Our premiere issue of Networking Times (way back in a prehistoric June 2002) featured an article entitled, “What Do I Do When My Names List Runs Out?” Its author, Bob Burg, has been a regular contributor ever since, and there is no one on the planet more eminently qualified on this topic. A perennial favorite speaker and trainer among networking audiences, Bob is author of the classic Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts Into Sales, and the underground bestseller Winning Without Intimidation. His latest book, The Go-Giver (coauthored with this editor) became a Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller and has been translated into sixteen foreign languages. Bob is also a former Palm Beach County/Brooks Brothers Leukemia Society Man of the Year for his fundraising efforts, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Safe Harbor, the Humane Society of Jupiter, Florida. — J.D.M.
Bob, how did you get into this line of work?
I started out as a broadcaster, first in radio then as a television news anchor—which I was thoroughly horrible at doing.
I had no feeling for the news. I was too positive. My idea of a good newscast would have been to say, “Good evening, everyone, I’m Bob Burg. In the news tonight, everything’s great! Go to bed—I’ll let you know if something happens.” Tom Brokaw, I was not.
I moved into sales, but found I had no idea what I was doing. To be kind, let’s just say the training I received was not the best. It was pretty much, “Go in there, tell them whatever you have to in order to make the sale—and after they sign the contract, get out before they have a chance to change their mind!”
Yeah, that somehow doesn’t sound like you.
(Laughs) Even back then, my goal was to add value to whomever I was doing business with. I just didn’t know how.
I floundered around for a while, and then one day in a bookstore I noticed a book called How to Master the Art of Selling, by Tom Hopkins.
I said, “What?! You mean, there’s an actual way to do this, other than just knocking on doors and being nice?”
Tom’s book gave me hope. I went through it page by page, exercise by exercise, line by line. Within weeks, I was a much better salesperson, and eventually worked my way up to sales manager of a company.
I started reading all the classics—Think and Grow Rich, Psycho-Cybernetics, The Magic of Thinking Big, everything having to do with sales—and it opened up a whole new world to me. I soon realized that studying sales was really studying humanity. It was about understanding people, and I loved that.
However, I still had a huge problem with the prospecting aspect of sales.
I hated it! It seemed to me that people didn’t like being prospected. Like most people in sales or entrepreneurship, I wanted to be liked. Knocking on doors and making telephone calls didn’t seem to be having that result!
I knew I had to find a way to do this that would be a lot more comfortable for me. What I ended up working out was really a combination of my upbringing, plus what I was learning from all this reading.
What came from your upbringing?
This was something I learned from my parents: if you genuinely care about people and naturally want to provide value to them, then they will be responsive to you.
Growing up, I noticed that my dad was always connecting people with each other. Whether it was some product, service or information they needed, he would hook them up with whoever could provide that. My mom was the same way.
In fact, I know people my folks set up on their first dates who ended up getting married and still have great marriages today.
So this came naturally to you.
Yes, but what I discovered was that anyone can do this. You don’t need some great natural ability. It’s just a matter of looking for ways to add value to someone’s life.
I asked myself, “Okay, how do you add value to someone just at the beginning of a conversation?” And Dale Carnegie provided the answer: You focus on them.
So, how do you do that?
By asking questions that, sheerly by their asking, have this person immediately get the sense that you are genuinely interested in them.
Let’s backtrack for a second: what practical steps did you come up with to make the process more comfortable for you?
First, you’ve got to find a way to meet people. Of course, this was long before the Internet came into play, but the same principles apply.
This came down to three things: finding them, meeting them, and then winning them over in a very natural, genuine way.
So first I asked myself, “Okay, where will I find these people?” The obvious answer was, you find them where they are. At a chamber of commerce meeting, Rotary Club, a professional group like Business Professional Women (BPW) group, a regular social party, a charity event, a PTA meeting—any gathering of the particular kind of people you might like to have in your business.
Now, people will often say, “Going prospecting at the PTA? Gosh, that’s very uncomfortable to me. Aren’t people going to think I’m obnoxious and out of line prospecting at an event like that?”
And the answer is, yes, they will—if you do it the way people typically do.
Here’s the key: if you do this correctly, the other person is never going to feel like they’re being “hit on.” In fact, you know you’re doing it correctly if they are enjoying the conversation even more than you are.
