Don’t Let Your Age

Recently I went to lunch with a charming woman who was seeking my entrepreneurial advice (and perhaps my business) while trading on her long experience as a marketing executive. On paper, it seemed to be a nice quid pro quo.

She chose the restaurant. In midtown Manhattan, there are still a few relics of 1960s fashionable dining. We met in one of these, chatted in the midst of a few other patrons, all of whom might first have stopped in here as young Mad Men wives in 1963.

My lunch date knew a lot. She also was candid about what she didn’t know, including social media, Google and a few other game changers. She was downright cheerful staying so out of step with the times. Now, what advice did I have about working with the young folks?

Well, a little. Starting with the scientific reality of a little switch in the brain that turns the voices of old(er) people into white noise. Unless this woman wanted to market exclusively to the AARP, she had a fundamental problem.

She had gated herself in her venue. Yet I was a prospect for her. What did her choice of restaurant and conversation say to me, someone young enough to be her daughter? ‘I don’t really know you. And that’s OK, dear, with me at least.’

I’m not out to pick on older folk, or to make anyone feel lousy about the years they have lived. But the fact is, older salespeople often are working against a big, rank assumption: they’re out of it, unconcerned about what younger folk are doing and not worth a listen. In this case, my lunch date didn’t refute this. She in fact played into the assumption.

But rather than let everyone think I’m talking just about people over a certain age, dig underneath the details and down to the root: everyone must beware sitting pat in their own, gated venue. While I am strong advocate for niche marketing and finding ideal clients with whom you share many interests, this is wisdom that can be misinterpreted. Instead of finding inspiration among people we understand, all of us are capable of just coasting with those who make us comfortable.

How do you know which is which? By following a few basic precepts:

  • Be a chameleon, but with integrity. If you hate raw fish, why would you meet clients in a sushi hot spot? If you aren’t comfortable with anything — the venue, the client or discussion topics — you’ve veered beyond discomfort and into a space which simply isn’t you.
  • Be alert to how you sound. Listen to the phrases you use and to remember that language is always changing. It may all be English, but we all take cues from word choice. Are you stuck in an era long gone, making references to culture that faded before clients were born? Unless they have a nostalgic streak, you aren’t helping your cause.
  • Don’t deny the obvious. No, there’s no point in trying to act younger than you are. You won’t succeed, nine times out of ten, and you may end up playing into prejudices, like my lunch date.
  • But you still can still keep current. Memory is comfortable, like your favorite sofa. Stay there too often and you’re in trouble. Minds need exercise too. Yes, I think anyone with something to sell should understand the basics of social media. They shouldn’t be surprised by a networking event. And they should LinkIn with the best of them.

We’re talking about a state of mind. There’s a fine line between bridging a generational gap and looking foolish. Curiosity is what counts: you don’t have to be what your client is to be receptive to her.

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