Friday, April 30, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Strong-Arm Salesman

This is the another in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Slimy Strong-Arm Salesman

Environment: Hovering vulture-like while hunting or blocking their latest victim from escaping the corner.

Behavior: The Strong-Arm Salesman attends events in order to generate revenue for himself. He knows how to probe for needs, block objections, and make a close like nobody's business. He also has such a bad case of "commission breath" that no amount of mouthwash will make people want to stand near him. His favorite tactic is to lie in wait until some hapless newcomer walks past and then to leap upon his prey and figuratively wrestle him to the ground.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Events are for meeting, not for marrying. The Salesman can only see his fellow event attendees as so many human sheep, waiting for him to lead them to the shearing. Where the Good Networker views the event as an opportunity to begin a long-term relationship, the Salesman is only looking for relationships which last as long as it takes to get the signed contract. Ironically, if he spent the same amount of effort on creating connections as he does on his selling, he would end up with a network which would feed him contracts much faster than he could bring in by himself.

Counter-Measures: The Salesman is more persistent than the average bulldog. Once he latches on, he won't let go for anything. He will play every card in his hand. Your only chance is not to play. You will probably have to interrupt his spiel, because otherwise his training is never to stop talking for fear of hearing the word "No". In extricating yourself, though, be kind to those around you and don't foist him off on someone else. I would use one of the conversation enders, which you may need to have practiced anyway. You can always use the variations of the "need to powder my nose" excuse. Alternatively, you can "see a friend who needs to have a private conversation".

How We Can Help: As with the Chatterbox, the Salesman doesn't limit their behavior to large events. Anytime they have an audience, they will go into "sell mode". If you want to help them, the first thing you will have to do is break their pattern. If they stop to take a breath (or even if they don't), you can interject the "Oh, that reminds me of..." conversational gambit. Introduce a topic which is only loosely related to what they are talking about (or not related at all -- have fun with it!). Say your short piece and then follow up with a question about them which doesn't allow them back on the sales topic. It might sound something like "Oh, that reminds me about our trip to Disney World last year ... (brief story about your trip) ... Have you done any traveling recently?" If you can interrupt them enough times, they may actually start acting like a human being. After that, if you are feeling brave, you can ask them more about their business -- not their product. Ask about their target market, who they are trying to meet, who they think they can help.

If they respond well to that, then they might even turn into a decent connection. Until then, approach with caution!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Trouble with "Givers Gain"

Before we go any further, understand that I think that BNI (Business Network International) is a great organization. I know many people who either are or have been members of a local group and have met with great success as a result of the connections they've made within the group.

For those who are unaware, BNI is a "strong" or "closed" networking organization. It has numerous chapters, usually several in any given town or city. The idea is that each local chapter allows only one member from any given profession in the group. There is a fairly rigorous examination of potential members in order to make sure that there is no overlap with other members of the group. Each week, members are expected to bring a referral or testimonial for some other member of the group.

Now, that all being said, I have a minor bone to pick.

BNI has a saying -- actually a registered trademark -- "Givers Gain®", which exemplifies the best of networking. I agree with this concept completely. That's not where I have a problem. My problem comes with the interpretation that some people attach to the saying.  As I perceive it, the saying refers to an observational truth: Those who give will ultimately end up gaining. That is, those who provide value to those around them, who build strong relationships with no expectation of receiving anything in return, will ultimately reap the rewards of those connections. They will have developed contacts, acquaintances, and, yes, friends, who will have their best interests at heart and will do their best to bring value in return.

Yeah, "Givers Gain®" is a much more succinct way of putting that.

The challenge is those who interpret the saying as an instruction and a strategy which permits a form of transactional expectation. In other words, "I am giving to you, now I expect you to give to me". Those who behave this way usually end up frustrated because they end up with a weak network. Weak connections rarely result in the kind of gains that the limited networker is expecting. In fact, they will rarely, if ever, exceed the quality and level of "giving" that he or she originally provided.

Now, I know that a vast majority of BNI folks understand this concept -- the idea that "givers give" which results someday in gaining. Every once in a while, though, I run into someone who seems to have taken the wrong path. One person even went so far as to tell me that for sitting down with me and discussing her approach to networking, that I then owed her a referral or two in return. With that one statement, she made it clear to me that I was nothing but a potential source of revenue for her -- not a friend, not even an acquaintance.

Gosh, for some reason we haven't been in contact since then.  I wonder why?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Network Like a Toddler

As of this writing, my daughter, Kaylie, is two and a half years old. She is full of excitement and curiosity about the world. One of her favorite things in the world are playgroups. At playgroups she gets to:
  1. Meet and play with other kids.
  2. Play with toys she's not seen before.
  3. Gets a snack.
  4. Has someone read a story she's not heard before.
  5. Walk out with new friends she can look forward to seeing again.
How wonderful, right? Ah, to be a child again. But what does that have to do with networking?

Well, I was thinking about networking events and the fact that a lot of people don't like attending them. If you really think about it, though, those events aren't that much different from my daughter's play groups. You get to:
  1. Meet and chat with other professionals.
  2. Hear ideas that you've not considered before.
  3. Get refreshments (or maybe a meal).
  4. Have someone give a presentation you've not heard before.
  5. Walk out with new connections you can look forward to seeing again.
Networking events are just play groups for adults! The only real difference is us. If we approached networking events with all the joy and anticipation that a toddler brings to the table, we would have a lot more fun.

And probably make a lot more friends (long-term, mutually beneficial relationships), too.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Asking for the Referral

My sales coach, Joe Marr, has a great system for asking for referrals, called CAPS. The general idea is that you focus on some particular aspect of your target market which, when specified, is sufficient to trigger a listener's associative memory. Asking "Do you know anyone who needs a house?" isn't likely to stimulate any ideas, but asking "You wouldn't happen to know a young family who's about to have their third child, would you?" is more likely to get the desired results.

That's all well and good, and I hope you get a chance to talk with him about it sometime. Joe always has good stuff. The problem I always had was that getting to that part of the conversation always felt awkward. How, in normal conversation do you just drop in the request for referrals without it feeling like you are imposing on them?

Easy -- just have them ask you.

Wait just a minute, there, I can hear you thinking, How do I get them to ask me who I want for a referral? Is it some sort of Jedi mind trick? No, actually, it's simply a matter of helping them first.

I've written several times now about the importance of asking questions, and just as importantly, being ready to answer the questions you yourself are asking. So, in this case, just ask your listener who would be a good referral for them. After they tell you, around half the time they follow up by asking who would be a good referral for you.

