Opportunity in Everyday Encounters

Learn how you can use "random networking" to turn your everyday encounters into real business leads.

July 1, 2011

Have you ever stood in line at your local coffee shop and thought about striking up a conversation with the person in front of you, but then decided against it? Approaching strangers is weird, you may have thought, and they probably don’t need a real estate agent anyway.

But, they also might be considering buying or selling a house—and even if they’re not, you could still benefit from meeting them, says David Topus, a sales and marketing expert who’s president of the Roswell, Ga.–based consultancy Topus. He advocates a method called "random networking," or the art of turning your everyday encounters into real business leads. By striking up conversation with ­people next to you on the train, at the bank, and in public places, you can unearth a world of new clients, says Topus, who has a history of taking airline trips just for the chance to meet influential people on the flight. Here’s his advice for making a connection.

Learn to love meeting new people. Believe in your bones that the world is a friendly place, Topus says. People today are starved for connection with ­others—not just online, but in the physical world. So don’t think your words won’t be welcomed. Anyone who’s in a public place is fair game, and every conversation has value­—whether it’s with someone who might be a future client or someone who can teach you something new about life.

Break the ice naturally. Think of some easy quips about what’s happening in the moment. Some examples: "Thank goodness for caffeine," while waiting in line for coffee, "Ah, to be young again and have that much energy," while on the sidelines of the youth soccer field, or "How do you like your iPad?"  (Topus says people love to share their opinions about electronic toys.) Follow up with questions that uncover potential opportunity: "Do you live nearby?" or "What line of work are you in?"

Get off the beaten path. We tend to sit in the same place on the train, use the same locker at the club, stand in the same area at the bar. And so does everyone else, which means you’re bound to see the same people over and over. Like a farmer who plants in new soil to get the best yield, you’ll be a more successful random networker when you go where you’ve never gone before.

Help your contacts. If you’ve met a promising lead, follow up right away to keep the connection alive and cultivate the relationship. Send an e-mail or put a note in the mail with some relevant information related to whatever you talked about. These follow-ups are designed to position you as a valuable resource.

While Topus was in Chicago recently, REALTOR® Magazine put him to the test at our neighboring Starbucks. Within 15 minutes he found two customers who needed a real estate practitioner. "Often we assume that people don’t want to be interrupted, but they wouldn’t put themselves in public if they didn’t want to be met. Strangers are potential clients waiting for a hello."

Katherine Tarbox is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine. Previously, she was editorial director for Washington Life. She is the author of the international bestselling book A Girl’s Life (Dutton, 2000) and has made hundreds of media appearances including The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN.