started working together.
If I would have just shown up to that event, in my white cardigan, talking about mundane things like the weather or our jobs, I never would have created a deeper connection with a potential client. Now, I am not saying to go find yourself a protest in a new city every time you travel somewhere for work. I am saying, open yourself up at these networking events. Share a little—even if it’s unusual—so you can get to a deeper level of connection with people. I still remember that moment, that conversation, and that client. We are still friends and business associates. It all started because I shared a wacky story.
Just as I said earlier in the chapter, networking comes in many shapes and sizes. It's not all about the happy hour or the long dinners. Networking is an opportunity to open dialogue to create lasting relationships. When you are open and interesting, magic can happen and lasting business relationships will be formed.
This is a small excerpt from the book Sales Tales: The Hustle, Humor and Lessons From A Life In Sales. Mandi Graziano is an author, public speaker, sales & business coach and life time hospitality conference executive. For more information on how to purchase her new book that comes out on October 20th. Click here.
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