It's Fate

Chance Encounters Can Crank Up Commissions.

Chances are you’ve had a chance encounter and not even realized it. But if you were lucky enough – or smart enough – to recognize it, what appears to be chance can be converted into an opportunity.

Indeed, some of today’s cutting-edge companies have recognized the importance of these seemingly random experiences and interactions. In fact, some Silicon Valley titans have designed their workspaces to encourage employees to bump into each other and collaborate, according to a report in Harvard Business Review (HBR) last October.

“Google’s new campus is designed to maximize chance encounters,”the report states. “Our data suggest that creating collisions – chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization – improves performance.”

We asked a number of industry sales reps to share stories of how they seized the moment when they had the chance, along with their top tips on turning random events (or chance encounters) into a business advantage.

Create Opportunities

Laurie Amigo is renowned for creating chance meetings at airports and on planes. “Some of my best clients were garnered by ‘chance meetings’ on a plane,”says Amigo, brand merchandising specialist at HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000). “Marc Simon, president of HALO, often jokes with me that I should just book flights to nowhere as a prospecting tool.”

Her motto is “never underestimate the power of a pen.”Before each trip she packs stylus pens and other small, purposeful giveaways in her carry-on backpack. Once on the plane, Amigo creates an opening with her seatmates and gifts them with these small self-promos.

“I purposely bring stylus pens because most travelers spend their flight time engaging their iPad, tablet or cellphone,”she says. “They use the stylus pens immediately and it creates a door opener.”The stylus rarely goes into someone’s purse or bag. If the conversation flows, she pulls other giveaways from her “bag of goodies.”However, she is respectful and sensitive to travelers who don’t want to be bothered.

She landed one of her top five clients, a corporate event planner, simply by offering a stylus pen on a plane. “This client is in my top five because of all the referrals she sends me throughout the year. I get about two to three referrals a month within her nationwide company,”says Amigo, who is currently setting up their company store.

The “power of the pen”extends beyond business, according to Amigo. For example, she always gives three or four pens to the person at the airline check-in counter. “This has saved me many baggage overage fees, along with free upgrades,”she notes.

Also, once on the plane, she immediately goes to the back and presents the flight attendants with flashlight pens. “This has resulted in free drinks, extra smiles and free movies on some flights,”she adds.

Amigo employed a different tactic when she created another successful encounter. While waiting to meet a vendor, she got out of the car and happened to notice a business card on the ground. “This card had been driven over, stepped on, peed on by dogs – it went through the ringer,”she says.

Undeterred, she picked up the card and noticed it was for a small hotel chain, and the title on the card was “Rock ‘n’ Roll Jen.”Apparently, Jen was responsible for VIP musician customers for this particular hotel brand. Amigo pocketed the card, met with her vendor and went on to her client meeting. The next day, she pulled the card out. “I thought anyone with a title like that should be open to receiving my call,”she says.

Amigo dialed the number and said, “I don’t remember where we met, but here is what I do and can we meet? We met and she became a great client, and a fun one to boot!”

Look For Encounters In Personal Life

Nina Bloomstein Shatz, brand development director at HALO, was on a train home from visiting family in New York when she noticed the woman in the next seat furiously typing on her computer and talking on the phone. “She was freaking out,”she says. “She had ordered 1,000 canvas bags for a client and they came in all screwed up. The imprint was terrible and she needed them the next day.”

She told the woman she had overheard her dilemma, and that she was in the promotional products business, and the next thing they knew, Shatz was making phone calls to try to solve the woman’s problem. The bags needed to be delivered to New Jersey the next day, so she phoned LBU Inc. (asi/65952) and within five minutes, LBU got back and said they could have the bags ready for pickup the following day.

“I was able to place the order from the train,”says Shatz. “The whole transaction, start to finish, took maybe 30 minutes. It was fate. The client was thrilled and I looked like a rock star.”

From that initial order of about $5,000, Shatz went on to do other projects. The chance encounter provided her with “good repeat business I would not have had.”

Make Friends

“Chance encounters changed everything for me,”says Julie Austin, president and CEO of Hydrosport, the maker of Swiggies (asi/90409), hands-free wrist water bottles. When she first began marketing Swiggies, she was solely targeting the sports and exercise market, and meeting some resistance along the way, until two back-to-back chance encounters helped expand and promote her business opportunities.

Austin attended a trade show for action sports, but it turned out to be primarily surfboarding and skateboarding enthusiasts, which was not the right market for Swiggies. She closed her booth, and while walking the trade show floor, met another exhibitor who also felt like this particular show had been the wrong venue for his product.