Please remember a couple of things, though. First, you must ask from a place of sincerity. If you are just asking as a "technique" with no real intention of actually keeping this person in mind, that mendacity will show through. The second thing to be aware of is the other person might not remember after only one time who they should refer to you. Be prepared to "ask" several times. If you can refer business to them, they are far more likely to remember what it is you need, so be sure to keep tabs on what they need.

Asking for a referral is almost never easy, but if you show that you are trying to provide value to the other person first, you might not even have to ask. They'll ask you.

Just be ready to answer.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Track the Origins

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how much I am a fan of metrics. I track calls made, notes sent, events attended, etc, etc, etc. As far as I'm concerned, those things that get measured, get improved. In particular I try to track the results of my networking efforts. Did I make a sale? How much? How long did the sales process take? Was this a direct sale or was it a referral? What was the quality of the referral (anything from just a name all the way to a signed contract)?

In the case of referrals, one of the most important things I track is where or from whom that referral came. I do this for several reasons:
  1. Make sure I express my gratitude. Regardless of whether a referral turns into business for me, it's tremendously important to recognize and thank the source.
  2. Check my return on investment. If I do get business as a result of attending an event or as a result of meeting a fellow member of a group, I can see what y return on the investment of time and money in that particular group. This will inform my decision of whether to continue with a particular group. So, for example, Bob Smith might have given me the referral, but I met Bob at the Chamber lunch event. I'll give credit to both the event (the lunch) and the group (the Chamber) for purposes of analyzing which events and groups I attend.
  3. Referral source training. Of course, I'm grateful for any referrals the people in my network might pass to me. Still, if the referral isn't appropriate to me, my connection deserves to know. It should go without saying that I have to be diplomatic about this. It's only fair though, that I let them know, so they don't continue to waste their time passing me referrals which just aren't a good fit.
  4. Networking. Again, regardless of whether the referral is successful, I can still use that referral as an excuse to get in touch with my referral source.
So, be sure to track the results of your networking with just as much detail (or more) as you track the networking itself. A regular analysis of the numbers should give you a good feel for how your networking is progressing and whether you need to make some adjustments in your style.

After all, we all only have a finite amount of time to make our connections. Make that time pay off by continually seeking to improve the activities you pursue.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Put on Your Own Mask First

We are all familiar with the airline instructions about what to do if the oxygen masks should suddenly pop out due to cabin depressurization. If you are with your child, you put on your own mask first, then assist them. The general idea is that you can't take care of someone else if you can't breath yourself.

A similar point applies to networking. If you spend all of your time helping other people and ignoring your own needs and the needs of your business, then you won't be much good to anyone. Networking can only help people learn about you and your business. With the possible exception of giving you better access to advice and perhaps supplies, it can't do much to actually maintain or improve the quality of your business.

This is one of the reasons that we have to determine what our overarching goals are for networking. We can only spend a certain amount of our day meeting, connecting, and serving other people. If your clients suffer because you can't devote the time you need, then they will start looking elsewhere. If your business isn't evolving to meet new market trends, then soon you're bottom line will suffer. If you're not updating your personal skills, then no matter how powerful your network, you won't find that career of your dreams -- or if you do, you won't have it for long.

So, as you develop your networking plan, be sure that you set a mix of activities that will optimize the benefit to you. You want enough networking time to allow you to continue to extend and strengthen your connections, but not so much that it is at the expense of you and your business.

Remember, too, that networks can sometimes cut both ways. If you run a superlative business, then your crowd of ambassadors will extol your abilities to all who would listen. If, on the other hand, your business is substandard or shoddy, the best you can hope for is that no one will talk about you.

Not exactly the goal you were seeking when you worked to build that network, right?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How Equal?

Bob Burg has a series of posts over on his blog about the old saying "All things being equal, people will do business with, or refer business to, people they know like and trust." The general consensus is that the "equal" part is the tricky thing here. It's fairly obvious that if two different vendors provide exactly the same product with the exact same level of service for the exact same price, then, yes, the "know, like, and trust" (KLT) side definitely wins out. What happens, though, when one is more expensive, but with better service, is slightly more convenient, but will take slightly longer to deliver?

I'm going to argue that if we tried to take an objective measurement of "equality", then things don't necessarily have to be equal in order for the KLT person to win.

Think about it. How many people continue to make use of a service provider despite the fact that it has become less convenient? Or a little more expensive? I have had the same person cutting my hair for the last ten years -- this despite the fact that over the years, through several moves, she's been up to 30 minutes away. I'm sure during that time, I could have found someone closer who could cut my hair just as well, but the established relationship was worth the extra drive. I'm sure there are one or two other people out there would go even further.

What about price? Can KLT overcome the almighty dollar? I'm working with a client now who specifically hired me for the job because we worked together ten years ago. She told me when we were first talking about the project that she contacted me because she didn't know who else to trust. Being in an academic institution, she could easily have found someone a lot cheaper than I am (in fact, she probably could have employed multiple someones), but the trust part was that important to her.

Now, the KLT factor will only go so far. If my rates were ten times what they are, my client just couldn't have afforded me, no matter how much she trusted me. If my "hair technician" moved 100 miles away, it just wouldn't be reasonable for me to commute that far for a trim every five weeks. Still, as long as the inequality doesn't grow to great, KLT can be enough for keeping and maintaining that profitable relationship.

And there's nothing wrong with making a profit.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pick Up That Hammer, Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the idea that joining a networking group and expecting that to start your phone ringing is akin to buying a hammer and expecting it to build a house for you. In both cases, you have to be the motivating force to achieve the desired outcome. All else is just a tool in your hands.

