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Chris talks about how to connect with people in a value adding way. He talks about how superficial relationships affect your business, and how to avoid the pitfalls of creating an inactive network. We found Chris through one of his events! Eddie learned so much from this event that we had to bring him on to talk about some of the things that Eddie wanted to hear more about. Towards the end, we get into some of the practical ways to be real and genuine when you network!
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Tyler: Welcome to the Construction Brothers Podcast. I'm your host, Tyler Campbell, and with me like he is every week: My brother, Eddie Campbell.
Eddie: What's up, Tyler?
Tyler: Not much, Eddie. Well, this week we're talking about networking.
Eddie: All right, Chris, man, thanks for joining us today. Why don't you tell us who you are and what you do?
Chris Maier: Sure. Thank you guys for having me. My name is Christopher Maier. I am the director of business development for Cooper and Company General Contractors. We're located in Cumming, Georgia, North of Atlanta. Firm that's been around 50 plus years, we do a multitude of different commercial developments in the private public sector. Great American company that's serving anywhere from police precincts to government structures and different industrial and private sector buildings, and doing a great job, seeing a lot of traction, even in the pandemic economy that we're going through right now. So God bless it.
Eddie: Yeah man, well, you've been brought on the show here today as kind of a networking guru. You're here to teach us how to better network. And I suppose that came about because I kind of fell into the funnel, so to speak. Like, you networked me in. And so I want to know some of your tips and tricks. So why don't you walk down just like your approach to networking, like maybe just general philosophy?
Chris Maier: Yes. So recently— I'll get into this later. I think you just really have to hit as many facets of the networking sphere that you can. Now the virtual has become really big. You know, you've got Zoom like we're doing right now, you've got your podcasts mediums, taking advantage of social media platforms. Especially all of the free platforms, that really doesn't cost you anything. What it costs you is the maybe potential opportunity cost of investing your time and your resources. I think who is initially willing to sacrifice more and put their time into building the network. That's the key. What it really brings me back to is, many years ago, I started out in the fitness industry. Doesn't matter what business that you start in. You can be a bartender. My wife was a bartender, and you're in a profession where you're interacting with a lot of people, hopefully highly influential people. And you never know where it's going to lead. As long as you're talking to people of positive mindsets that are hopefully making a lot of money, and that's what your goal is, shadow those people, be around those people. So going back to the fitness industry, let's start there. I worked for a small 24-hour joint, Workout Anytime, opened up a couple of their locations. The fitness industry didn't seem to be the thing for me, but I took things away from it. From a business development perspective, I was able to learn that you don't typically attribute that gym or a fitness club with being a community leader, like an organization that brings other businesses together, B2B companies. But what I would do and what I was tasked with from leadership was to go out there, meet this bank, meet this grocery store, meet these restaurants and car dealerships. We formed this partnership that I said, “I'd love for you guys to come to this new fitness club that I'm opening. We're going to have thousands of members. It's going to be good for you. It's going to be good for us. Let's set up tables, let's get sports cars, let's get food, let's have music.” And it was amazing, and I brought members to the gym and I saw what you needed to do was to bring people together and show people what's in it for them, and then benefit you at the same time. So every conversation I have nowadays almost goes back to that. It's what is mutually beneficial, whether it be one-on-one consumer, consumer business, person to business, it takes a long time. You know, like I said, it's a time investment at first, but if you have the genuine passion for it and you have a database and you never forget the wonderful conversations you're having with people and the partnerships that you've already worked so hard to establish—keep it on an Excel, however the heck you want to do it, a CRM, be as organized as possible and make it as part of your routine. Because if you forget, what's the point? So nowadays I keep wonderful lists. It makes it easier for me to throw these events, get the word out there. Continuously grow your social media presence. Then it all comes together no matter what you're trying to put together. And you can say with confidence, “I have behind me all of these businesses and people that I can introduce you to.” So in my industry nowadays in commercial construction and real estate, if they say, “I'm an architect and I want to meet people in retail,” I say, “Well, I'm gonna introduce you to these people in retail. I think it would be mutually beneficial.” Connect them virtually via email, and you've done that guy such a favor that nobody's ever done for him before. And they never forget you. So then it becomes permission-based. After that, you can ask for their permission for almost virtually anything, for them to introduce you to someone. And then the world keeps going on and on.
Eddie: Well, I've seen some of the events that you have done, some of the things that you've posted online. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the events that you host, both virtual and in person?