“He told me Swiggies would be perfect for promotional products – I had no idea what a promo product was,”says Austin. He invited her to share a booth with him at a promotional products trade show in Las Vegas that year. “I was promptly mobbed in the aisle by people wanting to hear about Swiggies,”she says.

At the airport after this show, she was wearing Swiggies on her wrists and was stopped by someone who said, “If you have a minute, I’ll help you sell a bunch of those water bottles.”Turns out he was a member of the Hash House Harriers (HHH), an international group of noncompetitive, social running clubs which bill themselves as a “Drinking Club with a Running Problem.”Between the promotional products trade show and the run-in with the HHH representative, Austin says, “It was the best week ever!”

She participated in a few of the HHH runs, wearing Swiggies while she ran from beer keg to beer keg, filling the Swiggies with alcohol instead of water. This has become a whole new business opportunity for the wrist bottles. Austin has sold the product to organizers of parties at Mardi Gras and pub crawls, and has been supplying Swiggies to the Hash House Harriers for over six years. Some 20%-25% of Swiggie sales are alcohol related, according to Austin.

A true Elevator Pitch

An elevator encounter led to a $1.5 million order for Ed Levy, president of Edventure Promotions (asi/186055). His random meeting gives a whole new meaning to the traditional elevator pitch.

Levy was disembarking from a crowded elevator at Chicago’s O’Hare airport when a woman accidentally dropped all of her belongings on the floor in front of him. He offered to give her a hand, and asked if she wanted to put her bags on his cart, which was laden with his three oversized garment bags full of preprinted apparel for a client.

The woman agreed, and the two chatted for the approximately 12-minute walk from the baggage claim to the parking garage. Turns out she was the promotional buyer for Pacific Bell, and she was in charge of a promotion for 250,000 safety kits. They exchanged business cards, she told Levy to send her some of his materials, and within a week he sent her his marketing kit.

Soon after, he and his business partner were on a plane to San Francisco, closing a $1.5 million order for the safety kits. The timing was everything. “If I had met her four months later, I may not have gotten the order. It might already have been executed and filled,”he says.

Levy says he typically doesn’t talk business right away, but he is always friendly and asks a lot of questions. When he and the woman on the elevator realized they had a lot in common professionally, she encouraged him to send her some materials.

“Chance encounters drive business,”says Levy, adding, “Be on the lookout. When you’re doing something on your own time, and your minute gets interrupted, how you respond – what you do in that minute – can determine whether it becomes an opportunity.”

Fortune smiled on him again when Levy was sitting in a restaurant putting a program together for a client. A former colleague came in to the same restaurant. “Her husband asked what I was doing – my papers were spread all over the table,”he says. “Turns out he was the HR guy for a major discount computer chain and he was looking to set up a company store.”

Levy followed up a week later, scheduled a meeting, and ended up putting a company store in place for the chain. He did $800,000 in orders for the client that year.

Revive Buisness With Former Clients

Kimble Walch, senior account manager at Zebra Marketing, had a chance encounter that resulted in what is now her largest customer. She was waiting for a connection at the Atlanta airport when she ran into a former chemical plant customer that she hadn’t seen in many years.

He asked what she was doing, and told her he was now the safety manager for a large national construction company in a neighboring state. “He told me they had a company store they had to use, but to come see him sometime,”says Walch. She taped his card to her monitor and emailed him periodically, though she did not actively pursue his business.

Then, three years ago, he called to ask if she could meet and go over his company’s upcoming safety conference. He was unhappy with whoever was in charge of the company store, and wanted to make sure his conference went smoothly. “I jumped on it immediately,”she says. She met the client and his secretary that day, and since then they have become her largest customer.

Initially, she provided speaker gifts and attendee bags for the safety conference, and she now provides gifts annually for that event. She has expanded her business to include safety T-shirts, vests and caps, and says this represents the largest portion of her book of business with the client. She also set them up with a portal for his department. “I have worked for this client for three years, and their business is a big reason I was top producer for Zebra last year,”Walch says. Sales to the client have increased annually, to nearly $200,000 last year. As a result of the work she’s done, she is now getting add-on business from within the company, including project work from a nationally recognized car manufacturer.

“This industry is ripe for chance encounters, as we’re always out networking,”says Walch. “A great past relationship definitely laid the groundwork for this encounter becoming an opportunity.”

Lend a Hand

Shelley Concannon, president of Printpal Promotions & Printing (asi/299946), was volunteering at a fundraising wine event for a nonprofit she personally supports. She noticed that one of the auctioneers standing in front of her had a stain on the back of his shirt. He didn’t have another shirt to change into, so as he was getting ready to go onstage, “I grabbed some water and a cloth napkin and blotted the heck out of his shirt until the spot was about 95% gone,”she says.