So, what do you have to do to make joining that group pay off? Let's take a look.
  1. Make sure it supports your goals. Does the group support your ultimate networking goals? If your goal is to get more signed contracts, are the members in your target market or do they server your target market in a way that doesn't compete with you? If you are looking for a job, are they the people or companies you want to work for? Are they likely to be connected to people whom you wish to work for? If the answer is no, then no matter how hard you work, it's unlikely that you are going to get satisfactory results.
  2. Make sure it's active. Are the events well-attended? How many new members join each month? Are the leadership positions filled? Do they have the staff to support their constituency? How do they deal with membership growth?
  3. Make sure you can serve. My mom always said that you should only join a group if you think you have something to contribute. In what capacity could you serve the organization? Can you help out at events? Is there a board or committee you could serve on? What special skills do you have that you could offer to the group?
  4. Make sure you show up. Even if you've found the perfect group, nothing will happen unless you put in the effort. Are you attending the monthly/weekly networking events? Are you showing up for your board/committee meetings?
  5. Make sure you provide value. Are you constantly seeking ways you can provide value to other members of the group? Are you doing it from sincerity with no expectation of return?
  6. Make sure you give it enough time. Remember that networking is a long-term prospect. Depending on what you are attempting to achieve, months or even years will be required before your network develops to the point that you can "effortlessly" achieve your goals.
Just like the other tools in your networking toolbox, membership in a group requires your effort to make it productive. Without it, they will just sit on the shelf, gathering dust. Used with skill and with a plan, however, those tools can build a network that can server you for life. So, go on, pick up that hammer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pick Up That Hammer, Part 1

I gave a presentation at the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce yesterday talking about the benefits of the many networking opportunities they offer. One of the points I always try to emphasize is the importance of showing up. I often relate the story of one of the former Chamber members whom I knew. Let's call her Mary.

As an Ambassador for the Chamber, one of my responsibilities is to deliver the welcome bags to new members. Mary was one of my recipients. Now, I make a point of keeping in contact with the people I meet this way, usually calling every month or so. It was about a year after the bag delivery when I made one of my regular calls to see how she was doing. After a few pleasantries she let me know that she was going to be leaving the Chamber.

I was surprised, but we all know that not every group is appropriate for every networker. The Chamber is no exception. Still I was curious. "So, Mary, why have you decided to leave?"

"Well, I've been in the Chamber for a year and I haven't gotten anything out of it. No new business. Nothing."

"Wow! I'm sorry to hear that. Maybe there were better places to find the folks you were seeking. Which events did you attend?"

"Oh, I didn't have time to do any of that!"


So, Mary was assuming that all she had to do was join a group and somehow, miraculously, business would start flowing her way. If you think about it, treating group membership this way would be like going to Home Depot, buying a hammer, and expecting it to build a house for you. Just like the hammer, membership in the group is only a tool. Without us being the driving force, it can do absolutely nothing to improve our businesses or our lives.

So, what can we do to "pick up the hammer"? We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Word of the Week Networking

With all the talk of tickler files, scorecards, and the rules of networking, some might get the feeling that networking is no fun at all. Heck, with all this drudgery, you might as well be making (shudder) cold calls. Well, I would like to introduce you to my wife, Lisa, who, with her executive assistant, Beth, has come up with a way to make networking more like a game.

We call it "Word of the Week Networking".

The game is designed to help move people from your contact list or address book into your tickler file where you can begin having regular contact with them. My wife, while a great networker, is just starting to use some more structured approaches to cultivating her connections.

So, here's how to play:
  1. Once a week, select a five-letter word at random (or six or four or however many people you want to add to your tickler file). You can just pick one out of the air, or you could open a book to a random page and select a word at random from there. Whatever works for you.
  2. Using the letters from your word, select the first name from your contact list where the first letter of their last name begins with the letter in question. Choose a name not on your tickler list already. If none exist, then look at the first name instead, etc.
  3. You must now contact each person on your list of five. You must use a different mechanism for each one. You can use email, phone, handwritten note, LinkedIn recommendation, Facebook message, Twitter DM, comment on their blog, send them an article, a small box of chocolates, a telegram, morse code, or smoke signals. Use your imagination and have fun with it.
  4. Only after you have contacted them do you get to decide whether to put them on your tickler list. Remember, though, your most profitable ambassadors can come from the most unexpected places.
This "game" has a variety of benefits. Of course, just by making these re-connections, you are strengthening your network. You are also building your networking "muscle". You'll often have to connect with someone whom you don't remember too well.  How are you going to find out enough about them to have a reasonably personal message? Hint: It rhymes with "frugal". It also forces you to call on people whom you might otherwise have skipped over.

So, give Word of the Week Networking a try. Don't be afraid to experiment with other tricks and games that will encourage you to continue with your networking efforts.  If you do come up with something that works for you, please send me a message. If I get enough response, maybe I will compile them all into an e-book so that everyone can join in the fun.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just Like Us

This morning my daughter, Kaylie, and I stumbled downstairs, still in our pajamas a bit earlier than normal. She played happily with her stuffed Mickey Mouse while I tried to shake the sleep out of my brain. After I finally got myself awake, I called out to her, "Kaylie, would you like some breakfast?" She came running into the kitchen, "Breakfast!" Then she paused, with a look of concentration on her face and said,

"Daddy breakfast?"

I suddenly realized that she had made the cognitive leap that I was like her and that I might be hungry for breakfast, too. How remarkable!

Now, if only the average networker could understand the same thing. In general, I don't know of anyone who likes to have business cards foisted upon them. No one really wants to listen to someone else drone on about the features and benefits of their product or service. Certainly I can't imagine anyone who prefers to be treated as a potential sale instead of a person.

So, why do people do these things?

The Golden Rule doesn't have a clause on it which exempts behavior having to do with business. "Do unto others..." applies to all relationships. If we can just remember that, networking would be a heck of a lot more fun...

...and probably more profitable, too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Long Term Relationships

We were out tonight celebrating with friends. One of the group had his birthday recently and our tradition is to treat the birthday boy or girl (and their spouse) to dinner. It occurred to me that we have known most of these people for anywhere from five to fifteen years. We've seen each other through birthdays and marriages, through births and deaths, through a little bit of sorrow and a lot of laughter. I can say that without exception I would trust any of them with my life.

If we had that same relationship in business, these would be the same people who would not only vouch for me by passing along a referral, they might very well do the selling for me and just give me a signed contract. To tell you the truth, I've been blessed with those kind of business relationships, too.

The thing is, none of these connections happened in a day. My friends, now, at one point were mere acquaintances. When I first met them, for me to ask them for a bed for the night because we'd lost power at home would have seemed a little odd, possibly a little creepy. By the same token, if I had walked up to my strongest business connections when I first met them at the Chamber breakfast event and asked them for business, they probably would have backed away very slowly, keeping an eye on me at all times (or taken my card and promised to call me as soon as they had something for me -- pretty much the same thing).

