I have the privilege of traveling for work. Like most, the purpose of my travels is to get new clients, or make sales. And, like most any business, we have a specific target market, a secondary target market, and everyone else.

Recently, a coworker and I flew all the way across the country to participate in an event we’ll call Official Target Market Meeting. It was a one day event that we put a lot of effort behind, and the company (read as :small business that deals with things like actual budget concerns) put forth the resources for us to be there.  

Well, the day of the event, we set up, were bright eyed and bushy-tailed, and ready to chat with our target market. In theory, it should have been the easiest thing ever.

But, our target market was nowhere to be seen. In fact, in the beginning, very few people in general were around. The event site touted 150+ registrants, falling under our ideal umbrella. Halfway through the first talk, we counted 30 people in the seats, a good amount being people we immediately recognized as being with teams of other sponsors and event vendors.

This was not the event we signed up for.

But we were there, and the last thing I was going to do was waste the experience.

First, I thought I could chalk it up to training, so I started to listen to the speakers. I quickly noticed each speaker was essentially an infomercial in real life.

Most of the time, I can pick out a couple good, usable facts from a talk. These folks however were clearly just shilling their products.

When I realized there was little true insight in the presentations, I talked with my co-worker and we decided one of us could walk around and chat with other sponsors while the other stayed at the table. So, he went to go talk to other people and I stayed behind.

He quickly came back, talking with a couple people about our organization. It seemed like as soon as a couple people were at our table, more people showed up. Granted, we still weren’t talking to our target market, but the people we were talking to could very easily find value in the services we were offering and who are a part of our overall industry.

So we talked. And talked. And talked some more.

That day we did not make a single sale.

But, I did facilitate and introduction that resulted in a  face-to-face meeting with someone at the show and my boss to occur in less than 48 hours, across country. I learned how to talk about my organization in a brief, concise manner. My coworker figured out key tech stuff that we are going to need to know with our busy summer travel season coming up. He and I talked for hours with a couple people, connecting way beyond the shallow level of simply exchanging business cards.

That day I finally understood something my boss has been saying for months. At its core, business is not transactional, it’s relational.

The irony is when my co-worker and I were initially sent on the trip, we were given a sales goal. Needless to say we didn’t come close to hitting it, and I honestly don’t know if I could come up with a business case for attending the event next year.

But, because I didn’t just write off the day as soon as I realized it wasn’t going to be what I was expecting and kept acting as though the day had infinite possibility, it was a training in interpersonal skills I found simply invaluable. I also gained a whole new understanding of why attending events is essential—because even if someone doesn’t need the services right then, they’ll remember the connection more than any shiny marketing gimmick when they are ready.