Chris Maier: Yeah. So there's a couple people, there's a couple of organizations that are doing what I'm doing, and this was about two years back when I started holding the in-person events that were for the construction and real estate industries. And what I determined is, I could do it better. I don't believe in that old motto, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” I believe that if it could be made better, then make it better. I made it exciting, but also nonchalant and relaxed so people can come out and network and enjoy a fun time and also give back to charity. Nobody's doing anything for charity these days, right, so I started doing that. That was more of an open invite where hundreds of people, I mean, it was immensely popular from the first event. I did a lot of emails, did a lot of in-person talks. I mean, every medium, just a lot of time initially sacrificed at first. And then those sponsors continuously come back and want to partake in these events. Really—so you mentioned the virtual—out of COVID, it was just unacceptable to me that we did not have any types of interaction within our industry. So I said, let me learn how to use this Zoom technology. I knew nothing about it. I said, here's what I'm thinking about doing, I'm going to do something that's not boring, ‘cause I can't stand boring. I said, let's get some wonderful presenters and I'll go through LinkedIn. Right? And I see people that are doing these like 45 minute presentations. I say to them, look, why don’t we go over the high points or just one of these topics that you guys are discussing and rambling on for 45 minutes about, but let's hit the high points, okay? And I send out an agenda to this audience and they follow along, I moderate it professionally. And then there's a Q and A after every subject or speaker. So it's very interactive. Even at the last breakfast event that I just held in Atlanta, which are our newest events—they're held once a month and it's kind of the boiled down edition, crème de la crème of the industry, very exclusive kind of invite only membership audience that we meet at the Buckhead club and do an in-person presentations of different developments and different current events that are going on within the industry. People are loving it, so kind of diversifying and continuing to grow. That's what it's all about.
Tyler: So for those of us that like using social media, right, what tips can you give me to start creating some more friendships, start reaching out to people, start connecting? How do you approach LinkedIn?
Chris Maier: Yeah. So at first the way that you have to approach— and there's a process to it. So I don't really like to have more than 10,000 connections. Like once I started getting to that point, I looked back and I said, who are these people in Mumbai, India or something like that, that I should have no business connecting with? And I started, it's so satisfying now for me to remove them and just stick with the people that are more pertinent, because those are the people that are better going to like and boost and view your posts. You know? So now I only connect with people that are in the industry. People are always trying to connect with me, I ignore them. So it goes through a process, like I was saying, you have to initially connect with all these people that are super pertinent to your situation. You have to make it, just like working out in the morning or whatever it is that you do, like eat a Twinkie at 3:00 PM. Make sure to make it part of your routine, to connect with people on LinkedIn. You have to get the audience first. And so throughout that process, get your thousands of followers, maybe you hit a goal of 1,000 or 5,000 or 10,000, and make them close to your geography. And then from there, you can literally say, dude, I mean, with confidence, now I have my audience to pull from, I have these resources. And when you reach out to so-and-so, let's say you're wanting to reach an engineering company, or you're wanting to reach out to this economic development department of a certain municipality in Georgia and get involved in a development. Maybe you see they're connected with a good mutual connection of yours and you can engage that person and ask for the introduction, or reach out to them via messenger. I do that quite often and my response rate is incredible. I mean, if you just voice it in the right way, I think if you show them— Like, people spam me and things like that, especially right after they first connect, and it's just not the way to do it. You know, people are mostly professional, especially on LinkedIn, and they're open to conversations most of the time. But I think the more leverage that you eventually attained throughout your career and the more that you have to offer them, that's where the conversations become interesting. I think if, let's say you're trying to talk to the engineering firm, and you have somebody else that you already have in mind that you want to introduce them to, you're like, all right, I'm going to talk to Joe Johnson here of this engineering firm. And I'm going to introduce him to this real estate company that deals in new developments and it'd be advantageous to connect them. So you put that as part of your introduction. Again, going back to that, what is mutually beneficial in it for me, for you? So it's like, “Hey Joe Johnson, I'd like to introduce myself. Chris Maier, business development, director of Cooper. I’ve seen you doing great things on LinkedIn, right, you know, this development. We know this person in common, whatever, I'd like to learn more about your firm. And I have somebody in mind to introduce you to.” How’s somebody gonna say no to that? You know what I mean? So you gotta put it into the right perspective. You have to articulate and communicate effectively. And then from there, just start posting, post regularly, and don't be cheap in your approach, just be genuine. So people can feel the emotions. And try to post stuff that's exciting, for darn sakes. You know, put stuff like, when I was in the demolition industry, man, it was great. People love to see things getting blown up and chipped away and new technology and buildings coming down and parking garages. So that was easy. If you have a profession like that, utilize it to the best of your advantage. If you're throwing events and doing cool things, you're going out and networking, you have to be cognizant of taking those pictures and knowing that it's going to go on social and enhance your brand. Because that's what you're building, is your personal brand. It's not your company, it is and it isn't. And there's a couple other tips, just things on the side. You get more hits if you're trying to promote your business, whether it be yours or the company page, you've got to create a business page, you got to create your business Facebook, business LinkedIn page, because more people see it rather than your personal posts. Posts at certain times of day, 9:00 AM, 5:00 PM, key hours, things of that nature. And if you're throwing events like I'm doing, they do have the event features where you can create events, pull people into that event, and then it's just another means of making sure they never forget what your upcoming functions are. And they can partake more easily.
