We met at a Denny’s Restaurant, every other Tuesday at seven a.m.. I was invited to attend the networking group by Mark, a mentor assigned to me by SCORE, a national small business mentoring group of retired professionals.
Prior to starting my food manufacturing company, my experience in the working world had all been public service. At the Social Security Administration, clients showed up to file for benefits. In the public school, children appeared at eight twenty — every day. There was no reason to solicit business. It was a given, like it or not.
When Mark invited me to the first meeting at Denny’s, I thought that I had arrived in the big league. I was a business owner — wow!
“So, what happens at these meetings?” I asked Mark.
“Well, sometimes we practice our elevator speeches — short version, long version. Usually one member is allocated extra time to elaborate on his/her business. Sometimes guest speakers will attend,” he said.
“OK,” I replied. “Do I need to bring anything?”
“Well, you should definitely have your business cards and you might want to offer some samples of your product,” he said.
I am not going to lie. I was nervous that first morning and many of the following Tuesdays. I did not like pitching my product. My mentor gave me a book by Daniel Pink — To Sell is Human. Am I human I wonder(ed)?
Other group members discussed things like toxin removing foot baths (chiropractor), home sales, and mortgage rates. The topics walked a fine line between interesting, repetitive and unengaging. The people were always intriguing, though. People and their behaviors fascinate me.
It was always hard to concentrate, while I waited for my turn. Everybody else seemed pretty relaxed, enjoying their breakfast and waiting for their chance to talk. Did I mention my palms were sweaty? I never ate. “Just coffee,” I said to the same waitress at each gathering.
As I came to learn, the real purpose of the group was to refer business to each other. Somehow I missed the memo on that. I found myself to be an outlier for a couple of reasons. First, my food business was only remotely compatible with everyone else’s. I did not have clients to refer to them. They did not have client’s to refer to me. Unlike the mortgage, real estate and financial planners, my business did not share a commonality. Everyone was kind. Some purchased product from me to give as gifts to their clients. Nice, but not a real boon for business. I was in the wrong place. It just took me a while to figure that out.
I had an inner urge to reciprocate the kindness and advice offered to me. If I could not refer them business, what could I do? I gave away lots of free product, but I had a different idea, too.
And here is where my story gets interesting.
I went off script.
I had an idea for the next meeting and it did not involve pitching my business.
I was reading a lot of business books at that time. I cannot remember the book or the author, but I read an entire chapter about the psychology of reciprocity. Humans are hardwired to reciprocate. We all understand that on some level, right? Businesses selling things often give consumers something so that they will reciprocate and buy — samples, coupons, buy-one to get-one free.
Anyhow, what I thought I could offer to the networking group was knowledge. I could reciprocate their kindness by offering a lesson from the book I had read.
This was maybe my fourth — fifth — sixth time attending the group meeting.
I was prepared. I had a hand out. The hand out had quotes. I had note cards. I was a self-appointed professor.
I excitedly waited for my turn to speak.
“Good morning. I am Gail from xSeedingly Satisfying* and today I would like to share a little something about the psychology of reciprocity,” I started.
I handed out my handouts, along with my business cards. I summarized everything I had learned about the psychology of reciprocity and its relationship to business. I told them that I myself was doing my best to reciprocate their kindness.
It would be unfair for me to speak their thoughts.
What I can do is speak my thoughts on what I think, they were thinking.
I think they thought — ”What was that????!!!!” Not necessarily in a good way.
There was little to no discussion before the next person launched into their elevator speech.
“Good morning. I am James from ABC computers. We can untangle your system crash before any other technician could even arrive at your site,” said James. (OK, I made that up, but you get the idea.)
Hmmmm — -Maybe being a business person was not the cool thing I thought it would be.
Maybe I required some more soul searching.
I’m certain I learned a few things that day. About people — about myself.
And, about human dynamics.
I am human. It just turns out that I prefer selling ideas over selling things.
*Sunflower and pumpkin seeds were the main ingredients. Get it? xSeedingly Satisfying?