Networking at conferences is key – we all know that. So I found it interesting to receive an email from one of the presenters I spoke to telling me about her birthday experience the day after we met. I thought I’d share it with you as the outcome is very interesting, especially if you have an interest in business development.

Wendy Merrill – Business Development Strategist:

Over the weekend, my husband and I were able to steal away for a night to celebrate my birthday at a favorite resort in the Pennsylvania countryside. Our goal was relaxation, and that’s what we did.

Our hotel served an amazing breakfast and we were just tucking in to our meal when the couple seated at the next table engaged us in conversation. Turns out they live 10 minutes from us and we had a little chuckle about the small world. The polite exchange turned into an extensive conversation that lasted throughout the meal. We covered many topics, including travel (apropos of the circumstances in which we found ourselves).

As we are wont to do, my husband and I shared a bunch of travel advice with the couple; terrific inns, great restaurants and a ton of ideas/connections for their upcoming trip to Italy. They asked for my card so they could follow up with me to obtain more Italian contacts and I gladly provided it to them.

When my husband extended a cordial offer to meet up with the gentleman for a social coffee upon returning to Baltimore, the man abruptly responded, “Just to be clear, I’m not going to be a prospect for you. I’m all set with my financial planning and won’t make a move.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

My husband quickly explained that his invitation was purely social and that he had no other intention. As the conversation had taken an uncomfortable turn, we paid our respective bills and graciously said goodbye.

Clearly, our impromptu breakfast companion was terrified of being sold. Perhaps he had a bad experience with someone in the financial services industry, or maybe he reflected on his own career challenges/disappointments (he was a lifelong banker). Whatever the case was, his response was unsettling, especially considering the wealth of information that we selflessly shared during our conversation–with absolutely no expectation of anything in return.

This exchange made me reflect upon the presentation I delivered last week at the Revolve Conference in Charleston, SC, entitled “How to Sell without Selling”. I addressed a room filled with creative professionals, most of whom are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of selling.

The first part of my presentation dug into the reason why people loathe being sold to as well as why they fear having to sell to someone else: MANIPULATION.

We are all so afraid of someone gaining control over our mind and pocketbook that we often go into panic mode whenever we encounter someone who may seem to fit the stereotype of a salesperson.

We stiffen, hold our wallets and attempt to steel ourselves against the “dangerous mindgames” that we expect to be played on us.

 In our case, an act of generosity and kindness was eclipsed by a stranger’s negative impression of an entire profession. My husband’s “nice-guyness” was taken out of context and seen as a ploy to solicit business.

I’m writing about this experience because it boldly underlines the need to revamp how society thinks of the sales process. For those of us attempting to grow our businesses, we must be keenly aware of the value we wish to provide to others. For those that sit on the prospective client side of the table, we must understand the value we seek from others.

Wendy Merrill

Wendy Merrill