November 22, 2013
Each one of us is part of a network of relationships, where we serve as a resource for each other. We protect, promote and inform each other. We advise, connect and encourage each other. It's a support base that can help you overcome extreme adversity or complete a moonshot project.
We do not inherent these networks, nor do they appear like magic for the chosen few. It's not a legacy or a lottery. We build them, like homes, one brick at a time. Sometimes, if we ignore a network node, his or her support levels wane. When we invest in a relationship with someone in our network, our synergies and mutual support grows.
Ignore or invest. While this reads like a simple choice, where the no-brainer is the latter, we don't act like it. In our face paced go-go life, we often finish our work weeks, ignoring our personal networks unless prodded by mutual opportunities. If we don't plan for it, our chances to make new connections or add value are occasional.
If you want to build up a strong support system and widen your world, carve out a minimum of 4 hours every week for relationship development. Put four one hour blocks on your calendar. During each block you can:
1. Mentor people via phone calls or email. They present themselves to you with questions, problems or requests for help. Do some homework. Send some help. Solve some problems.
2. Make helpful introductions. Connect people that should meet via phone or email. Keep a running list of "should meets" on your phone. Always be building introductions. Accomplish three connections per week.
3. Reconnect with dormant connections. According to Adam Grant in Give Or Take, they will be glad to hear from you and will possess a unique perspective and set of experiences. That's the value of catching up!
4. Give encouragement or say thanks. Send out thank you cards. Be on the look out for friends in need and deliver encouragement high touch (phone, face to face).
Don't relegate this exercise to your weekends, evenings or free time. It's a real business investment that's right up there with long meetings, hour long status calls and TPS reports. Surely, you can find five wasted hours in your current biz-life that's a weaker investment than your support network!
In just a few months, you'll see a change in your business ecosystem. More opportunities will suddenly appear in your Inbox. Complex problems will be solved with just a few phone calls, instead of countless hours. You'll eventually realize that investing in your network is a way to save time, and extend your horizons.Tweet
November 07, 2013
It's only three weeks until Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. Most years, we huddle up with family and friends, and give thanks for the bounties in our life. In too many cases, we are thankful for stuff: home, possessions, luxuries. In some cases, we are thankful for the people in our lives. That's when it has the greatest impact on our psyche.
In Today We Are Rich, I wrote that gratitude is a muscle that we need to exercise often. Otherwise, we get spiritually flabby, lose our gratefulness and nosedive in our relationship lives. This applies to work as much as it does our personal life, too.
So here's a simple exercise you can give your gratitude muscle over the next few weeks: Buy a box of Thank You cards (nice collection here). Create a list of professional connections that have made a real contribution to you or your work over the last year. Write a short note in each card, itemizing what he or she contributed, and what it has meant to you. Send the card so that it arrives the week of Thanksgiving. Your entire investment will run you less than $30, including postage.
Do not take any shortcuts here. Don't send an emails or an electronic cards to save time/money. They don't have nearly the impact as a real card that you've signed with a pen. Don't limit giving the cards to those that report to you or work side-by-side with you. Find people that might be surprised by your gratitude, yet deserve it for their contributions.
This exercise is inpsired by my friend Brian Palmer, who has surprised me on many occasions with a thoughtful Thank You card. When I've told him what a classy move it was, I could sense that he got just as much out of the exercise as I did. And now I know why.
The whole experience will force you to turn up your noticing knob, trying to locate the recipients for the 20 Thank You cards in your box. The act of writing a short note to each person on your list will cause you to recollect the times when he or she was there for you, and it will fill you with positive feelings.
Like any work related gratitude exercise, the experience will also drive something deep into your perspective: You are not alone. There are people in your life that are helping you, supporting you and caring about your future. This will bolster your sense of confidence about your future, knowing that you are not in it alone.
You'll also see your mood lifted and your behavior influenced by the process. One taxi driver I met in Denver told me that he was taught to believe that gratitude is a compound word: Gracious + Attitude. He's right too. When you are dialed into what people are doing for you, your ability to bounce back from life's little obstacles will be greatly enhanced.
Check out this video from Soul Pancake, which demonstrates the emotional benefits of expressing gratitude:Tweet
November 05, 2013
More than ever, telephone mastery is the key to success. In my work, the phone is my number one tool to close deals, network, conduct deep research and build relationships. It's a magic medium that allows me to connect deeply without the time-space requirements of face to face meetings.
