Written By: Zachary Lukasiewicz
The summer after my junior year of college, I travelled to sunny San Diego, California for an internship with PayLease, a growing business that shared the same building as Chicken of the Sea overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
While I had worked with the VP of Product Marketing to scope out what my role would be, the marketing software that I ended up working in (Marketo) was more than I knew how to handle. The robust enterprise-level software had more features, options, bells and whistles than I knew how to operate, and far more than I could learn in my 3 short months there. And while I was learning every day (spending 3-5 hours in the system) working with sales professionals and reading blog after blog, and eventually becoming certified to use the software, I still felt lost. My leadership was strong but I had undertaken the project of automating our marketing processes and it was my responsibility to deliver. So I did what I always do when I’m stuck.
I asked for help.
I went to my little black book of every professional in the world (aka LinkedIn) and sought out professionals in the San Diego area who had “Marketo” as a keyword in their profile. A plethora of results poured in, and, rolling up my sleeves, I began to explain my situation. Here is the message I sent to a handful of individuals.
Dear First Name,
I just moved to San Diego and am working at PayLease by Miramar. They have assigned some Marketo projects for me and I want to make sure I’m using the best practices possible. Looking for a Marketo “mentor” so to speak. Let me know if I can take you to lunch to pick your brain.
I was very vague for a reason. I wasn’t sure what type of response to expect, and I wasn’t sure of the motives of the people I was contacting. I did want to make sure to let them know that I did not need consulting services, and as an intern, I could not even pretend like I would be able to pay them. I also wanted to emphasize that I was employed, but due to my lack of knowledge, I wasn’t performing to my own standards or providing what I would consider tangible value at the time.
A handful of responses appeared in my inbox the next day. This was the one that continues my story:
Hi Zach – Congrats on the position! PayLease has been on my radar for awhile, great product.I’m actually in Silicon Valley for most of the summer, but I’d be happy to schedule a Google Hangout. Next Thursday at 6pm?
This was the start to conversations that led to hours of coaching on Marketo, discussions with his other employees, and full sharing of his entire audiobook collection (I had a long commute.) While our conversations began with a focus on the Marketo product and how to best utilize it, slowly we started having engaging dialogue regarding his company and the growth it was experiencing. This lasted for several weeks and countless Google Hangouts. I was becoming more familiar with how to use Marketo, and he was impressed with what ideas and concepts I had created, and how much I was able to do with so little technical knowledge and limited time with the software.
Then I got the call.
We didn’t talked directly over the phone much, especially without a meeting time set aside and never during the middle of a weekday. Why was he calling? We had recently started talking about my availability to work with some of his employees to learn about their processes, but this call was different. When I answered, I could tell by his tone that this wasn’t a conversation I should be having in my middle-of-the-office cubicle.
Making my way downstairs and eventually outside, I began to lap the building (as I always do when having critical conversations). We started talking about the future. Not in a peripheral, hypothetical sense, but in a way that if I responded positively, I would never again step foot in the midwest as a resident, and I would not have finished my degree at Drake University.
What is your number? he asked me.
I asked him to clarify. He said he’s only been asked this a handful of times himself, but what is the figure that I would need to walk away from PayLease, Drake, everything to come work for him.
To learn how that story ended, see my article Career Curveballs: Location, Location, Location.
No I won’t say that this is a common occurrence, and that anyone can do what I listed above and I can’t promise immediate outstanding results. But what I can do is share a framework for creating the meaningful conversations that led to this wonderful opportunity. I’ve identified 3 components that are present in other situations that lend themselves to create an atmosphere for building strong relationships from thin air.
Know what you don’t know
Not just for our purposes here, but in general this is a grand topic for consideration. I can confidently say that no John or Jane Smith will ever know everything, therefore giving you a reason to talk to just about anyone in the world. That’s right – the world.
For me, the answer was Marketo. This led my entire endeavor to begin with – but it didn’t have to at all. If there is even a topic that you want to learn more about, that will still act as solid fodder for conversation when reaching out. I would even go so far as to say that you can be a knowledge expert but still identify unique perspectives as a reason for seeking out others.
Don’t be afraid to ask
I recently reached out to an ex-VP at Comedy Central and MTV. Among other topics, I asked “How can I stand out in my industry having little experience?” His response: You’ve already got everything you need – balls.
You should never be afraid to ask for help from anyone. It is not a sign of weakness, in fact at my company we see it as the opposite. My company plays to everyone’s strengths, and we are encouraged to leverage the strengths of other to align with the weaknesses of our own. First figure out what you don’t know, then find a knowledge leader, and reach out. Be friendly, calm and courteous otherwise you may ruin the relationship before it has even had a chance.
You can be very successful following the first two steps above. You will have created connections that you can leverage for growth in many areas indeed. But I have found that the moment you stop asking for help and start asking “How can I help?” is when you really create a foundation for a strong connection. I will often end meetings with individuals by letting them know that I am here if they need anything. Am I really here for ANYTHING? Of course not. But I also don’t want to give the impression that I am a void of information that constantly needs to be filled.
Its been said before that relationships require give and take. I completely agree. You need to give yourself some credit for being willing to reach out, and you need to take chances knowing the opportunity for success.
About the author: Passionate marketing entrepreneur and content strategist; known for ability to speak directly to specific audiences through creative campaigns, copy direction and brand identity. High EQ and ability to foster meaningful business relationships industry-wide.
Connect with me:
See my latest posts here.
We hope you enjoyed this post! For the latest in personal branding, job and career-related updates, please consider following on Facebook at CareerToolboxUSA or join us on LinkedIn.