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  • Writer's pictureMark Olivito

Where are you from? The Question That Matters

Did your home town have an impact on your life?

I bet if you think hard about it and made a list of your “top 10” things that shaped your life, your hometown will somehow be woven into that list, whether directly or the images that flashed through your mind. Rarely have I met someone and the place where they grew up did not shape them in a meaningful way.

Yet I am surprised at how much this question is a throw-away line.

Sometimes it’s asked to simply establish rapport with new business associates or neighbors to try and find common ground. But if you dig deeper, you will learn an awful lot about who your dealing with.

Why does it matter? Simple:

“Knowing SOMETHING about your customer, is as important as knowing EVERYTHING about your Product” Harvey Mackay

Harvey Mackay, the great author of the classic “Swim with the Sharks” is a master at learning about customers. His famous “Mackay 66” was ground breaking in its simplicity and intentional structure to help salespeople get to know their customers.

If you are in sales you understand this. Many industries are in a race to the bottom on price, but relationships still and will always matter. People generally like to buy from those they like, so relationships are a very real difference maker. How a person is wired is often a function of the basic question: “Where are you from?”

What if you are not in sales? It still matters. Do you need to deal with people? Would better relationship help? If yes, then learning about people makes good business sense.

My wife and I often banter on which is the better state, NY or NJ. She’s an ultra-proud New Yorker. I’m a Jersey Boy. Our arguments are never decided, but always passionate. Anybody that has seen the conversation would learn a lot. It kind of goes like this:

Kim: NY pizza is better. It’s the standard.

Mark: No way, it’s all hype. Yes, “NY style” is across the country but anyone that knows real pizza understands that NJ has better, more consistent shops. Like entertainers, NJ has more and better.

Kim: No way. Billy Joel, he’s your all-time favorite, so there! And do I have to remind you about your precious Yankees?

Mark: True, but we have Springsteen, Frankie Valli, Bon-Jovi, Sinatra, and the 2 NY football teams play in NJ, what does that tell you?

Kim: Sinatra wrote “NY NY” not “NJ.” We have the Hamptons, they have class. You have the Jersey Shore, enough said.

Mark: My point exactly, we have AC too. And the Soprano’s.

And on and on it goes. A giant circular argument that’s laced with pride and contempt all rolled into one. That is just the surface of it, dig deeper and you would learn more.

When was the last time you asked about a colleague’s home town, or how they grew up?

What did you learn about it that surprised you?

If you have never asked them, no time like the present. Grab a cup of coffee with them, or a glass of wine at your local happy hour watering hole. Ask them about their home town. What made it special? How often they think about it? Was it where they were born, or where they are NOW they consider home? Do they miss it? Why?

You get the picture. It’s a conversation to genuinely learn, not an interview. The key word is genuine. People sniff out a phony from miles away.

Building relationships starts with Caring.

Care enough to learn about things that matter to people.

Don’t have an agenda. Just CARE.

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