A phone call is much higher touch than an email exchange. You can hear someone's intentions in their tone of voice, unlike reading one of his or her emails. The interactivity of a phone call allows for adjustments, explanations, retraction and exploration. While this might make common sense, in reality, it's not a common practice in the digital age.
Over the last decade, many of us moved our conversations from the phone to the Inbox, thinking we would be much more efficient and less interruptive. Generation Y doesn't like to make or receive calls, instead preferring a text. The idea of voice exchange to many feels like 1999.
As a result, many of us conduct our phone calls on-the-go, usually over our smart phone. We call people in our car, while we wait on our next flight, when we eat and whenever we can squeeze it in. We likely think that the quality of our work isn't suffering, but in fact, it is.
Our calls are often garbled, as reception varies when we are on the move. We are constantly distracted by traffic, people interacting with us, our computers and anything that crosses our periphery during the call. At best, we are giving 50% of our attention to the call. If you've been on the other end of one of these mobile calls, you know exactly what I mean.
While calls on the go might work for simple transactional work, it's no way to make friends and influence people. Your mobile phone work gives very low ROA (Return On Attention), which will cause you to lose access to them in real-time. And real-time is the new face-time in business.
If you are going to schedule a phone call with someone of any length, consider the following appraoch:
* Schedule calls for no more than 30 minutes. Send information prior to the call, so the entire conversation is about reaching a decision, understanding a situation or charting a plan of action.
* Conduct the call on a landline or via a super dependable connection. If you are Skyping, make sure you have an ethernet connection.
* Conduct the call in a closed door environment with no distracting noises or window scenery.
* Create a written outline for your call so you can begin it with your computer screen OFF. Never do any computer work during the call unless you are looking something up by request or looking at a website for the purpose of the conversation.
* If the call is part of a project or a sale, get permission to record it so you can capture all of its value. Send the audio file out to Rev for inexpensive transcription. You'd be surprised how much gold you'll find in the transcripts. For your conversational partner, it's pretty impressive when they receive an edited transcript from the call. Really values their time (and content) highly! (PS - Rev only charges $1 per recorded minute, no minimum.)
* Send an email after the call, highlighting what was agreed upon and next steps.
The keys then to a great call are preparation, focus and followup. If you adopt this practice, you'll find that your phone is your best weapon to acquire new business, delight customers and gain valuable insights. You'll leave the thumb warrior smart phone crowd in the dust.Tweet
September 20, 2013
Great networkers share one attribute: Generosity. They put people together that "should meet" for the love of helping others and NOT to generate social debt. They derive delight from knowing their networking efforts are multiplying value in others.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things to grasp as a networker. Often, we've been socialized to think that networking is an exchange of value. Like trading baseball cards. The problem is that it doesn't usually work out that way. When you make a valuable introduction, there isn't always a quid-pro-quo available. So you wait.
Then later, when your intro has turned into a bona fide opportunity, it's easy to internally expect something out of it, or even worse, ask for a piece of the action. That's bad for two reasons: First, it sets you up for disappointment. Often people can't pay you pack, don't pay you back or pay it forward to someone else. If you've been expecting something, your disappointment will inhibit you next time a networking opportunity presents itself.
When you ask for something in return, you are no longer a networker. You are a people-broker. It usually makes other feel pressured, offended or put off. Sometimes we subtly present the match-making bill by asking, "so how did that introduction pan out?" The mere follow up shows that we are tracking it, and can put subtle pressure on your networkee to somehow offer something up in return.
So connect others, get out of the way, and pretend it never happened. This will differentiate you to others, and show them you only have their best interests at heart. It will also ensure that you can continue to do it for the rest of your life, without becoming jaded.
Finally, suppose that your networkee, out of a sense of gratitude, offers to do something for you in return. This happens a lot. You agree to make an important connection, and your beneficiary says, "And I can help you too..."
It's easy to go with it, working out a trade in real-time. But you are getting distracted from the task at hand when you do that! Stay focused on making this connection. Say this instead: "If this works out, all I ask is that you do the same for someone in the future. I just want to help you, and I want nothing in return."