Every relationship you have has a certain depth or closeness, depending on the time you've known each other, the experiences you've shared, and the value you've provided each other. You may ask of that relationship only those things which are appropriate for that level of closeness. A new acquaintance might be willing to let you borrow his pen, but he's likely to be a bit more reticent to hand over the keys to his car. Be sure that you never exceed the natural level of a relationship or you risk tainting what might have been a much more long-term (and profitable) opportunity.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Networking When It Doesn't Matter

The thought of actually attending a networking event fills many people with dread. After all, you are basically putting yourself in a place where you will be talking with strangers -- in direct contradiction to the instructions your mother gave you from the time you were three. So how can we take some of the pressure off?

How about we practice when it doesn't matter?

Of course, it always matters, but somehow it feels like it matters more when you are at an event. In order to get past that, take every opportunity to talk with other people when the stress levels are lower. When could that be? How about starting with simple situations such as talking with the cashier at the grocery store or the salesperson who helps you pick out that nice new outfit? How about the person who waits on you at lunch? You are already communicating with them. Now you can just make it a little more personal.

Some easy questions you might ask:
  1. How are you doing today? Yeah, not exactly original, but you have to start somewhere. Also, you should be asking to show that you really care, not just the perfunctory query that most people use.
  2. How has business been? Is that normal for this time of day? Let them be an expert.
  3. How long have you worked here? What's the best thing about working here? Let them tell their story.
  4. If in a restaurant, What's your favorite dish on the menu? Why? Again, they get to be the expert.
  5. Do you have any fun plans for the weekend/holiday? Most people love to talk about their recreation/family and this is a good way to bring that out.
You'll be amazed at some of the conversations you'll have. One young cashier I spoke with told me that she was currently in college studying international relations with a goal of eventually working in the State Department or possibly even becoming the Secretary of State. Wow! I'd bet that you can find some equally fascinating stories out there.

Now, not every person you talk with is going to be receptive. One or two will just want you just to be quiet so they can get their jobs done and get you sent along your way. In general, though, I've noticed that most folks are smiling before I leave. After all, how many people treat them as human beings?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Is It Just You?

I was having lunch with my friend Steve Owsinski of Igadea today. We were talking about networking and he mentioned that a lot of their clients were also friends. In fact, the clients are more likely to say "Let's talk with Steve about our Web site" rather than "Let's go to Igadea". I've been thinking about that dynamic ever since and to tell the truth, while I'm pretty sure that's a desirable thing, I can also see some downsides. I would love to hear your perspective.

On the good side: Obviously, if your clients are coming to you, then you have effectively established yourself as an expert in their minds. They see you as trustworthy and as the only one they want to talk to. They also will tend to be great ambassadors for you. They will be telling all their friends that they need to talk with "Steve" because he is the expert. Especially for those of us who are one-person shops, this is a goal to shoot for. We want people to come to us. Also, if you are someone else's employee, then this makes you very hard to fire. Again, not a bad situation to be in.

On the less good side: If you have the dream of growing your business beyond yourself someday, then you need to find a way of transferring your personal reputation into the company. You want people thinking that "ABC, Inc" (the company you built) are the people to talk with, because they are the experts. If you are perceived as the only expert at ABC, then as soon as you retire to enjoy the fruits of creating the business, the business will begin to fail, because the "expert" isn't there anymore. Even if you don't intend to sell your business, if the perception is that you are the only one who can get the job done, it may be difficult to get your clients to accept your employees, even if you trained them yourself, as anything other than second-best.

Maybe I'm just creating a tempest in a teapot here. Has anyone had experience with growing their business beyond themselves or having challenges doing so because of the perception that they are the brains behind the business?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Personal Networking: Debra Power

I had a wonderful coffee-less coffee with my good friend Debra Power today. She's the President and founder of Power Marketing and Research. She also serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and is one of the Co-Founders of the Women's Exchange of Washtenaw.

So, she's not busy at all.

You don't get to serve in all of the capacities that she has without developing a fairly strong network -- OK, a very strong network. So, I asked her about her tips and techniques for good networking.

Technique: Organize the contacts. With all of the meetings and events she gets to attend, Debra picks up the occasional business card or three. She maintains a number of neat piles on her desk. The first is to contact immediately. The second is to contact within the next week or so. The third is for scheduling coffees and lunches. The final pile is for long-term reference. Obviously to maintain these piles in a useful state she has to comb through them regularly. So...

Tip: Set a regular date. Debra intentionally keeps Monday clear of all but extreme emergency meetings. This is the time she uses to process these piles of cards. She calls or emails people, sets her appointments, and I'm sure does the occasional purge of the files, er, I mean, piles. By setting the once-a-week date with herself, she never has to worry about something slipping through the cracks.

And when you've got that many irons in the fire, letting things slip is just about the last thing you need.

See the Personal Networking Series.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

But I Don't Own a Business!

A lot of networking advice is aimed at small business owners (and salespeople) who use the skills to get more work for their business. There are those -- and I know you might find it shocking -- who actually do the work in a larger company -- who never have to bring in the signed contracts. They are the fortunate ones. They don't need networking, right?


While people in such "inward facing" jobs might like to think that they are exempt from networking, there are a lot of situations where networking will make their lives easier.
  1. Looking for a new position within the company. Is this the job you want forever?
  2. Getting on a coveted project. Does the show-runner know you and trust you?
  3. Starting a new project. Who do you know who will work well on your project? Who needs to give you approval?
  4. Getting your computer fixed. Who in the IT department wants you to succeed?
  5. Getting a new computer. Who in Procurement can make sure your paperwork gets expedited?
  6. Getting expenses reimbursed. Who in Accounting can make sure your paperwork is in order?
  7. Getting additional training. Does your boss (and her boss and his boss) believe you are indispensable and worth investing in? How do you know?
  8. Getting a new job. Do you really believe that your current job is permanent? Who will give you a glowing recommendation? Who outside the company knows what you can do and would keep an eye out for a new position for you?
When it comes down to it, no matter where you work or what your position, networking will make your life more secure. Make a point of making connections throughout any organization to which you belong. Just a coffee break here or a lunch hour there could be all it takes to have a successful and supportive career.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Doing the Math

I've not been able to track down the origins of the quote, but it goes something like: Every person knows on average 250 people who would show up for their wedding or their funeral. I don't know how accurate that is, but remembering weddings and funerals I've attended in the past, that seems about right.

The important thing is that you probably have that same number, give or take. Now imagine that you managed to talk each and every one of them into buying from you. You probe for their needs. You overcome their objections. You wrestle them to the ground and get them to sign on the dotted line. You suddenly have 250 clients. That would be pretty cool, right?

Now imagine something a little different.

Imagine that you have 250 ambassadors.

