We all remember the movie Death of a Salesman where Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid and a young John Malkovich bring the most incredible raw emotion to the big screen. It portrays the relationship between a father and son through work, love and everyday life.

Hoffman is a salesman who travels the state and perhaps beyond – I can’t quite remember. In any case, he spends 35 years of his life working for one company which eventually “puts him out to pasture”. He gives his life, invests in the brand and the organisation and sacrifices family and personality for the next sale. Hoffman, whose character is fondly known as Willy Lowman, prides himself on being one of the best salesmen in the country. He is known for boasting about the fact that he does not need to stand in line. When people hear that Willy is in the office, they welcome him in.

On the surface, it appears that Willy is the quintessential salesman. He understands his clients, his clients love him and this becomes his life, so much so that he wants his high achieving son to follow in his footsteps. This desire seems to cloud his decisions and his relationship not only with his son, but his wife and his second son as well.

The purpose of this article isn’t to recap the movie – or play – but to bring expression to the salesman who was. The salesman who knew his clients by name and knew their kids names too. As I write, I am reminded of the movie Jerry Maguire and Tom Cruise’s famous epiphany where he says, ”The key to this business is personal relationships. Fewer clients, less money, more attention. Caring for them, caring for ourselves and the games too.”

As we travel through life in our high-paced, connected but oh so disconnected world, it begs the question, did Willy Loman and Jerry Maguire understand something we don’t and should their characters serve as a huge reminder about what our engagement and connectivity should look like?

I consider social media and all the offers (myself included) to help people connect with their target market. To help them increase their following through compelling content and to aid in conversation that ultimately leads to some kind of transaction, whether that be a follow, a like, a comment or a purchase. Whatever the case, there may be so much ‘noise’ going on that perhaps the volume needs to be turned down in order to truly engage with the people we need to.

I was challenged with this thought recently as I listened to one of my dear friends, Tony, speak about his clients. Tony is a very successful salesman. He, rather than Willy Loman, really is your quintessential salesman. He is your Willy and Jerry combined into one extraordinary person. He woos his audience with a well-worn joke about his name, introducing himself as ‘Toe Knee’ and ALWAYS points to his toe and his knee. Corny? Yes. Impactful and something to remember him by? Absolutely.

So, why was I challenged by listening to Tony? He talked about his clients and why his sales technique is different. It went something like this.

“I like my clients. I really like them, they are great people and some of the most interesting I have met. I enjoy catching up with them, sharing a meal, hearing about their kids, their family or anything else that’s happening in their lives. If I get business from one or any of our conversations then great, if I don’t, I’ve had a great time simply catching up with some pretty interesting people.”

Tony is known for his expertise, his ability to deliver and to connect with people on all levels. Why? Simply because, like Willy Loman, Tony enjoys his job. He genuinely likes people and isn’t in it to chase the dollar, rather he wants to know people. Like Jerry Maguire, Tony truly believes that less is more, that quality trumps quantity any day of the week.

Fewer clients, less money, more attention. In and through this the opposite almost happens – more clients, more money, more attention. By more attention I mean that he is recognised within his industry. It’s almost as if he has the Midas touch, but really Tony just likes and values the people he gets the opportunity to interact with.

So, as we proceed with our social media spaces and as some endeavour to conquer the globe one Instagram post at a time, perhaps we should step back and consider our engagement and how it’s less about us and more about connecting with people where they are.

5 Tips for True Engagement

1) Meet people where they’re at
2) Talk about what interests them rather than what interests you
3) Genuinely compliment through comments – whether about a picture of the family or an article they’ve written (but please read to the end, it’s obvious even through a comment when you haven’t)
4) Be polite
5) Ask smart, open-ended questions

Social media is not about broadcasting and indulging narcissistic dreams but about valuing people and engaging with them regardless of the outcome.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoOlu Eletu