It will likely baffle most, and in many cases will be a refreshing source of surprise and delight. Over time, you'll build up a lot of trust that way, and your network will explode with serendipitous introductions from others think quite warmly of you.
For more: The Elmer Letterman StoryTweet
September 13, 2013
This Tuesday, I had the pleasure of being the opening keynote at the Cultivate Fox Cities conference in Neenah, Wisconsin. What a great community of business professionals! They exhibit a set of mid-western values including a put-people-first mindset, a long view and pride driven tenacity.
Stanley Marcus Jr. counseled me to share my knowledge when and wherever I can, especially if I think it can add value. He told me there was a side-benefit that would help me greatly over my career: Feedback. He told me, "You'll never get dumber by trying to make someone else smarter." He's right too. When I speak at events like this, my talking points get feedback and often, my future talks are enriched by them.
At the Cultivate event, my talk (The Power Of Great Relationships) was based on the idea that we should share our knowledge and our network with people we do business with to "multiply their value." This is the secret to sustainable success and real business power.
1. Share Knowledge: I propose always having a mentee, which you select because he or she is going places and you know something that can help them. Beth, a local award winning mentor, told me afterwards that prior to engaging with her mentees, she gives them an outline of what they'll cover and when. She often gives it to them in writing, in advance of their first real engagement. "It's a curriculum, and you should expect them to follow it," she explained. Good point.
2. Share Your Network: I believe that we should introduce three people every week that should meet. To do that, I advised my audience to reverse the conversation when meeting new people (at events, on the job, etc.). Instead of seeing if they can help you or if they have status, we instead, screen their life situation to see if we've got network contacts to offer them.
Steve, a new entrepreneur just a few years out of college, approached me after the talk to tell me about how difficult it is to "break in to networking" when it's hard to figure out who new contacts really need to meet. He also said that if you have a small network, you need to look for a friend-of-a-friend contact if you want to add value. "I think good networkers ask good questions," he told me. It's not like casual conversation yields a list of "gotta meet" people. So asking, "What do you do?" may be an unproductive ice breaker. Instead, he's been taking a page from Never Eat Alone, opening conversations with "What are you you working on that you are excited about?"
Plussing with him, I suggested we can delve into the networking dig even = deeper with "And who do you need to meet to get there?" Or, "Are their any hurdles? What will it take to jump over them?"
Expect more trip reports in the future. Next week, I'm giving a keynote at TechStars' annual FounderCon conference. I'll be talking about Putting People First to 350+ startup founders. I'm certain they'll give me a lot of feedback too...Tweet
June 21, 2013
When you hurt someone's feelings at work, it's too easy to try and smooth it over with an attoboy or platitude. But is that really a relationship booster or just a band aid?
Most of my keynote talks are about how to create and maintain strong business relationships. Most discussions focus on customer or teammate relationships, but often, I'm reminded that we all need to spend time thinking about our partner (vendor/supplier) relationships as well. When they go wrong, we lose a lot of traction and face steep replacement costs.
Last week, I was caught in the cross fire of a customer-vendor disagreement. I introduced them, which keeps me in the loop of their day-to-day progress. The customer was unpleasantly surprised about a cost overrun, so he expressed it (laced with some profanity). The vendor CEO was appalled at having his employees being treated that way, and responded by calling me to vent and discuss terminating the relationship.
The customer had already realized that the relationship was on the rocks and called the vendor CEO owner to make amends. Here's the problem: He didn't offer up the right olive branch. He called to express his gratitude for all the great work and extra efforts the vendor's team had contributed to his project. While appreciation can go a long ways in a relationship, it is not an antidote to a venomous outburst.
"He's just worried that he'll have to replace us and start over again," the vendor CEO told me. "He's not sorry for the verbal abuse, and that means it will happen again," he concluded. He's right too. I promised to call the customer and see what I could do.
The customer's point of view, unfortunately, was more ego-based than relationship based. "I didn't do anything wrong," he spouted. "They changed the rules in the middle of the game, surprised me, and I expressed that I was a little pissed off." After thinking for a second, he added, "I might have used a little french to express myself."
I gave him this advice: If you want to work with them, you must sincerely tell them how sorry you are for the way you made them feel and how your reaction created more negative emotions than necessary. Whether they were wrong by action, your reaction made them feel bad, nervous and hurt. You should NEVER make a partner feel bad in the normal course of doing business, and when you do, you should show empathy and be contrite about it. If you value the relationship, then you'll value their feelings. Then I showed him this post from my facebook page that resonated with my tribe...just to illustrate my point in social terms.
