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Every YES Begins with a KNOW: Utilize Digital Information to Build Stronger Relationships

INDIANAPOLIS – Transportation leaders were trained at STN EXPO Indy on using good old-fashioned interest as well as leveraging the internet to gather information in order to build better team relationships and business connections.

“You need to do your homework before you meet with people,” stated digital expert Sam Richter during Saturday’s Transportation Director Summit at Topgolf in Fishers.

He advised attendees that before they meet with their employees, superintendent, school board, customers, or vendors to find out what’s important to them and let them talk about themselves, which builds connections and relationships.

“Before I meet with people, I do a little homework and say, ‘Guess what I found?’ It gets people’s attention. Follow up with, ‘Tell me a little bit about that.’ And then I shut up and listen. People love to talk about themselves. Give them the opportunity to do it,” Richter told attendees.

The benefit of letting other people talk about themselves is that we often learn interesting and sometimes relevant information, he added.

He recalled that when his father-in-law died 22 years ago, hundreds of his customers came up to his wife during the funeral and told her, “Ken really knew me.” Richter said his father-in-law knew people’s health struggles, hobbies, likes and dislikes.

“How is it that years before Google he was connected with people?” he queried. “It’s a mindset. We used to take people out for two-hour lunches and just talk.”

Richter said he learned about the importance of relationships from his grandfather, who owned a pharmacy. He shared that his “Papa Milt” was Amazon before Amazon. He would deliver prescriptions with gifts to his customers, such as toys and ice cream for the kids.

“I’m not losing money, I’m building relationships,” Papa Milt would say.

Finding out about the other party gives confidence through information that the other person doesn’t know we know, Richter explained. People can sense a confident, positive energy that is exuded when the person they’re talking to has done their research.

He contrasted this with the typical school classroom instruction to “check facts.” “The goal in our case is not to be right, it’s to build connections and ask better questions,” he said.

Finding something to connect over can also help introverted people feel more confident when meeting someone new.

This also applies to those trying to get a job. Employers are making decisions and people want to work with people they like. The small things become the big things when you’re in the “maybe” pile, which can make the difference between getting that job and making that connection, Richter underscored. People in general tend to like certain other people because of the accumulation of small things over time.

The digital world can be leveraged to assist in information collection, but Richter noted that it can be complicated without proper knowledge. “The power of good technology is that it’s intuitive,” he explained. “The problem with good technology is that it’s intuitive – we don’t really learn how to use it.”

Tune in to a conversation with Sam Richter on the School Transportation Nation podcast.

When seeking information about a potential business connection, Richter reviewed networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Facebook isn’t as desirable, he said, since its algorithms won’t filter through thousands of results unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. However, there are 760 million users on LinkedIn. He advised attendees to always look at a person’s LinkedIn profile before meeting with them just to get a sense of their background.

“It’s unnerving to tell someone you looked at their Facebook page, but you can easily tell people you got information from their LinkedIn page because it’s meant to be available as free information,” he noted.

Search engines, while seeming simple, hold much potential through tips and tricks. Richter pointed out that Google is not simply a search engine. It’s a product owned by an advertising company that wants users to click on ads while they search for information.

“Why am I teaching you about Google? I want you to understand other people,” he stated.

Google only captures about four to five percent of the accessible internet, Richter noted, while the invisible side of the internet enables discovery of relevant, credible data for presentations, research and more.

He led attendees through exercises on their phones and laptops that used search engine strategies to find information quickly and efficiently.

For example, putting quotation marks around a query tells Google to find that specific phrase. Using an asterisk for unknown variables widens the field so Google fills in the blanks. If a page cannot be found it may still be cached, meaning the information is still preserved like a Polaroid.

Typing “site:” and then a specific URL in front of a query tells Google not to vacuum the entire internet but to limit the search to a specific website. Sites contain pages companies want you to see, such as marketing copy, while subdomains are hidden pages that are not visible to the first round of search results but may contain pertinent information.

Even documents like PDFs and PowerPoints can be found via the internet, since Google searches the text of such files. Think like the author to find specific documents, Richter suggested.


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A nefarious player who knows how to find information can do a lot of damage, so it is important to also protect your digital reputation, Richter added. He will be speaking more on this topic during Sunday’s keynote “Don’t Steal the Cheesecake” at the Indiana Convention Center.

STN President and Publisher Tony Corpin closed the day by underscoring the importance of leveraging technology to one’s benefit. Although some tactics can be seen as guerilla marketing, he said, there are only so many ways to attract school bus drivers these days.

“Empower yourself and others to mine the data and connect with people,” he encouraged attendees.

Ruth Newton contributed to this report.

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