The two talked as she was blotting and turns out he was the president of a bank. Concannon told him what she did, and he said, “Young lady, you need to come to our bank and talk to us about your products, because we could use the services of a company like yours.”

Concannon called him the following week and set up an appointment, and they have been doing business ever since that encounter in 2005. Not only is he a client, but he has become a good friend, and gives her referrals within the bank as well as to other companies “that might not ordinarily have given me the time of day,”she says.

In 2014, Michelle Altobelli, owner and branding expert at Altobelli Advantage Inc. (asi/119272), was volunteering on a church committee when another woman at the meeting pointed to her embroidered vest and asked, “Do you do this type of thing for company gifts?”Said Altobelli, “That is exactly what I do.”

They set up a meeting, and Altobelli began by helping the client, a manufacturing company, set up some branding guidelines, and recreating and re-digitizing their embroidered logo. From there she expanded to helping the client with trade shows, recruiting promotions, employee holiday gifts, salespeople and plant promotions.

Jean Erickson is a NJ-based contributor to Advantages.

Traffic Light Points Distributor in Right Direction

Sitting at a traffic light outside of Omaha, NE, pointed Rod J. Thomas, chief branding officer at Marketeer Group/HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000), to a business that is “well on its way to becoming an ‘A’ account for me,”he says.

He had been planning to do some cold calls that day, and while sitting at the light, noticed a truck on his left with the name of its business on the side. Thomas had never heard of the company, a steel producer, and it piqued his interest.

“I Googled the company name and address and literally turned my car around, drove back into downtown Omaha and called on the company,”Thomas says. He found out who the purchaser of promotional products was, left his card and a few pens, and followed up a few days later.

“I’m huge on follow up. That’s what feeds my family,”he says. A week later, he had a meeting with the client’s director of sales and marketing and the business development manager.

“I didn’t pitch products, but asked the client what was their most pressing issue,”Thomas says. “They said they were seeking clear branding in their marketplace, and they wanted fresh new energy.”

Since his first order of about $6,000, Thomas has expanded his scope to include internal employee programs, re-branding around the company’s transition to employee-owned, a safety program, and he’s been getting other referrals within the company.

Thomas said he logs 36,000-40,000 miles a year on the road, and if he sees a company he doesn’t know, he will pop in. “I always try to make human contact by visiting the company, and then I follow up with email or a phone call,”he says. “I am a 100% believer in chance encounters and serendipity. It has helped me so many times. What if I kept driving west that day and went through that stoplight?”

Basketball League Nets New Business

Michael Londe’s participation in a local men’s basketball league unexpectedly proved to be a winning strategy for the Summit Group’s (asi/339116) director of sales. He picked up three accounts netting some $100,000 in sales just by shooting hoops with some of the guys.

Londe formed a team at his local gym, and one of his teammates brought in a friend who was a liquor distributor. Ultimately, he supplied promotional items, including glasses and a beer bottle-shaped piñata for Cinco de Mayo, to this teammate.

“Over the course of the season we had the opportunity to get to know each other personally, and when we were playing basketball, he got a sense of how I handled myself on the court,”he says. “It’s always important to act professionally. How you act says a lot about who you are and can affect who you do business with.”

Londe was captain of the men’s league for many years, so he knew everyone in the league and was responsible for picking teams and subbing people in and out. He always sent emails from his work account, so people could see what he did for a living, and often during pregame stretching or after games, there were opportunities for the players to discuss their professions. He netted several other orders from people who approached him based on the relationship forged on the basketball court.

Just by Accident

Michael L. Driscoll, administrator at Adspec (asi/108196), literally bumped into some new business on his way home one evening.

He was on a four-lane road headed west when a string of cars crossed his lanes, and one, a van, neglected to stop and see if all was clear before crossing in front of Driscoll. “Yes, I hit the van square in the middle,” he says.

The van driver admitted he was at fault, the two exchanged insurance information and Driscoll’s car got towed to a repair shop. While chatting with the owner of the shop, he asked if he ever used pens to promote his business. “Yes, he said, and he also used calendars,” he says.

 Long-time, repeat business developed.

Top Tips :

  1. “I do think that being visible and putting yourself in accessible situations, even going out to dinner, helps create situations where chance encounters can occur,”says Londe, adding, “It’s not going to happen sitting at your desk all day.”
  2. Wear promotional items to your benefit. For example, bring branded water bottles for your team, or wear logoed merchandise to let people know what you do.
  3. Being involved in your local community can promote opportunity. “It shows you’re giving your time, allows people to see you in a non-work setting and gives people a chance to trust you before they work with you,”he says.