Each of them are interacting with their own group of 250, looking out for those who might need what you can provide. Doing the math, that's potentially 62,500 people who might get funneled your way. That's a lot of people. If each of your ambassadors knows only one such person (and they are more than likely going to know many more), then you are still going to have at least 250 clients. The difference is, you don't have to sell to them. They want to buy.

How much better would that be?

Oh, did I mention that there's a price?

It's easy, really. You just have to treat your 250 ambassadors as valued friends, advisors, connections -- as people. You must be interested in them. You must find ways to help them and provide value to them with no expectation of return. You must show compassion and have a genuine desire to see them succeed. In short you have to be a decent human being.

Heck, you were doing that already.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Constructive Avoidance

I've advised one or two people on good networking habits now and I'm beginning to see some recurring themes. One of the biggest is "constructive avoidance". It's easy to recognize because I tend to do it, too. This is the process whereby we avoid what we know we should do by claiming that we first have to get something else done. The excuse inevitably seems completely reasonable, but the end result is that we just never get around to doing what we know we are supposed to do in the first place.

In order to help everyone (including myself). I am going to make a list of the excuses people use to avoid networking and summarily crush every one of them. If you can think of others, please send them my way. I'm doing this as a public service.
  • I would start networking, but I don't have my tickler file set up.
  • Open Google Spreadsheets.  Create a new spreadsheet. At the top of the first column enter "Name", the next column header is "Last contacted" and the next is "Next contact". There. You have a tickler file. Just sort by the third column. Adapt as needed after you start using it. This should take approximately three and a half minutes.
  • I haven't figured out exactly what information I want to keep in my tickler file.
  • Start with what I listed in the above response. Adapt as needed over time. You will never design the perfect system right out of the gate. You are going to have to build that airplane in mid-flight.
  • I haven't entered all of my contacts into my tickler file.
  • Don't. Just enter as you contact them.  It will fill up fast enough.
  • I haven't figured out exactly which events I'm going to attend.
  • Bring up the events for your local Chamber of Commerce. Pick any three and attend. Your goal for these events is to see if they have any potential. You will never be able to pick the perfect events just by reading the descriptions.
  • I don't have a 30-second commercial.
  • Yes, you do. Think of the last time Aunt Sally asked you what you do for a living. It may not be a great 30-second commercial, but no one cares, and you can (and should) adapt over time.
  • My 30-second commercial doesn't sound natural.
  • Of course it doesn't. It won't sound natural until you've delivered it about twenty times to an actual human being and adapted it each time.
  • I'm not comfortable making small talk. I wouldn't know what to say.
  • You shouldn't be "saying" anything. You should be asking. Come up with a very short list of open-ended questions (nothing they can answer "yes" or "no") and they will be more than happy to do most of the talking. Just make sure you know the answers to those questions for yourself.
  • I don't like other people.
  • Pretend you do. Other people are the reason you are in business.
  • My business cards aren't ready.
  • It doesn't matter. Get some blank cards you can write your contact information on, if you really want. Remember: They don't care about your business card. Even if you give it out, it's vanishingly unlikely that anyone will contact you. The important thing is to get their card so you can contact them
  • I'm already on LinkedIn and Facebook. I don't need to meet people face-to-face.
  • Wrong. Social media sites are great ways to maintain connections and to establish yourself as an expert in your field. They cannot take the place of actual human interaction. As social animals we learn so much about each other from non-verbal cues, that trying to establish mutually beneficial long-term relationships with someone without actual face time is kind of like trying to drive with your eyes closed. You can do it for a short while, but you have to go a lot slower or risk having a serious wreck.
  • I'm too busy to network.
  • This one takes care of itself. If you don't network you will eventually be "not busy". If you would like to avoid this situation then you will make time to network. Here's what you can do: During each commercial break for "American Idol" (or whatever your guilty pleasure is), send out one email making contact with one of your networking connections. Congratulations, you are networking.
I'm sure there are numerous other excuses, but this should cover a fair amount. If I receive a significant number of additional excuses from readers, I will revisit this topic. So, please, send in your cherished avoidance technique that gets you off the hook with your networking.

But beware, unless it involves something life-or-death, I will crush it and throw it in the dust bin.

Photo credit: brainware3000

Monday, April 12, 2010

Personal Networking: Timothy Wells Householder

This is another in my series about networking tips, techniques, and systems that I learn from my conversations with my own network. In this case, I was chatting with my friend, Tim Householder (aka Timothy Wells Householder), over lunch and he told me about some of the networking practices that he follows.

Tip: Take advantage of the opportunities whenever they present themselves. In addition to having his own art photography business, Tim is also pursuing his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at Wayne State University. Recently, as an assignment, he and several other classmates were required to meet with a gallery owner in downtown Detroit. When the students discovered that the assigning professor wasn't going to be there, a number decided that they were going to skip the task so they could focus on preparing for their upcoming reviews. Not only did Tim attend the event, he even spent some time trying to convince the other students, in the long run, the connections they made with the gallery owners were more likely to lead to their future success than than an extra four hours spent preparing for the review.

How many of us ignore the opportunities presented us in our daily associations? Is a noted speaker in your field going to be giving a presentation nearby? Is your favorite author going to be having a reading and book signing? Have you been invited to a holiday party being thrown by a local business? You don't have to attend every event, but be sure you aren't finding excuses to skip them all.

Technique: Show what you do. Being a photographic artist, imagery is one of Tim's calling cards, so to speak. What better way to leave that image with someone than including it on a note card? Tim makes his own cards with his striking images on the front. Perfect for that hand-written thank you note to the gallery owner who hosted the event he attended last week.

Of course, sending hand-written notes is already going to make you stand out, but adding something which personalizes the message and makes it one-of-a-kind will really make you remarkable. Is there some aspect of your business that you could include in your message? Maybe you don't have images, like Tim, but do you have a list of helpful hints that you could include on the back? Bring your creativity to the fore and your recipient want to show off your card to the entire office.

Photo credit: Timothy Wells Householder

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Help Find the Bullseye

Every once in a while when I'm chatting with a new networking partner I run into a little problem. I ask them who their target market is and they respond:

"Oh, we can help anybody."

As I've mentioned in the past, this is not a helpful statement. Specificity is your friend in this case. If they can't be specific in describing their target market, then it's highly unlikely that you are going to have your associative memory triggered.  I don't know about you, but "anybody" brings "nobody" to mind.

