Updated: Dec 12, 2020
My previous life has been that of a geeky engineer and scientist, inventor and innovator. Spending a bit more than a decade buried deep in hands-on technical development and with project discussions with familiar peers. Technical design and execution were critical success factors.
Then one day, my critical success factors hinged on the ability to engage strangers, identify technology gaps and introducing potential collaborators. I found myself having to engage with complete strangers. And carry not just a plain conversation, but engaging them, winning their trust and making sales!
I had assumed the role of a technology evangelist, matching technology seekers to technology providers, but first, I have to win their trust enough for them to share the technical challenges they are facing.
Trust doesn't come given. Some were happy to share their desires to improve product performance or resolve productivity choke points. Some others were sceptical at first if I'm the right person to discuss technical challenges, possibly experienced less fruitful conversation before.
In the last 2 years, I've met 500+ companies, exchanged 850 name cards, had multiple repeated meetings with companies and made friends with so many. We had established more than just business relationships, sharing networks and industry news. And if you're wondering, yes, Android contacts happily keep every contact on the phone without mistakes.
What had worked? What was helpful in this transition from one about technical problem solving to one about matching technology partnership to seekers?
"I commit, I deliver. No other ways out of it," a charismatic leader I used to work for emphasized this at every quarterly meeting. He said so with much charm and a gentle smile, but with a tinge of 'I'll hold you accountable' glaze eye-balling each of his business managers.
Timelines are 'dead'-lines. Think twice before committing, but once committed, see above.
Keep secrets! Assume every information is shared in confidence, unless traceable to a public source.
Follow up, gather feedback if expectation has been met. Follow up and sense if the expectation has been met, or if there are ways it can be exceeded. Not everything is spoken. What's spoken may not reflect the intention either. SENSE!
Be that subject-matter-expert
Research the person of interest. His role in the company, company profile, business venture and mode of value capture, recent news and history, trends and development, territorial of business, expansion plans and hiring positions, patent filings, litigation history, company profitability, etc. [Search engines, business registry, corporate website, industry news articles, technical forums, patent offices, social networks, trade association database, job databases, etc.]
Take ownership to know the subject matter (technology areas) in depth. Read-up, and internalize. I found myself revisiting every chapter covered in my bachelor degree and before (Software, agile processes, wireless connectivity, communication protocols, security schemes, electronics, electrical power, energy harvesting, thermal conductivity, differential equations, digital signal processing, convolution, Space exploration and orbits, batteries chemistry, bio-sensors, magnetics and hysteresis curve, FTIR spectrometry, ultrasound, fatigue sensors and methods, smell detection, graphene, nuclear energy, etc.). SCIENCE, and mathematics!
BUT always articulate the points of interests relevant to the audience. Advice on how the technology, or alternatives, can help the seeker and potential area of concerns, particularly meeting the business goals. Formulate a desirable outcome and move forward.
Prefer phone calls over emails
Prefer Instant messages over one-liner emails. Be brief, quick and be gone (non-intrusive). I was pleasantly surprised that many prefer communicating over Whatsapp. Many were more casual and warm over instant messengers than email. Messages were coming in even on weekends and odd hours, and they are always welcome knowing that I have helped.
Prefer face time over lengthy teleconference, coffee is always welcome.
One day I'll grow wiser and revised the list above. But this is my journey so far. Do feedback if I can do better.
What I have learnt in the episode is that people are generally approachable. The persons I had met are pleasant, professional and approachable. And they value their time too; being relevant, trustworthy and genuinely helpful helps.
What drives me? Perhaps knowing that my assistance helped and hopefully leaves a constructive impact.