Go From Six to Zero Degrees of Separation

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Book Excerpt: How listening and engagement can build new client relationships

"Picture yourself driving up a steep hilldownshift and you get control. It's like pulling the road to meet you," writes Mark Goulston inJust Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. "Most people upshift when they want to get through to other people. They persuade. They encourage. They argue. And in the process, they create resistance."

Do the opposite-listen, ask, mirror, and reflect back what you've heard-and people will feel understood, Goulston says. "That unexpected downshift will draw them to you."

In this excerpt from Just Listen, Goulston explains how customer-facing professionals, like those in sales and marketing, can move from cold call to warm conversation through listening and engagement:

Six Degrees of Separation

SCENARIO: I work in marketing, and I'd love to lure some big clients to our firm because I think that's the fastest road to promotion. However, I have no idea how to make contact with the rich and famous. Is it even possible for a "nobody" like me to get past the layers of staffers who surround powerful people these days?

If you're in client development, sales, or marketing, you have a tough job: getting total strangers to listen to you. That job is even tougher if you need to reach powerful people who are fiercely guarded by dozens of gatekeepers.

Cold calling and other techniques for reaching strangers are worthy of an entire book-and yes, I'm working on it right now! But in the meantime, here are a few quick tricks that can move you rapidly from six degrees of separation to zero.

Create One-on-One Situations

First, use the approach I employed to introduce myself to Tom Stemberg of Staples (see Chapter 6). Powerful people frequently participate in seminars and panel discussions, and they usually call for questions at the end of their talks-so go to these meetings and ask the right questions. When you get your shot, remember that your job is to make your targets sound interesting and to ask questions they want to answer. Your goal is to make these people look good-thus creating mirror neuron empathy and encouraging them to reciprocate-so don't blow it by trying to show off.

To increase your odds of success, attend charity benefits, book signings, or other functions where you have a chance to come face to face with a VIP. If you're creative, you can always find a way to make this person "feel felt"-even at a very public event-and if you accomplish this, you'll create an instant bond.

On one occasion, for instance, I was a keynote speaker at the Association of Corporate Growth's annual conference in Beverly Hills, California. The night before the conference, speakers had a chance to meet each other at a cocktail party held at the hotel. The most successful of the speakers was Mike Heisley, the Chicago-based billionaire and owner of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and a man who's responsible for turning around many companies. Everyone clearly wanted his attention, and they formed a long line to greet him. When I met him I asked him: "What did you learn about success from your dad?"

Mike paused, proceeded to stop speaking with other people (much to their dismay), and spontaneously pulled out two chairs and invited me to sit down with him. He then started talking about how his dad taught him to make deals based on the best interest of everybody, not just his own interest. He told me, "My dad had so much faith in me to succeed without taking advantage of anyone that I wanted to honor his belief in me. My dad made me want to be a better man, and I like to think I have."

By realizing that leaders often learn valuable lessons about how to behave (or not behave) from their parents, I'd granted Mike the opportunity to reexperience the gratitude he felt toward his dad.

That warm feeling made him open to hearing from me after the conference.

Make Virtual Allies

Meetings, however, aren't the only forum in which you're zero degrees of separation from your quarry. Thanks to the Internet, you can touch a powerful or famous person on-line-especially if you remember the core rule that people want to feel felt.

One way to do this occurred to me after my first book, Get Out of Your Own Way, was published. At that time, I discovered that writing a book is like having a baby: you hope it's intelligent, attractive, and well received, but you never know. You also tend to check the reviews of your book-probably too often-to see what the world is actually saying about you. In addition, you click on blog posts and discussion groups that talk about your brainchild. I discovered firsthand the hurt feelings that an occasional negative or even mean-spirited review can create. On the other hand, when someone really understood where I was coming from, it was very uplifting.

Not long after I became aware of these narcissistic but very natural feelings, a friend sent me a copy of The Confidence Course by Parade magazine CEO Walter Anderson. My friend told me that I'd like it, and that I'd also like Walter Anderson. My friend was right. What's more, I went to Amazon.com and noticed that no one had written a review of this wonderful book.

So I wrote the first one-not just a quick "loved it, recommend it" note, but one in which I invested time and thought. I'd learned from Walter's book that he hadn't enjoyed as close a relationship with his father as he would have liked. That resonated with my experience with my own dad, and I told Walter I admired how he'd demonstrated a fatherly caring for his readers when he'd never received that caring himself. My words came straight from my heart, but actually touched him deep in his. As a result, Walter and I now have a relationship.

Virtually all people-no matter how powerful-"ego surf" the Net, and there's no gatekeeper standing between you and them on-line. I know it's hard to imagine glamorous celebs or incredibly powerful business leaders sitting around in their pajamas typing their names into Google, but believe me: they do.

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About the Author: Mark Goulston is the author ofJust Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone(AMACOM). He is a psychiatrist, business consultant, executive coach, and a former hostage-negotiation trainer for the FBI. A best-selling author whose books includeGet Out of Your Own WayandGet Out of Your Own Way at Work, he writes Internet columns for Huffington Post and Fast Company as well as a syndicated column, "Solve Anything with Dr. Mark," for Tribune Media Services.

Excerpted from JUST LISTEN: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, by Mark Goulston. Copyright 2009, Mark Goulston. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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