While he was trying to make a deposit in the "emotional bank account" with his vendor, it turned out to be in the wrong form of currency. I'm hoping he can suck it up, say he's sorry, and move forward with the project. Time will tell.Tweet
June 19, 2013
Surprise is a good thing when followed by the phrase, "Happy birthday!" Otherwise, it's a negative emotion, and when it happens in a customer-provider relationship, it's a source of dissatisfaction. Regardless of what you sell or who you serve, your customer's expectations need to be met for you to succeed (in their eyes).
In fact, I think it's an ethical issue: Properly guiding customer expectations is an act of business love. When you've gone out of your way to eliminate surprises and give your customer proper guidance for them to distribute, you are being a compassionate person.
Too often, we over sell our service and under play things that can go wrong. Likely, we lack confidence that the customer will take the good/bad/interesting into account and still do business with us. Often times, people try and "manage" our expectations with a creative lie. Example: You make a walk- in reservation at a restaurant, they tell you it's going to take an hour and in fact, they expect it to be more like 30 minutes. This way, you will be pleasantly surprised. Right?
While this might work for dinner, think about how sandbagging can throw off your customer's internal reporting and management efforts. If you purposely under promise delivery to give your service some slack, your customer makes plans accordingly -- and when you deliver quicker than expected, it's not a good thing after all. Also, it's again an ethical issue, where we lie to customers because we can't trust them with all the information.
Instead of managing your customer's expectations, guide them openly and honestly. Here are a few ways to do it, and still land the deals you are chasing:
1. Sell In Scenarios - Instead of under or over selling, offer up three potential scenarios, and the variables that determine whether they will come to pass. Predicted Outcome is your honest assessment of the product's performance or delivery of the benefits. You should spend considerable time recalculating your company or product's performance to be on top of this scenario. Worst Case Outcome is the disaster scenario, where the benefits may not materialize or worse, there will be negative side effects. In many cases, this scenario occurs due to something the customer does or the complexity/high risk nature of the service you provide. Finally, there is the Best Case Outcome. Stay realistic as you paint this picture, clearly stating what you and the customer need to accomplish to make it a reality. If your customer's expectations start to drift to the Best Case Outcome, make sure you are the reality king or queen here, guiding them back to Predicted Outcome. They will thank you later.
2. Ask the Right Questions - In many cases, your customer is surprised because you didn't ask him or her what they needed to know up front, and ongoing. I've worked in the technology and marketing field for over fifteen years, and this answer can vary from customer to customer. Some are obsessed about delivery dates and others worry about cost overruns. Once you define their priorities, you can create a regular reporting system, where they are constantly updated about project progress.
3. Reset Expectations - If you realize that there is going to be a delay in delivering your service, or a lack of performance in the campaign, time is not on your side. The longer you wait to reveal this to the client, the more they will be upset when they finally find out. When I was producing the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show webcast (held in '99), we had set an expectation that the internet event would be a technical success, and also help the company build an email list for digital marketing. Our co-founder Mark Cuban reviewed my project and told me that "the event will crash the 'Net in less than 10 minutes!" He agreed, though, that the email list campaign would likely be successful, given the attention the event would generate.
He then dispatched me to Columbus to reset the customer's expectations. Our marketing group even did a mock up of a Wall Street Journal article reporting the event's meltdown. This way, we graphically demonstrated the Worst Case Outcome as a likely reality to the client. "It's a healthy problem!" they replied, and the event was still held. And it crashed in less than 10 minutes.
When I returned to Victoria's Secret HQ the following week, I was not scolded, but hugged instead. Why? Executives, partners and even board members got the word up that the event was likely too big for the young internet, which was a testimony to the power of the brand. We over delivered on the email list, and the customer agreed to try the fashion show webcast the following year -- at the Cannes film festival.
Do you have a story about the importance of guiding customer expectations? Share it in the comments and who knows, you might make the pages of my next book.Tweet
February 07, 2013
Recently, I gave a talk on Relationship Power at a big conference that required quite a bit of research prior hand and nuance during delivery. I needed to create a one-of-a-kind talk to specifically help two groups come together, develop empathy for each other and collaborate. As an outsider, you can't wing this, or you'll easily step in a cow pie with the crowd.