So what I will usually do when presented with this less-than-useful response is to take them through a few questions which will hopefully narrow down the pool of possible targets. Here are some of the questions I ask:
  • What clients do you prefer to work with? Sometimes this gets the "clients with money" response, but it often gets you the dream client.
  • Who have been your best clients in the past? If they liked them before, maybe they would like more like them.
  • Which industries do your customers usually come from? Again, this can lead to the "we can help anyone" answer.
  • Do you have a limited service area? City, county, state, region, national, global? Again, we are aiming for "prefer" rather than "possible".
  • Why do your clients choose you? How do you differentiate yourself? If they say "customer service", then they really haven't thought about it. After all, everyone has great customer service, right?
  • Who was your most recent client? Were they representative of a good client?
  • Are they bigger than a bread box? This is the general question category. How big a company? How old (people or companies)? How much do they make? How many cars do they drive? Do they have a summer home? Do they have kids? How many? Are they newlyweds? Is the company family-owned? What generation? Etc, etc, etc.
Most people, when you get them started thinking about all of these details, will begin to be more specific about their perfect client.  The biggest challenge they have is they think by being specific about their target market, they are giving something up. Reassure them that you are just trying to find the best fit for them. If they continue to insist that they can help "anybody", gently let them know that "anybody" reminds you of "nobody" and you're pretty sure that's not who they want.

Photo credit: Bogdan Suditu

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Start Up. Don't Give Up.

More thoughts from my lunch the other day with Tim Householder -- art photographer extraordinaire.

We were talking about the difficulty of getting started in networking. A lot of people start out with the intention of creating a great network. Then they get discouraged when their efforts don't bear fruit after only a few days, or weeks, or even months. How can they get past the "no response" blahs that can destroy the first-time networker?

Here are a few ideas which might help get you through the tough times.

  1. Remember, it takes time. Probably the most important thing to do is to keep everything in perspective. Networking is not an overnight thing. Expecting to walk into a networking event and walk back out with a signed contract is like walking into a singles bar and expecting to walk out with a wedding ring -- not likely!
  2. It's about them. Often first-timers get frustrated because they are focused on their ultimate networking goal (referrals, contracts, contributions, etc) and their network hasn't provided it yet. Those of you who are parents know exactly how this feels. For the first eight weeks or so of it's life, a baby doesn't smile. You are putting a lot of effort into it, but not getting much out (at least not much that you really enjoy). Still, you don't give up. You keep devoting your time and energy and one day, in your sleep-deprived, foggy-headed world, that little one will suddenly give you a toothless grin and suddenly it's all worth it. Same thing happens with your network.
  3. Use internal goals. This is where a networking scorecard comes in handy. Instead of setting the goal of three signed contracts, which is an external goal, set a goal of 50 points a week (or two face-to-face's, or three events, or whatever). These are goals that you can control and are more likely to meet with success.
  4. Use rewards. You might already do this for your external goals, but be sure to reward yourself for attaining your internal goals, too. Maybe reaching your 50 point goal for two weeks straight might mean that you get to treat yourself to an extra-special froo-froo coffee the next time you are in your local java den.
The trick is to stay focused on building the network, not on what you expect to get out of it. If you put in the effort (it is called network after all) and build your connections on a consistent basis, you will discover that soon, you will be getting out much more than you put in. Won't you be glad you stuck to it then?

Photo credit: Randy Son Of Robert

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's All About You

I was having lunch yesterday with my buddy, Tim Householder, my photography mentor, artist, and owner of Timothy Wells Photography. We talked about business and networking quite a bit. One of the challenges he finds with networking is that he often doesn't see the results of his efforts. He'll make the effort to put a couple of his acquaintances in touch with each other and then he hears nothing. Not a word of thanks, no feedback, nothing.

So what's a reluctant networker to do?

Well, I could go off on a rant here about the increasing lack of civility and common courtesy in our society, but that won't solve the problem. Most folks aren't going to change their behavior just because I scold them. So here are a few thoughts about what we can do in these situations.

  1. It's all about you. We can't count on anyone else to work on the networking relationship. Think about how many business cards you've handed out over the years and compare it to the number of times people have called you for your first coffee together. What would that be? 1 in 10? 100? 1000? If you want a strong network, it's up to you to create it. You make the call. You make the connection. You do the follow-up.
  2. Call before. Before you connect two people, contact them ahead of time to make sure that it is OK. Now, most folks aren't going to turn down a referral, but you never know. A touchier situation would be if one or the other is providing advice or resources free of charge. Definitely make sure that this isn't going to cause trouble.
  3. Be there during. If at all possible, set up a meeting for all three of you to get together. Then you make formal introductions. If in-person isn't going to work and you have the capability, a three-way phone conversation would be nice, too. I would say that the lowest on the totem, but still effective would be a three-way email message introducing the two parties.
  4. Call after. About a week after the initial introductions, make the point of contacting each person to ask how things are going. If it's going well, then they will remember that you were the person who brought them together. If not, then you'll want to find out why not, in part to see if you can help fix things, but also so you can do a better job with referrals in the future.
Please note that at no time are you waiting for either party to call you. The effort is going to be all yours. Then again, any connections you make will not only be helping the other parties, but will also be strengthening your network as well. Small price to pay.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life

Spoiler alert: If you've never seen "It's a Wonderful Life", just skip this post right now. I'm warning you, I will be giving away the whole storyline of the movie.

In the holiday classic, "It's a Wonderful Life", George Bailey, the character played by Jimmy Stewart, gets to find out how life would have turned out differently had he never been born. He discovers without his presence in the lives of his fellow townspeople, the future would be dark indeed.

What if we placed that same dark mirror before us, but this time it is not we who were never born, but instead suppose we lost all of the benefits provided by our networks.

Let's see, for me, at least, I probably wouldn't have gotten into graduate school -- I was originally turned down and my boss at the time was the one who went to bat or me and got the admissions committee to re-consider. That would have meant that my entire career (over 17 years!) at the University would probably have been in jeopardy. It also would have meant that I wouldn't have met Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, the founders of Argus, Inc, who gave me my first freelancing job.

I wouldn't have gotten most of my clients after that point, either, since it was Peter who quite often put me in contact with them. Speaking of my other clients, even those that Peter didn't refer to me, most of them came from a friend, colleague, or networking partner passing my name along. So effectively my company would cease to exist.

Without a network, I would be reduced to finding a job through ads on Craig's List. I heard a statistic the other day that 60-80% of all jobs are never advertised -- so, all word of mouth. I'm guessing the leftovers aren't the real cream-of-the-crop careers.

Then comes the biggest networking event of my life.

