It started on December 7, when we were heading into the elevator at the end of the day. Making small talk, one of the clients asked me, "How long have you been with IBM?" "Two months," I answered. I thought I saw a look of surprise flash across his face. I remembered belatedly that companies don't generally like being sent fresh trainees with no experience. I hurried to say that I had just finished my master's degree and that my research focused on expertise location using social media in a large organization, which was a good fit for what the clients wanted to do. I had scarcely explained myself when the elevator door opened and we had to go on our separate ways.
The client team knew my teammate from years of working together, and had originally intended to get only her services for this engagement. She had convinced them to take on an additional resource, a junior consultant with some more exposure to social media and networking--me. Still thinking of my gaffe in the elevator and feeling very junior indeed, it was with more than a little doubt that I walked to the client office the next Monday, December 10. During the commute, I thought about how I could establish my credibility and help the clients feel that they were getting value. Perhaps I could prepare a short narrative bio or send them a copy of my resume. It didn't help the bulk of my project work wouldn't be visible for a while. I didn't want the clients to feel shortchanged.
I think it's fair to say that in the past, that negative impression might have stuck with them. Had I given them an impressive resume, they would probably have been even more cautious, having seen overstated accomplishments before. At least I had a personal recommendation from someone they trusted. I was there because my teammate vouched for me. But clients are not in the business of training or education, and most clients would prefer getting the most experienced person available.
But I shouldn't have worried. When I walked into the boardroom with the other members of the client team, the client I chatted with in the elevator casually mentioned that he had checked out my blog over the weekend. He thought that my Flickr photos were cool. He remarked that he felt he knew me more than he knew some of the other members on the team, at least on a personal basis. Another client noted that he does better business with people he likes, and that getting to know people is important.
It was the perfect segue into my story about social computing. In the minutes before the start of our working session, I shared with them how that kind of quick, deep connection is one of the things I find so amazing about social computing, and how I am passionate about helping companies help people connect in that and other ways. With that shared context, I found it so much easier to relate to the clients, and it seems they found it easier to connect with me, too. And now that I've also checked out some of their blogs and profiles, we've discovered that we have quite a few things in common. I care more about their success now that I know who they are, and I hope that they feel more comfortable working with me.
I'm looking forward to having more of these moments in the future. =)