How to win friends and influence people, in the tech world
Meeting new people for the first time can be stressful in any context. Meeting new professional contact’s, and ensuring you consistently make a good impression and a meaningful connection can be a challenge. In the tech world, where everyone seem to be on constant overdrive, it’s even harder to really focus on basic human connection instead of passing transactional platitudes. I was recently reading Miriam Grobman’s Credibility Guide, a great primer on the process we all go through when we are first meeting a new person. According to Miriam, the two most important qualities we are trying to gauge in that first meeting are “Can I trust this person?” and “Can I respect this person?”
Whether you are pitching to a new client, or networking at an industry conference, she provides five great strategies for inspiring a “yes” when your new contact asks themselves those two questions about you. I’ve taken these strategies and adapted them to the tech world. We tend to pride ourselves on being a meritocracy, problem solving, and - disrupting the status quo, so of course we need our own unique set of strategies!
When talking about your background, focus on your proudest moments
Talking about ourselves is always difficult. Inevitably, in a business conversation, someone asks (or it’s expected) and you have to talk about your background. Miriam emphasizes the importance of recognizable brands like universities or large corporations, in order to leverage the trust they have in those name brand organizations by associating them with you. In tech, we tend to focus more on what a person has done, and what they are passionate about.
I worked for a company called Bloom Energy that sold fuel cells, a sustainable and clean energy production system that had the potential to curb climate change. I was on a small team that developed and sold these fuel cells all over the world, and it was one of the most gratifying parts of my career. I always talk about that experience when I’m asked about my background, and it’s obvious that our team accomplished great things in terms of innovation and scale (despite the fact that Bloom Energy is not a recognizable name unless you are in the energy world). It’s also very obvious to listeners that I’m very proud of those days, and that passion really helps to build trust and respect.
Talk about problems you love to solve - and your solutions
Miriam lists the importance of mentioning past achievements, and talking about solving problems is the tech version of that. The idea is to showcase your knowledge, and build up trust for your expertise in a particular area.
I’ve founded, worked in, and advised a number of direct to commerce companies. I know that building a brand in our crowded virtual lives is extremely difficult, and consumer companies struggle to keep their customer acquisition costs down. Whenever I meet with a founder of consumer company, the conversation always turns to customer acquisition. I find I’m able to give them ideas on bringing their costs down, increasing their lifetime customer value, and getting closer to profitability. I also find that they inevitably follow up on the conversation, and continue to stay in touch.
We all love to talk to people who are similar to us. We gravitate towards similarities in profession, hobbies, and cultures. Miriam talks about her time in Brazil, and how she learned to talk about her family, and ask about her new contact’s favorite soccer team. This may seem like useless small talk, but in fact is goes a long way in building trust. It’s important to allow people to identify with you.
Personally, I’ve found that another important part of building rapport in tech is to dress the part. This might seem obvious, but it was a challenge for me! I had just sold a legal services tech business in NYC when I moved out to join Bloom Energy in the Bay Area. My wardrobe in NYC was almost completely WHBM dresses, matching heels, and statement necklaces. My first day at Bloom, it was very obvious I needed to invest in jeans. Once I had a chance to create my new, more casual look, there was a very subtle change in my interactions with the rest of the team. I felt like I was “one of them,” and our communication became even warmer and friendlier.
Get an introduction
If you are trying to meet a new person to find a job, make a sale, or request a mentor, it’s always best to get an introduction. Miriam talks about the importance of social proof. When you don’t know how to behave, you look to the behavior of people you trust. This is why introductions are so effective. If my friend likes you, then I probably will too! Reaching out for introductions in your network can be challenging. I’ve written a post about leveraging your network, and I’ve prepared an email template for asking for them. Sign up below to access it!
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Too often we lead with problems we need solving, because we are so focussed on finding solutions. To build lasting relationships, it’s important to ask questions that uncover what the other person’s problems are, and what they need solved.
Sometimes you don’t event have to ask the question, just observe. A friend of mine is an influencer in a particular industry, and she has a website with a prolific blog. She is also regularly inundated with emails asking for mentorship, interview requests, and coffee meetings. But one day she got an email from someone who had noticed a bug on her website, suggested a fix, and then offered to fix it for her! She responded very appreciatively, and then met with her new friend and took her out to dinner. That story made an impression on me because it’s so rare that we are able to bring that much value to another person out of the blue, and it had a powerful and positive effect on both of them.
For more networking advice: How to Leverage Your Network to Get a Job in Another City