Eddie: I was on one of your networking meetings about two weeks ago now. And the topic that came up, the short form that came up, was about lunch and learns. And COVID has definitely changed the ideas of how we sell and what we can do and what's acceptable. And I can say this, that event, we talked about it just enough to leave me wanting more. And so I wanted to bring it back up and just say, hey, lunch and learns are kind of a traditionally thought of thing. Like, I can do this thing to help me get in front of people to help me build a little network. Maybe it's a little more sales and networking, but I was looking for some of your opinion on it. ‘Cause I never got that. You were listening rather than giving the advice. So I want to listen now to you, what do you think they're about? Some of the things we've been practicing, how they're changing through COVID and how we can adapt that?
Chris Maier: You know, I think what that article spoke to—and what that company that devised that article, what they had in mind—is basically, it's not scalable. It is something to build relationships. Anything is great to have face time with a new client, right, and I'm not opposed to doing lunch and learns, but it's not my primary method of outreach. See some people, this is what they believe. They don't believe in follow up. That's what they are not good at. They're not good at maintaining a relationship and staying in touch, whether it be at the inception of a sales cycle or even after the conclusion, and maintaining that account to a good level of service. But going back to the whole lunch and learn idea, just to say it from a personal perspective, I don't think I've done a lunch and learn all year. I mean, I think that's mostly due to COVID and things like that, but most people, I do one-on-one type of lunches with things like that.
We've done a lot of virtuals, a lot of conference calls. And what that article spoke to is, I think you get a lot more done when you're not spending so much time on planning and doing stuff like that. And if I were to do a lunch and learn, I probably wouldn't make it like a full hour or something like that of just me talking. I would buy them with lunch, and I’d entertain them, sure, but we might hit on some high points of what Cooper and Company does, unless they wanted to get much more technical and meet our team and ask technical questions about how we operate and our pre-construction and things like that. But I just think virtual and all that's the way to go, and then make sure to stay in touch with them after that meeting and say, is there anything that maybe we didn't do a good job of explaining? And I know we talked about these developments, and these things we'd like to follow up on. That's really the key. The initial encounter, sure, you want to make a good impression, but in conclusion, I mean, I'm not opposed to lunch and learns. I just haven't been doing a lot of them, and I feel like we're still getting pretty good results.
Tyler: One of the main themes that you were just talking about there was just being intentional with people. Talking to them and setting up a reminder for yourself to go back and touch base with them and just stay in their lives and be a friend. That kind of led me to this question: So what are some of the things that people get wrong? What do they forget to do when they're networking?
Chris Maier: Well, like you just said, maybe they haven't learned or haven't sat down and thought enough as to how to be genuine. I think you just have to figure out, like, what would you appreciate receiving from someone on email? Let's say that's the medium that you're communicating with somebody. I think of little things all the time, and here's a tip that's changed a lot of people's lives that I've told them about, and it's a habit that I do when I think of a good idea. I send it to myself via email, and then I never forget it, like throughout the day, I'm driving, I email myself that note, you know? So the note that I'm talking about in this case, I was thinking about, I saw an Impractical Jokers episode where they were joking on what architects are like, and they're talking about this collapsible building in a panel discussion. And I thought that was hilarious. I took that two minute clip and I shot it to all my architects. And I was like, Hey, check this out. So keeping them involved with, like, for instance, I've got the events behind me now. So it's the easiest thing in the world. Whenever I want to establish rapport with somebody, I'm like, look, I just held the finest event in Atlanta. I'd really like for you to come out next time, it's on the house, you know, whatever, come experience it. And here's a link to some pictures you may enjoy viewing. Just being friendly, you know? So I don't know if a lot of people don't know how to do that. Maybe you're not asking for their business at this particular time, but saying, that's the last thing, really, you want to say. At the end, you want to say, “By the way, you know who I work for, at the end of the day if you have any construction endeavors that we can partner up with or lend you some pricing on, let's do that.” But don't go into some huge pitch at the inception of meeting somebody. Get to know about them. That's what I usually say is, I want to see what we can do for each other and just get to know ya, I don't even care to talk business if you don't want to, but let's let's just get to know a little bit about you and your family and stuff and what you do daily. You know, let's just meet up and talk.
