Attend a few conferences throughout any given year, and you’ll walk away with an overabundance of shiny, new buzzwords to throw into digital marketing conversations, presentations, and sales meetings. Not long after, inevitably, these buzzwords get overused, we get sick of hearing them, and whenever we hear them on a call or see them on a PowerPoint slide in bold, size 54 font, we groan.
It’s the marketing world’s version of hearing a song overplayed on the radio. “Despacito,” anyone?
Inbound 2017 Buzz
I recently attended INBOUND 2017, and if I had to pick one word that was played on repeat, it would be “authenticity.” We heard it everywhere! In almost every session! Buzz, buzz, buzz.
Well, here’s the rub. Authenticity should not be a buzzword. It should bear certain traits of a buzzword–meaning, it’s a word that’s constantly at the top of people’s minds, on the tips of their tongues, and is a concept that lives at the forefront of what we do day-in and day-out. But it should not be a buzzword that burns out and fades away. We shouldn’t groan when we think about being authentic.
So, what does it mean to be authentic in business? It means communicating to your customers, partners, peers, and fellow employees as if they’re actually human.Buzzwords- the marketing world’s version of hearing a song overplayed on the radio. Click To Tweet
I’m a salesperson (yes, you may groan here). We are often considered to be some of the most inauthentic people out there. Not without good reason; think about why you hate the stereotypical car salesman. What traits make you groan? Maybe they’re loud, maybe they’re pushy. Maybe you think they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Whatever traits immediately came to mind, the one thing underlying all of them is inauthenticity.
Let me give you some real-world examples. One of the areas I find it most important to be authentic is in networking (again, permission to groan here). If you’re in a business, chances are you have to network at some point.
Here’s the thing: Nobody actually likes networking. If they say they do, they’re not being authentic! Just kidding. But really, even the most outgoing people still find it challenging. I’m an incredibly social person, and there are still times I sigh to myself when I have to make awkward conversation with complete strangers.
What makes it awkward and uncomfortable? It feels forced and superficial. What makes it less awkward and uncomfortable? Being authentic. Approaching them as though you would approach a friend-of-a-friend that you just met–someone who is not yet in your circle, but could be if you make an authentic connection to them.
How do we do that? Change your mindset. Instead of having self-serving interests and asking yourself, “What can this person do for me; do they bring any value to me and what I need?” ask them about them. With genuine interest.
It’s that simple. I attended a session at INBOUND which was all about how to network without being an asshole (actual title). One of the biggest takeaways I had was that networking doesn’t have to feel forced. There’s a better way!
People love talking about themselves. You can warm anyone up by asking them questions about themselves. Let me show you what I mean.
Imagine you’re at a networking reception, standing in the middle of a crowded room. I walk up to you and say, “Hi Bob, my name is MC. Where do you work? What do you do?”
You’ll likely answer politely because you’re not a jerk, but subconsciously, your guard is slightly up because you don’t know what my ulterior motive is with those questions. Perhaps it’s quite innocent, and I only asked you those questions because I didn’t know what else to ask. But you don’t know that. Regardless of my intention, I’ve probably already put you off to whatever conversation I’ve just forcibly engaged you in.
The problem with this approach is that it comes off as inauthentic and self-serving. So, change your approach, and change your mindset.
You’re back in that crowded room. I walk up to you and say, “Hi Bob, my name is MC. Where are you from?”
Did you relax slightly? Maybe breathe a little sigh of relief? Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, that’s refreshing. They want to know more about me as a person, not just what I do for a living.
That’s the goal. That’s the better way–establishing genuine connections with people.
This goes beyond networking and applies to any conversation – be it an initial sales call, a sales pitch, or a regular monthly account management call. Connecting with people doesn’t stop after we close the sale. It is crucial to continue nurturing the relationships we establish and get to know people as people.
When starting those initial conversations, your opener can be about anything. You don’t have to ask where someone is from every single time. You can compliment something they’re wearing – as long as it’s a genuine compliment. Reference the event, the venue, the city – but do try to come up with something more thoughtful than the weather or “TGIF!” Once the conversation has started, continue to ask more about them – find out what their interests or hobbies are outside of work. Maybe you’ll find a common interest, which makes the conversation even more comfortable and exciting.
Like any skill, practicing authenticity takes focus and hard work. It’s challenging not to immediately start talking shop in these instances. After all, that’s why we’re there, right?
But the key to being authentic means not having an ulterior motive. It means connecting with people for the sake of connecting with them and establishing meaningful relationships. It’s not being phony or forced. Being authentic is more than just a buzzword that we say repeatedly. It is something that we must live.