It was taken yesterday evening at about 6pm on a flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale by my seatmate, Stan. We had been chatting for about an hour, almost from the time we boarded.
That’s actually an unusual activity for me on planes. In fact, the only reason I had opened a conversation with Stan is that he was sitting in the wrong seat and I had to ask him to move. Like most of my fellow passengers, I wall myself off from human contact with noise-cancelling headphones, a book, or an electronic device. After a full day of talking to my audience, it’s kind of nice to just pull back into myself like an exhausted turtle.
My own unscientific observations tell me that talking to fellow passengers is a dying art. I used to do it much more than I do now, and I suspect that’s the same for other road warriors. In fact, it seems to be easier to reach out to a complete stranger on LinkedIn than it is to acknowledge the existence of a fellow human sitting a few inches away. (and that’s in first class—in coach you are literally rubbing elbows.)
But what does this self-imposed solitary confinement cost us? No sermon on our common humanity here—I want to focus on the actual financial impact, if you are in the business of selling or otherwise want to build up your network. Chance encounters on airplanes are not the only prospecting strategy you should pursue, but why waste the opportunity? My longest and most rewarding client relationship began with a chance encounter on an airplane. That one was on a trip from Miami to London, so after eight hours he was either going to be sick of me or a new customer. I’ve begun at least one other client relationship the same way, and have also become a customer myself for a travel companion or two.
As we talked, Stan and I discovered that we are both in the business of improving our customer’s performance, mine in sales and communication effectiveness and his in execution. He was until recently a business owner like myself, and gave me several excellent pointers on how to use LinkedIn to generate additional business. For my part, I gave him a suggestion about how to improve the yield of his sales funnel.
If it had stopped there, it was easily worth the time spent away from my book, but it has also led to a follow-on discussion to share additional detail about our respective companies and explore ways to collaborate in serving our customers.
Last night’s encounter reminded me of a simple truth that I had somehow stopped observing: when you’re in a people business (and who isn’t?), connection is everything—get out of your shell and connect and good things might happen.
When I remarked on this to Stan, he put it into even better perspective: “I just like talking to people.”