And because half of my speech relates to their exact situation, it's brand new material for me. It is not in my treasure trove of advice bits, illustrations or signature stories. Which means that in many cases, even bullet point power point slides only serve as prompts and don't work like a teleprompter. (PS - I never use one. Makes me too stiff and disconnected with audiences.)
So, I rehearsed. Not in my head, or by flipping through my power point slides...I gave the talk. All. The. Way. Through. With my iPad serving as my countdown clock, I gave the talk at home in my studio the week prior to the talk. Taped it and listened to it on the plane. It was excruciating, as I started and stopped the opening five times until I had my legs underneath me.
Did the talk for the client the night I arrived in town, prior to having dinner. All. The. Way. Through. The next morning, I gave the first 20 minutes of it to my mirror at 6am. That was where most of the custom content was. How did the talk go? Fantastic! Felt at ease during the talk, didn't miss any key points, and used my examples without any bobbles or gaffes that could get someone's back up. Later, I received great feedback from members in the audience, as well as my sponsor.
If you are making a really important presentation, or doing some material for the first time, rehearse your talk. Outloud. All. The. Way. Through. You'll thank me later, when you tell me about how you "killed it."
What should you not rehearse? A crucial conversation. Frequently, we face situations when we are going to have a difficult conversation with someone about an emotionally charged situation. We might be mad at her. It might be a disagreement that needs an airing out. It might be a confrontation, where you are expecting answers from him.
The worst thing you can do is rehearse for this. Why? You are spring loading your negative feelings as you go over it in your mind (and sometimes outloud, especially as your brush your teeth or make eye contact in your car's rear view mirror.) The more you think or rehearse what you are going to say, the more your emotion's get spun up.
Also, when you rehearse, you frequently think about what she or he will say in their defense. At that point, you think of your follow up responses, and conjur up a debate or blowout in the process. Later, when you have your crucial conversation, when she replies to your charge, you'll loudly proclaim, "I knew you were going to say that!!!!"
And then it's on like Donkey Kong.
In this case, you'll do better to wing it. Let it play out without much pre-planning, other than to focus on what's really important in this situation. Are we trying to fix something that's broken, take care of a client or keep our word? Then that's all the conversation should be about. Finally, when we head into the crucial conversation, we need to remember: It's not a performance, it's an encounter.Tweet
June 04, 2012
Too often, when we think we are 'networking', we are actually trolling for assistance in one of our ventures. We are screening people to see if they have use to us, and if we might possess currency we can trade for their assets. It's a quid-pro-quo approach, and to me, is just salesmanship.
Networking occurs when you connect two or more people together that should meet - and then get out of the way! (BTW: If you expect something in return for your networking efforts, you are just a broker that's peddline your network).
So, here's the best way to change from a Prospector or Broker into a real-live Networker of value: Stop asking people "What do you do?" Instead, ask them, "what are you doing these days that I might be able to help you with?" Resist all tempations to uncover potential value to you, and ignore their offers to pay it back.
By focusing on what others are doing, dreaming about, trying to do, struggling through, etc., you shift your perspective from trading to contributing. Dale Carnegie said it best: "You will win more friends and accomplish more in the next two months, developing a sincere interest in two people than you will ever accomplish in the next two years, desperately trying to get two people interested in you."
The best networkers I've ever met, such as Keith Ferrazzi, spend 80% of their conversations probing to find out how he can add value through an introduction. 80%. He's relentless when he asks, "what are you enthused about these days," and as a result, has the unique opportunity to enrich hundreds or thousands of lives per year.
For more, read Masters Of Networking by Ivan Misner.
August 10, 2011
If you are kind, connected and calm - people will relate to you.
They'll be loyal, supportive, helpful and caring back to you. They will buy from you. That's the value of relationships, you bring out the best in others. You create teams instead of silos. You generate value instead of capturing it. So, mastering the fine art of relationship development is important to your business life.
Over my career, I've isolated the two ingredients that Relationship Masters contain: Emo-Talent and Generosity. Check out this video clip for more on this.
PS - Keith Ferrazi has a Relationship Masters Academy with great resources. Check it out!