I would never have met my wife. My daughter would never have been born. The home I would have been living in would be merely a house (or more likely a tiny apartment). All the vacations that I've been able to experience would never have happened since it's always Lisa who is motivated to travel and do the required planning.

What a dark and dismal life.

You know what? I think I'm going to keep my network. Living in Bedford Falls seems like a much better deal than Potterville. In fact, I think I'd better get busy showing my gratitude to my colleagues, connections, and friends. They've given me so much more than I could possibly repay.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Personal Networking: Kelly Parkinson

As I continue to expand my own networking practice, I meet with more and more expert networkers each day. I thought it might be useful to ask them what tools and tips they use in the process of making connections. For the first article in this series, I chatted with Kelly Parkinson of Allegra Printing.

Kelly and I met a couple of years ago through a Sandler Sales training class we were both taking from Joe Marr. I was immediately struck by what an excellent networker she was when she actually contacted me to get together for coffee (usually I'm the one who has to initiate).

From that first meeting, Kelly has been a lot of fun to chat with. Not only is she a receptive audience to talk about topics both business and personal, she is also always looking for ways to make connections. In fact, she put me in touch with some great clients who have continued to bring me on to new projects.

Kelly and I sat down over lunch today and had our usual lively discussion. At one point I asked her about her networking process -- what systems, tactics and tools she used to make her a successful networker.

Systems: She actually admitted that she was not much of a systems person. Mainly she made sure that she followed up on any first meetings that she might have at one of the several groups with which she participates.

Tools: Her calendar. She said that this is the number one tool for her. She uses it not only to schedule one-to-one meetings, but also to track all of the potential events which she might attend.  She also uses it to determine whether she will be able to participate in a group in a substantive way.  For example, she uses it as a first line of qualification as to whether she will participate in a new group. If the group's regular meetings happen to conflict with her current schedule, she politely and gracefully declines the invitation.

Techniques: Kelly doesn't just join groups, she participates. In particular, she's found that she has a knack and preference for working on committees, especially those pertaining to events. While she has been invited on several occasions to server on Boards of Directors, she's not found that to be as satisfying or productive as actually being in the trenches.

If you see Kelly around, be sure to ask to see the pictures of her "babies" -- two miniature Spaniels who look like they are just ready to run off and find some trouble. You might also ask her about what's going on down at Allegra. She was the one who helped me get my business cards printed. Thanks, Kelly!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Know When to Fold'em

As the old Kenny Rogers song goes, "You've got to know when to hold'em/ Know when to fold'em". What holds true for the Gambler also holds true for the Networker. A comment from my good friend Jacki Hollywood Brown on Sunday's post asks:
So what if you've attended for ages and you're getting nothing out of the networking group, you have no excuses for not going. How do you know whether or not the group is for you? What factors determine whether or not to stop attending one networking group and start attending another?
This is a very important question. After all, we do have our overarching goals we are trying to accomplish through networking and sometimes those goals can take some time to accomplish.  So, how do we tell the difference between success delayed and mission impossible? To help out, let's ask some questions about the groups to which we belong.  This is probably something you should do about once a year or so, just to make sure that you aren't expending your time and effort in a venue that is unlikely to help you reach your goals.
  1. Why did you join this group? Was it to meet a particular person or group? Are they colleagues? Potential clients? Potential ambassadors?
  2. Does your original reason still hold? Have you changed target markets? Changed to a new business or even a new business model?
  3. Has the group changed? Are different people or even different groups now showing up at the events? Would they make good connections for you?
  4. Have you given the group enough time? Realistically, how long should it take to accomplish your goals? Add 50% more, just in case your estimate is off.
  5. Have you served the group? Have you helped run events? Have you been an officer? Have you been a disciple with no expectation of return? How many members have you met for a one-to-one meeting?
  6. Have you asked advice from the current office holders? Have you explained your goals? What did they say you should do?
If, after answering all of these questions, it still appears that you've grown beyond the group. It's time to part ways amicably. The good thing about doing the above assessment, though, is that you will already have a foundation to help you select any new group that might meet your needs.  Just remember that networking does take time and a willingness to serve without expectation of return. Be careful that you don't give up all of the benefits that you might have accrued without thoroughly examining every aspect of the relationship between you and the group.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Are You Board Yet? Part 2

A couple of days ago, we talked about some of the benefits of creating a Board of Advisors for yourself. While we could come up with a number of advantages to us, the next question was: Why would anyone want to become a part of such a beast? What was in it for them? It's a good question.  One of the easiest ways of coming up with some good answers would be to ask yourself what reasons you would have for joining such an endeavor. Let's look at some possibilities.

Money. Conceivably you could pay your advisors, I suppose. Someone who was motivated by the pay, though, might not be willing to be completely honest with you if it was likely to make that funding go away. One argument in favor o payment might be that you would take the advice more seriously if you are paying for it. If you felt you needed to go this route, though, you would probably be better off just hiring a business coach who specialized in the area you felt you had a need.

Recognition. This one is a stronger possibility. Being recognized as an expert in the field might well be an argument that would resonate with some potential board members. The challenge would then be to continue providing recognition.

Giving Back. Many whom you should consider as potential members of your team will be those who have already experienced a significant level of personal and professional success. Often those who've already learned the lessons are more than happy to share the wealth.

Challenge. The potential board member has not only succeeded, but may also have retired from that career.  They may be looking for a challenge.  The good thing about someone like this is that they will be seriously invested in helping you with your career.  After all, your success is also their success.

Connections. Remember that you want to ask very successful business owners/runners. The opportunity to get in contact with other such individuals is a definite bonus to anyone who is serious about helping. Truthfully, the connections that such individuals would make and the ability to give back by helping you succeed are probably the two most powerful motivators.

There are a lot of reasons someone might be willing to become a part of a Board. It's up to you to first either find and meet those who would be of most benefit as advisors or to locate them already within your existing network. Then when you have your team assembled, be willing to listen to and (usually) follow their advice.

Get ready to be amazed at how much your Board can contribute that you never thought of before.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

So What?

It's time for the monthly Chamber breakfast meeting. You've been attending faithfully for months, but today you just can't get up the enthusiasm to go. As you trot out your list of excuses to stay home, remember two little words.

"So what?"

I never get anything out of those meetings.
So what? Come up with a better goal of how you are going to give. Your getting only happens after you prove that you provide value.

I know Bob is skipping it to go on vacation. I hate attending without Bob.
So what? You already know Bob. Take a chance to meet someone new.

