May 15

A World With No Sales Prospects

Imagine waking up one morning, the owner of a small, but growing ad agency, and finding out your entire client base just fired you within the last hour. And just to make it more fun, every sales prospect in your database… all look just like the clients who just fired you.

What would you do next? How would you begin the challenge of sales prospecting in a world in which you had no sales prospects?

For me that day was August 30, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina resulted in the closing of New Orleans. When the levees finally broke, and most of New Orleans filled with water, the city closed for business.

And with that, my agency’s entire client base was effectively wiped out. You see, I co-owned a small ad agency with my wife. Like most small, local ad agencies, our clients were local, and sold things to folks who either lived in New Orleans or were visiting. So, with the city closed for the foreseeable future, there wasn’t much need for advertising or an advertising agency.

And with absolutely no business prospects on the horizon, little money in the bank (which I couldn’t access anyhow since the storm knocked out the bank’s ATM network) I had a very short time to make very big decisions that would alter the rest of my professional and personal life.

The One Thing That Saved My Career

When I tell people the story above the first question that I usually get is, “what did you do next?” But that’s the wrong question.

You see, it’s not what I did next that was important, but instead, what I had been doing prior.

As it turns out, the thing that saved me had nothing to do with my actions after the hurricane wiped out our company. Instead the thing that saved me was something I had been doing my entire career.

Wishing people happy birthday.

Connecting and Reconnecting

Now remember this is 2005, well before social media and tools like Facebook would automatically remind us of a person’s birthday. Back then you had to actually know someone’s birthday and commit it to some sort of calendar or some other tool to remind yourself of the big day.

And that’s what I did. I had an electronic calendar, and I would do my best to make sure that each person’s record included their birthday. On the appointed day, the calendar in my electronic organizer would alert me to the fact that it was a connection’s birthday, and I would take the opportunity to reach out, usually by phone, to just check in and say hello and wish them a happy birthday.

But what this simple habit allowed me to do was to consistently connect and reconnect at least once a year with people who were important in my life. It didn’t matter if they were friends, colleagues, clients, ex-clients, vendors or even sales prospects that I could work for at some point in the future. They got a call.

But the point here is, at that point in time, receiving a phone call on your birthday from anyone other than your mother was highly unusual. Thus the act stood out. It really made an impact on the people that I was calling. They remembered. And in some cases, they actually used to bet on how early in the day I’d make the annual call.

Social Media Has Made Lazy Connectors of All Of Us

Whatever you think about relationship formation, if you strip it down to its core, you find something kind of amazing. Real relationships, real connections, are the result of real effort.

It used to take real effort to remember someone’s birthday. And it still takes real effort to call someone on their birthday.

But far too often, we’ve become lazy connectors. We rely on Uncle Zuch to remind us of our friends’ birthdays. And instead of calling them, we just toss out a quick comment via the handy dandy birthday comment tool that he provides us.

Stop doing that. Trust me. I speak of that which I know.

About 10 years ago, I started getting lazy too. I relied on social media just like you do. I would drop a comment, or maybe message someone via the platform. It was easy. It was fast. I was connecting!!

But I wasn’t. And neither are you. You’re just spamming.

Reach Out And Touch Someone

Recently I went back to the basics. I started trying to call as many folks as I could on their birthdays. Other times, I record a quick birthday video and text it to them. In some cases, I miss the day but call belatedly. The important thing here is that I make the call. And guess what…. people friggin love it.

In a couple of cases I called folks that I haven’t talked to in almost 10 years. One actually answered and asked if I had butt dialed them. Another was absolutely floored that I a) remembered and b) called her.

And I learned a very, very valuable lesson.

Social Media is great for keeping tabs on folks and lightly connecting from time to time. But if you truly want to build a relationship with someone. A relationship that might just end up saving your ass one day, you have to really reach out and touch them. Let them have no doubt of their value to you. Invest in them. Sure it takes a little more time… hell maybe a lot more time. BUT – it will create deeper connections, stronger relationships, happier moments and I’m convinced, a more successful future for you.

These people, the ones you invest in, they are your people. They are your tribe. They are the ones with whom you have a real connection. A connection rooted in mutual likes or dislikes, shared experiences, common ground, and most importantly, the memory of investments in that relationship by both of you.

So What Happened After Katrina Wiped Out My Agency?

Glad you asked. My family had evacuated to Texas and set up shop temporarily in Ft. Worth. It was pretty obvious we weren’t going home to New Orleans any time soon, so we began to consider some kind of temporary home in my native Texas.

On August 30, 2005, I began reaching out to those connections I had called over the years. I texted the folks whose birthdays I had diligently remembered and acknowledged over the years, explained my situation and asked if they could help.

And help they did.

Not one but multiple offers of employment, freelance work, and other forms of assistance that would enable me to carry on.

I ended up taking a temporary position with my old agency, working for my old boss, on my old account (American Airlines) at what at time time was a ludicrously high hourly rate. I was offered a free place to stay. And others even gave me plane tickets to fly home to New Orleans (my family moved back while I shuttled between Dallas and New Orleans every weekend for 90 days) so that I didn’t have to drive back and forth each and every weekend.

All because I took the time to remember and connect with people on their birthdays.

Not a bad ROI if you ask me.

Feel like connecting? I’m @TomMartin on Twitter. Hit me up.

This post was originally published by Tom Martin on the Converse Digital blog.

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