The use of shoehorns can be traced back to 15th century and are named after their function – wedging your hoof into a shoe – and composition – originally, animal horns. They were also made in silver, bone and shell. Today they’re usually made of plastic, metal or wood. Queen Elizabeth apparently had over twenty of them.
Have you ever used a long-handled shoehorn? They’re great! You don’t have to bend over and stick your finger in the back of your shoe to squeeze your foot inside. Your foot just glides in, instead of slowly crushing the back of your shoe.
Shoehorns are less and less common today, mainly because we wear more casual shoes. But they’ve found other uses, particularly in conversations. Shoehorning commonly refers to unnaturally inserting something into an inappropriate space or situation.
For example: How can I shoehorn my pitch into this conversation?
Say you’re standing among a small group, chatting about the US election and one person says, “Speaking of Trump and hotels, my company, Bespoke Delight Visuals, makes bespoke signage for events and businesses. We had to make massive signage with huge gold fonts and we thought it was very Trumpesque. We’ve just launched a new range using the latest VR technology to create augmented reality signs companies can buy for product demos.” The other three in the group inwardly groan, exchanging sideways glances.
When the shoe is on the other foot
Let’s say you’re chatting to someone at a networking event. You’re having a good conversation about adventure travel and at the back of your mind you’re wondering what she does. Is she a good lead? You want to steer the conversation towards your pitch but you don’t want to appear like the jerk from the previous story.
What do you do?
In both scenarios, the objectives are me-focused. They’re selfish. Thinking about your pitch in the hopes of landing on interested ears is a sure way to turn people away. If you play it right, knowing how to turn a chance encounter into a business meeting can unlock a flood of new leads for your business.
Here’s a 5-step system on how to turn a chance encounter into a business meeting, I call it the Drop the Shoehorn technique. I’ve tried and tested it countless times. It’s worked with my clients, too.
How to turn a chance encounter into a business meeting
1. Drop the shoehorn
I often see people working the room, assessing whether people are good contacts by the way they’re dressed or who they’re talking to. To them, everyone has a £ or $ sign above their head. Can’t you tell when someone’s motives are selfish? When you meet someone for the first time, drop the shoehorn; stop thinking about yourself or what you can get out of this person or how many business cards or leads you can score. People may be polite and hear you out but they can sense you’re just out for yourself. Let go of any expectation. Instead, focus on what you can give.
2. Be interested, not interesting
Next, you want to build rapport, make the other person loosen up and feel comfortable around you. Not in a slimy way though, your intention is to serve them, not sell to them. Your objective should be figuring out how you can help them. Move on after you’ve figured out one nugget of advice or connection you can give them to help improve their life. If you do this, you will stand out. You absolutely have to do this with the intention of giving. Don’t expect anything in return. Not even secretly. Or super secretly underneath the secret.
A few tried and tested questions to ask:
- What’s exciting for you?
- What’s challenging for you?
- Who would be a good contact for you?
Often, people consider an encounter a success if they manage to shoehorn their pitch and give out their business card. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t talk about you or your business; if they ask, share, but don’t make it your primary objective. Those who do are takers. Instead, make your success benchmark tallying up meaningful ways you can serve people. These are givers. Who would you rather hang out with?
3. Stop waiting. Just listen.
Most people in conversations rarely listen. They’re waiting to speak about themselves or thinking about what to say. Be different. Be present and listen. Listening and giving someone your full attention is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. You will notice the speaker open up and talk more. It’s quite magical.
4. Be useful
This shoe analogy is getting a bit silly, but I’m just going with it. Hopefully this helps you remember these steps. So you’re back at your computer and you want to follow-up. Most people blab about themselves, throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the prospect by sending their awesome company brochure, list of services and portfolio of work.
People mistakenly think potential buyers care about them. This sounds harsh, but the only thing buyers care about is themselves. So follow up by offering some assistance.
Feel free to use this follow-up email template on how to make an introduction:
Subject: Meeting @ Chamber of Commerce + intro to someone who might help
Sarah, great meeting you last night. Loved the story about the ski trip.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about your challenge with internal bureaucracy and thought you might be interested in an introduction to my friend, Sanjeet. He’s the department head at Finspec Inc. and sometimes work with companies like yours, and might be able to give you pointers on how to navigate internal buying processes.
Would you like an intro?
That’s it. Don’t attach your 50-page corporate brochure. Just wait. Surely Sarah will respond with a resounding yes. When she does, send the intro.
Here’s a caveat. Check in with whomever you’re introducing them to, to make sure they want to meet the person. Receiving an introductory email to someone you have no interest in meeting is awkward for all parties!
If you don’t know anyone you can introduce, send them super useful information that can help their business.
5. Pivot and ask
Assuming you sent Sarah something of value, she will very likely reply to thank you. That’s your opportunity to pivot the conversation. Reply to her email:
Happy to help. Let me know how it goes.
Hey, shall we meet for a coffee? It would be great to learn more about what you’re up to to see if there’s any other way I can be of assistance.
If so, Thursday 14th at 11am or Friday 15th at 10am works.
Any good for you?
That’s how you turn a chance encounter into a business meeting. I’ll repeat this, because it’s crucial: your intention must be to help them.
When it goes wrong
One time a lady pitched me her social media services. She emailed me with tips and posted my blogs on her Facebook page. I didn’t ask, she just did it. I was thrilled and I thanked her. Her response? “My pleasure. When I write blog posts you can post them on your page and send them to your readers too.” This did not feel good.
When someone feels pressured or obliged, it’s not a nice. The key to successful relationships is giving the other person freedom and autonomy. No one likes being told what to do. Stacks of scientific studies prove this. If you set the intention to serve instead of sell, letting go of any expectation, buyers will come to you.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Maya Angelou