An interesting thing happened when I met with a prospective client last month. Based on a variety of factors, I had assumed that this company was a long shot. In my mind, the possibility of yielding business with them was as close to zero as it gets, and I had written them off before I even walked in the door. I went forward with the meeting regardless, if for no other reason, to get a little pitching practice. To my astonishment, I walked out with a proposal request!
Wait, I See a Pattern!
Thinking back, I consistently experienced a similar irony when I used to take care of guests in various restaurants. If I caught a good vibe from a particular table (the people were friendly/cuisine savvy/open-minded), I would try to maximize their experience by giving them my all. The result: my tips were often the standard 20 percent. However, when I had a table that didn’t throw off the same great vibe (the people were just there for a meal/were demanding or suspicious), I’d dial down my enthusiasm, remaining formal but detached. In some of these cases, I scored gratuities well above 20 percent.
A Phenomenon at Play
When I had walked into last month’s meeting, I was the dialed-down Deborah, which undeniably worked in my favor. This is quite the opposite experience I sometimes have when I walk in full of zest, enthusiastic about my company and upbeat during my pitch, after which I never hear back. This made even less sense to me after it was suggested that there is a fine line between enthusiasm and, of all things, desperation. Wait, me? Passionate, animated Deborah, excited about the community I’ve created, eager to see people benefit from my services, only to come across as desperate for business? It turns out there’s some truth in the aforementioned suggestion, and that many entrepreneurs who love their product or service have a challenging time navigating this fine line, sending off the wrong message in the process. It was the case in my restaurant days, and it remains in place for my entrepreneurial self today. Sound familiar to you?
Recognizing the Problem
The Internet blogosphere currently offers little in the way of helping us discern what comes off as enthusiasm versus what gets ridiculed as desperation. Aside from tapping into the vast wasteland of online dating website commentaries, it appears we’re on our own in reframing the analogy for business. What it comes down to is simple: Our personalities vary. The exact same business pitch coming from one person can be perceived in a different aesthetic light than if it were coming from another person. Intentionally sending out the opposite vibe that your instincts would prescribe is plainly not an honest or realistic solution to the paradox.
One approach I’ve begun using to be sure that my extroversion is never perceived as desperation is to take a step back and consider which traits might be mistaken as desperate. For instance, sounding to “salesey” by not letting my service sell itself can make it seem like I’m just going through the motions, rushing to close the deal before it’s even opened. Also, sending a signal that I need to “hit this one out of the park” could be interpreted as a sign of my inability to drum up business as of late. These scenarios are likely responsible for sabotaging business connections that might otherwise prove fruitful.
Reconsidering One’s Approach
With certain techniques in place, I can conduct business with a new, reserved enthusiasm, and revel in the results. For example, when meeting with a prospective client, if I’m tempted to ooze too much passion about my company or services, I make an effort to catch myself. I maintain a balance by being emotionally “detached” from my client while still remaining warm toward them. Another trick to help me pull this off is to imagine that the person I’m presenting to is the type whom I naturally feel detached from. This raises my inhibitions and establishes boundaries without stripping my pitch of its nuance. Practice this yourself … you might be delighted to discover that you’ve landed a new client whom you had assumed was out of your league!
*Image of “Enthusiasm” via David Goehring/Flickr