Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jim McCann, the founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers. When Jim first came into the room he greeted me warmly and proceeded to ask about my background and family. I was struck by how much time he spent asking questions about me as a person. He wanted to know about my upbringing, where I went to high school, jobs I’d held since college, and some of my hobbies. In about ten minutes, Jim learned a lot about me.
I was reminded of this experience today when I had an introductory call with a Punchbowl partner. I had never spoken with this person before, and we didn’t have much on the agenda. So I borrowed a line from Jim McCann’s biography called Stop and Sell the Roses: Lessons from Business and Life.
In just a few short minutes, I learned that this person had grown up in Indiana, spent the last 20 years living the Washington D.C. area, had one daughter who was currently in college for environmental science, had a dog that died last winter, and now has a 5 month old puppy. My questions led to her asking me questions, and she learned about where I live and some other personal details.
An outsider may have heard the conversation and asked “Why did Matt just spend ten minutes of his day learning esoteric details about this woman’s life?” And to that I would answer: “In just a quick ten minutes, I’ve formed a solid foundation and relationship that will spill over into every business transaction we do together.” Indeed, I learned a valuable lesson from Jim McCann a few years ago, and it’s something that I practice often. Business is about relationships first, then about numbers, statistics, logistics, goals, and money.
Ask yourself next time you meet someone new in a business setting: “Did I take the time to form a relationship first or did I just get right down to business?” Try to spend more time getting to know the person on the phone or sitting across from the conference room table. Perhaps you’ll find out that she’s expecting a baby or buying a new house. The more you learn about the person, the more effective you’ll be when it is time to get down to business.
Remind yourself: first make a relationship, then do business. And watch as your business relationships grow.
By the way, if you haven’t read Jim McCann’s books, I would recommend them. You can buy them here: Stop and Sell the Roses: Lessons from Business and Life and Talk Is (Not!) Cheap: The Art of Conversation Leadership.