Eddie: I love that you said the word “genuine.” Like it was the word that just kept running through my head, is this is a genuine thing.
Chris Maier: Yeah, it has to be. People can tell a mile away, and they won't even talk to you. I'll have a lot of these exclusive people at my events, and somebody comes up and they come up with just being super ingenuine and they're like, “Oh, let's go talk to my assistant over here.” Like, they can realize it that quick, and it's just something you have to learn. It's something that you have to have it in your heart, or you don't, how you communicate with people. And if you don't have it, I don't know what to tell you, and how to do that, I don't know. Just, here's the thing you gotta do, is you got to clean out your own personal closet. You got to get your own life in order until you have a sense of security and you feel pretty balanced within your life, whether that's financially or health or all that type of stuff, you can't serve anybody. So do for you first, and then help everybody else. And then hopefully you feel good all around.
Eddie: How does that word “serve” play into networking?
Chris Maier: So going back to sort of the question of, “How do I help you, how do I serve you?”, is always the first thing on my mind. Sometimes I won't even tell people what I do. It's just like, who do you look to be in this industry? Oh, you're a politician or you're this person? And once they start talking for just 60 seconds, I can figure out some way to add value to their life. So that's really the key, is just always thinking, how do I— and it might not be at that moment. Just tell them, it just be completely honest and again, genuine, and be like, “Hey, I can't think of anything right now, but I'm going to be on the lookout for you. I'm going to keep your information.” And when you actually get back to that person and they're like, “Holy crap, this guy actually thought so much of me and remembered the conversation that he reached back out from my silly business card that nobody calls off, but he did, and he referred me some business to my business.” So that's key. They never forget. You gotta do. I say, I probably do a hundred favors for people before I get anything back in return, so constantly continue to work at it, do favors. And then you have to spend quite a bit of your— There's no secret to it. It's just hard work. Just like anything else. You've got to build the network. Like we've talked about, build it, keep doing good things, and continue network and you gotta be out there. Find intentional networking groups that are specific to your industry and become relevant.
Tyler: I feel like most people don't have the patience to serve a hundred people before they get a favor and response. They don't have the patience for it.
Chris Maier: I mean, if people even have some sort of a very basic email database of their client, cool, send them out like a blast. They don't have to know it's a blast, put it on BCC or whatever, or don’t. You know, email, let's say 50 to 100 people in a day. Let them know, Hey, I'm looking out for you. How you doing? Who can I introduce you to today? That's what I usually do. Like, how can I help you today? What's been going on? Just check up on them. That's what I would say.
Tyler: So I'm curious, what are some of the good things that have come out of your networking experience? You've done fundraisers, you've done lunch and learns and things for years now. What are some things that have not directly affected you, but you've been able to watch as a result of all this networking?
Chris Maier: Yeah. So I can think of— A lot of the outbranches from these events in particular, there have been a lot of tie-ins to those charitable organizations that I spoke about, who are the beneficiaries of these in person events. One is a great charity that is about to have their grand opening in Historic Roswell, Georgia. It's about a 10,000 square foot facility that they're building. It's called “Sunshine on a Rainy Day.” And they really needed some folks from within my network that we had hired on, subcontractors of electrical nature and pressure washers and people like that, and even financial planners had all come together to help this organization. What this organization does is renovate and do construction for children with muscular dystrophy. I referred these electricians and people and they offered free trades to help them get their distribution center and charity headquarters up and running. So it will be opening up quite soon. It's a benefit to me as well, just indirectly, because they have well-renowned architects and different folks on their board of directors that I've become friendly with now. And it was just a great thing to be able to do that and support them, even if it had no tie-in to benefit to me, you're giving back to your community and taking care of everything around you. So that that's been a benefit, is one thing I can think of.
Eddie: Chris, I have a personal kind of struggle. When it comes to this genuineness that we want to exercise, I want to be a genuine guy. I really want to genuinely have an interest in the person that's on the other side of that network or on the other side of the phone or the email or whatever. I really do have a heart for that, but we're in an oversold industry, and you're met with a lot of skepticism. So how do you kind of cope with that, deal with that, get around that and be true to yourself, be that genuine guy, but overcome some of that skepticism?