I'm not going to know anyone there.
So what? That's why you are going -- to meet new people.

I already know everyone there.
So what? Either there will be someone new to meet or you can re-connect with someone you haven't seen in a while.

I don't need to go, since I can just get the list of attendees later.
So what? Being there in person is ten times more effective.

I have a lot of other work I need to get done.
So what? If you don't network consistently, you won't have to worry about having too much work in the future.

I'm really too tired to go.
So what? They will have coffee there.

I have a lot of other excuses.
So what? None of them compares to the importance of showing your interest and support for the organization in person. Kick yourself in the seat of your pants and get moving.

So, what's your excuse?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Are You Board Yet? Part 1

What networking activity could you organize that would:
  1. Put you in contact with a select group of business leaders?
  2. Create connections between the members of your network?
  3. Give you regular access to some of the best business advise you could ask for?
If you are stumped by this one, it's not surprising. Most solitary networkers and small business people don't think of this activity. Most larger organizations couldn't exist without it. Still stumped?

Start a Board of Advisors for yourself.

"Wait, just a minute," I can hear you say, "I started my own business so I wouldn't have to do what other people say!" I can hear some of the rest saying that you don't even have a business. Why would you need a Board?

Here's the thing. You are a tremendously smart and worldly person. You have the answers to a lot of your own problems. You do not, however, have the answers to all of your problems. Heck, you might not even be aware of some of your upcoming challenges until it's too late. This is where that Board of Advisors comes in.

Did I emphasize "advisors" there? Why, yes, I did. They would be there to give you advice on your current and potential challenges. They might even provide accountability for those activities and goals you wish to pursue. They do not have the power to tell you to do anything. You can choose to ignore their advice (though that probably wouldn't be a good idea).

OK, so it sounds like it might be something of value to you. Why would anyone want to be on this Board of yours anyway.  What's in it for them?

We'll cover that tomorrow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Showing Selective Vulnerability

"People tend to do business with those they know, like, and trust." How many times have we heard that particular phrase? Of course, it is true, so that's probably why it gets trotted out so often. Still, ironically, a lot of people have problems with the concept. Their biggest challenge?

They don't want anyone to know them.

OK, I don't mean that in the literal sense. Of course, they want people to know them -- or at least know of them. The problem is that they try to maintain a "professional" demeanor in all situations. They never reveal any aspect of their personal lives. What they don't realize is that this behavior leads to "positional" relationships -- the weakest of all networking connections.

In order to be a truly successful networker, you must allow your networking connections to have some limited access to aspects of your personal life. In a phrase you need to show "selective vulnerability".

Now, I don't mean that you have to be an open book. Some mystery is still good. You probably don't have to share the story about how you and your spouse had a huge fight the night before.  If appropriate to the conversation, though, you might share that you went out to a fancy restaurant to celebrate your anniversary. Your latest skin condition is probably a topic best kept under wraps. Talking about the joys of your favorite hobby? Probably safe.

Basically, consider the kind of information you would feel comfortable hearing from a close acquaintance. Those are the topics you can probably share to be more "personal" without worrying too much about being "unprofessional".

Remember that any good networking relationship is really just like a friendship. Until that other person knows who you are, beyond your job, they won't have the basis for a good, strong connection. Opening the door just a crack to let the other person in will go a long way toward building a network that can support you, no matter what lofty heights you are trying to reach.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sales Call Negative Networking, Part 2

Yesterday, I started telling the story of a pushy cold-call I received from the University of Michigan's Football advertising sales people. In particular, I spoke with a young woman whom we are calling "Kelly". While, cold-calling is certainly not networking, the very best of cold-calling has a lot in common with good networking.  We're taking a look at the number of networking rules that Kelly broke in our brief conversation.

Back to our story.

Now, she never actually said so in so many words, but there was a strong implication that by advertising with them, I would really increase my chances of getting more contracts with the University (because the ad would be seen by IT managers and folks from Procurement and I would be seen as a supporter of the school).

She then followed up by asking me which size would be the right one for me.

Broken Rule #4: Always Follow Through on What You Promise. While she didn't actually promise anything, what most people would infer is that buying into the advertising, I would be more likely to win future contracts. After I got off the phone with Kelly, I called my contact in the U of M Procurement Office to ask him if this were true. I know you are as shocked as I was when I found out that advertising in the football program had absolutely no bearing on my success in the University bid process. None!

Well, as you can imagine, I'm not a big one for advertising. I've grown my business purely through word of mouth. I let her know politely that, thank you, but I wasn't interested in the offer.

Then she began to get pushy.

She proceeded to tell me that while word of mouth is a good way to grow your business, it couldn't compare to advertising in their program. After all, it gets you in front of all of these people. And which would be a good size ad for me?

Broken Rule #5: Making Them Wrong Does Not Make Them a Friend. At this point, she is trying to tell me that she knows what's good for my business? I know for a fact just how booked with work I am right now. I bet my sales conversions are better than hers!

Broken Rule #6: Ambassadors, not Customers. If I get all my business through word of mouth, it stands to reason that I have a fairly strong network. Instead of antagonizing me to try to get a sale that will never come, wouldn't it be a better idea to recruit me to help sell you to my network?

Once again, I told her that I didn't see any value in what she was selling for my business. We then went into the loop about how great the advertising was. Each time we returned to "which size would be best for you?" At one point she got a little exasperated and wondered why I wasn't as excited about this opportunity as everyone else.

Broken Rule #7: Be With the One You're With. Don't compare me unfavorably with other people you've dealt with, especially in a patently false way. I somehow find it difficult to believe that anyone was getting that excited about buying a sixteenth of a page of advertising.

Finally, I had to get a little less polite and told her in no uncertain terms that I was not interested in her advertising and that I wanted her to remove me from their list and never called me again. Her parting shot was to wish me luck in the coming year, though in a tone that seemed to indicate that she would be surprised if I had any.

Broken Rule #8: Leave Them Liking You. If she had been polite and respectful of my time, I would have forgotten my conversation with Kelly within minutes. Because she decided to be a "bulldog" about it, though and finally forced me to be firm, I'm now closer to an active adversary.

Now, I know there are a lot of people who make their living through cold-calling and I'm sure that this style of high-pressure, pushy sales talk actually works at least some of the time. I have a harder time imagining anyone who actually enjoys doing it. The young woman whom I spoke with was obviously just doing her job. She was given a script and was simply following it.

That script, though, was thirty years out of date. Would you want your company reading lines written for a different era?