Vendors and hawkers

About two or three times a month, I meet someone who wishes to leverage my contacts to sell something. I know this is far fewer than many in the social media government circles and that it comes with the territory as a person reaches certain milestones in his or her career.

At first, people would come up to me during conferences. I was a target of opportunity. They would see that I was in attendance. They would see the uniform. They would hand me a card and that would be that. Later, when I began presenting at conferences, the vendors and hawkers would suddenly become more interested. I wasn’t just someone to flirt with, I was worthy of a date. They would hang around after a presentation and, amid those asking questions and wanting to learn more about social media (the reason why I attend conferences), they would also strike up conversations, then lead into their pitches. Many of them were pretty good at this. I wouldn’t catch on that I was being pitched to right away, until the point in the conversation emerged where I was asked to either commit to purchasing their product, or giving them the name and number of someone who could.

Some vendors were graceful with this transition from rapport building to selling, many were not. Some were outright rude or insistent, like an online dating stalker.

Still later, when I became a fixture at several conferences, I would get cold calls from vendors who had heard my name mentioned by others. Some would mask their pitch by inviting me to a seminar or offering to meet somewhere for drinks, some would just start reading from their scripts. While it was flattering in a way to be seen as a gateway to riches and sales, I was always up front about my position: that I was a mere staff sergeant—a man of humble rank and position, who had simply been at the right place at the right time. My charisma, for what it is, had been shaped by my training and my proclivity for stage theater. My disposition had been shaped by my spirituality. Most of the time, I was a pretty easy guy to get along with, always eager to teach others and engage in conversations that would teach me something as well.

But I’ve begun to wear thin on the vendors and hawkers who don’t even try to ease me into a conversation. And it’s too bad. As a journalist, I always look forward to new conversations and new people. It’s the one area that we don’t normally grow cynical toward. Now, however, when someone comes up to me, calls or emails, I have to eye that with a level of suspicion. Am I being played? What is it they want? It’s an attitude I’d hoped to avoid, but a lesson probably better learned now than later.

Some vendors are so bad that they call, flatly asking me to solicit government employees for them. Some ask me for my contacts just a few seconds into the conversation—as if I have the friends and colleagues I do because I flood their inboxes with spam. Some ask how I would run their marketing if I were them.

And while I might be willing to give such data to even them, were they to not just brazenly demand it; I’m also taken aback by how little they engage me, as a person. During these conversations, I wait for my turn to speak, and routinely get little more than a chance to say “yes” or “that’s good” while they run down their bullet points of reasons why I should make them money.

There are exceptions. I have met a few start-up ventures that I do believe in. Those who man these businesses are a lot more mature in their approaches, even if ultimately they need the same thing from me. They offer to make me a part of the team. They ask for my input. And while there is the ever-present sense of urgency, it’s not a hard sell. I don’t feel guilty for taking lunch that day and going to bed that night without shoving their product down my friends’ throats.

In the end, maybe it’s all in the pitch. And maybe that’s a lesson for all of us “selling” social media to our coworkers and counterparts. Running across the vendors and hawkers at these conferences reminds me that, even with a product I believe in, I cannot neglect the community and rapport that is needed to transfer enthusiasm from me to another. While it may take time to engage the influencers in my life, I can either put in the work to listen to their needs and work with them to overcome obstacles, or I can be like these vendors and just shotgun blast everyone I see like the stereotypical car salesman.


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About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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