Chris Maier: I think there's a couple tips to that. I think the first is having a tonality and an energy that most people are not used to. They almost say, this person's larger than life or he's fake or there's something about him, but you know, like I come off to people and I immediately treat them as a friend, like, “John! How are you? What's going on?” You know, just like you've known him for years. I mean, and then it doesn't take very long to open up. They're like, oh, that's just how he is. That's how this guy always acts and is energetic. And that might not be your personality. I don't know. That's what works for me. And so I ended up being energetic and very friendly with somebody and then engaging in conversation that is almost universal to start off with. It's not small talk, but you're just really voicing your questions in a unique way, you know? Sometime like when people ask “how you doin’,” you know, people just say “good” or something. Maybe elaborate upon that and be like, “How’s the family been?” I don’t know, just get a little deeper. You could take a connection, let's say— I worked at a company one time where I was doing, let's say some door-to-door sales. And you know, that's a pretty common industry that people are engaged in and do different showcases of products and services. And when you would go into those homeowners’ residences, you've gotta differentiate yourself to better the odds that you're going to close that deal, especially on the first interaction. And I was there for checking out maybe their windows or whatever home improvement project they had in mind, but we would talk about something completely off topic when I stepped through their door. I would mention their car, or this thing that's hanging up on the wall, and we would just spend many minutes just speaking about that. And then it’s like, “Oh, I forgot I was here for the windows.” So you take it to the next level and that relationship gets deeper and deeper and deeper. And that's how people associate friends. I mean, the more that you can find commonalities in. So you just gotta really dig and figure out. And hopefully it happens sooner than later. That would be my suggestion. Sometimes it's a little harder on the phone. Maybe if it's a prospective business person that you want to know and do business with, do a little research on them, you can find things out on LinkedIn and social media of all kinds these days, and it's not like you're stalking them, but you're just being better prepared to speak intelligently upon, “Oh, you know, I saw you're part of that development, great work, big fan of the facades on that building,” or something like that, you know? So that's what you gotta do.
Tyler: Yeah. You can find so much information on social media. Like it's scary. And I feel like people don't often use that as a tool to start conversations and actually create a genuine relationship with somebody, take an interest in them. I think that's definitely part of the process.
Chris Maier: Yeah. I find that the more that you concentrate and you sit down and you're looking at that person's name, you see them on social, you see things about them—and then if you really think about the question, how do I land value to them and how do I approach them the way that I want to be approached? And that's it. And once you think about it long enough, and you actually put it into writing and then you just do it. So many people are at that stage of fear and just not doing it, then it just never happens. You know? So like as long as you just make it happen, you just have to practice making it happen again and again, and again, and again, until it just pretty much becomes natural. I was talking to the leading salesperson of, who's now a partner of, Bull Realty, a big commercial real estate firm in Atlanta. His boss had taught him when he was a kid, he sold like boats and stuff at a boat dealership, and he gave him this list of people who had bought boats in the past. And he had this little paperclip system, and it just seems so arbitrary, but you just put paperclips on the desk. You'd stick it on to something on the desk until he had like 20 or so paperclips lined up of calls that he had made and actually spoken with somebody. And the boss would say, “Hey, you made your 20 calls, you can leave today.” So he's like, I just wanted to do my 20 calls and leave, and read this script that they had for me. But then six months later he'd become the sales manager of that boat place, just ‘cause he was doing what he was told and just being himself. So it's the people that don't really view themselves as a traditional sales person, but you're more of a lifetime relationship builder and a lender of incredible value that separates you apart from the rest, you know? And then just by continued practice, it'll come to fruition.
Tyler: Well, man, I think this is a great spot to break off and ask you our megaphone question. So if we gave you a megaphone that the whole construction industry could hear for 60 seconds, what would you tell them?
Chris Maier: I would tell them to be bold, because history favors people who are doers and are making things happen, and you cannot be afraid to outreach to others and get involved in their lives. Stay at it. Never give up. That is what I would tell them, because your voice counts.
Tyler: Love it, man. Well, how can people find you, Chris?
Chris Maier: You could find me via my cell phone. (404) 229-0492. And you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tyler: Blow him up, people. All right, Chris, thanks for joining us today, man.
Chris Maier: Thanks guys. Pleasure.
Tyler: Hey guys, Tyler here. Just really quick before you go, do me a favor and leave us a rating. If you're listening on Apple Podcasts, it helps us out so much. Make sure that you join our community group. You can text us at (478) 221-7009. And also, go check us out on social media at construction bros podcast. We're on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and also on TikTok, believe it or not. So thanks for being with us this week. Hope you have a great one. Go build something awesome.