Now, you’ve got a prospecting situation that is fun instead of threatening, both to the prospector and the person being prospected.
So, we’re having a wonderful conversation. How do I turn that into connecting you to my business without being obnoxious?
Here’s how: you don’t even talk about your business.
We’ve all been taught that we’re supposed to immediately tell people about what we do.
The infamous elevator pitch.
Exactly: you ask the person what they do in order to trick them into asking you what you do, and then you launch your cleverly scripted pitch: “Well, we help people create health and wealth.”
I gather this is not your favorite approach.
Even the word pitch—a pitch isn’t something you do for someone, by its very nature it’s something you do to someone. And what’s the purpose of a pitch? To strike the other guy out!
If you go to a party and fire off your elevator pitch like that, all it does is have the other person say, “Oh boy, here’s another salesperson”—or, another network marketer—“who has some business opportunity they want to pitch me.”
Supposedly, your elevator pitch will instantly get the other person interested in what you’re doing. But how often does that really happen?
So I don’t talk about my business at all?
Not right now. Because when you first meet this person, when it comes to your business, here are the three words you need to remember: they don’t care.
Sure, you’re excited about your business. But this isn’t about you, it’s about them. So the worst thing you can do is hit them up with your business.
So you’re not a fan of the three-foot rule?
The three-foot rule is fine if it’s about striking up a conversation that’s other-focused, not me-
focused. But even then, if that’s what you’re teaching—that to build your business you have to start hitting on everyone you see—most people will be totally intimidated by that idea, and you won’t be able to keep them in the business.
In The Go-Giver we wrote about the Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.
Why is this true? Because, all things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to people they know, like and trust. And there’s no faster or more effective way of eliciting those feelings than by putting their interests first.
You said, ask questions that show we’re interested in them. Can you give an example?
Endless Referrals goes into these feel-good questions; one of my favorites is, “How did you get started in the so-and-so business?”
People love to answer this question! I call it the movie-of-the-week question, because it essentially invites them to tell the story of their life.
Here’s another: “What do you enjoy most about what you do?”
By the way, this flies in the face of most traditional sales teaching, which says you should reach into their heart and tear it out, and show them how wretched and miserable their life is without you and your terrific product, service or opportunity.
Now why would you want to do that? Get them focused on how awful things are, and they walk away thinking, “Gosh, what an awful conversation!”
I see why you were no good at the news—you really aren’t much of a misery advocate, are you? So where does it go from there?
At some point I will ask what I call the One Key Question:
“John, how can I know if someone I’m talking to is a good prospect [or, good contact] for you?”
Again, this invites them to tell me all about them. And before they can be open to my opportunity or products, they first have to be open to me.
So there’s no hidden, tricky “turn” that gets us talking about you and your business?
Nope—no trap doors, no hinged panels, no smoke and mirrors. This is not a sneaky “technique,” it’s actually what it looks like: authentic conversation.
The fact is, you’re not asking about that person purely in order to “get them to like you” but because you’re genuinely interested. You have to be. If you’re not interested in other people, you’re in the wrong business!
How do you follow up?
After that conversation, you continue to look for ways to add value to their lives.
You can connect them to other people, helping find ways for each to do business with the other or to benefit in some other way through the relationship.
You can send them information they might find interesting—not necessarily about your business, but about things they’re interested in. If Gary collects antiques or Ann’s daughter is a star high school soccer player, and you send them some information you found about antiques or high school soccer, you’re adding value.
Or you might just send a personalized, handwritten thank-you note that says what a pleasure it was to meet them. “If I can ever refer business your way, I certainly will.”
Now, they are getting to know you and what you do. They may or may not be interested in your products or business at this point. If they are, they will talk to you—because at this point, they know what you do and they have total trust in you.
And if they don’t, you can make an appointment to talk with that person, whether it’s about your products or your business. Because of the relationship you’ve established, they will most likely be agreeable to speaking with you.
If they get into the business, now their prospects are also your prospects.
And if they don’t get into the business but do decide to become a customer, now you can get referrals from them.
And if they don’t get into the business and don’t become a customer?
That’s the beauty of it. Let’s say that, for whatever reason, this person is not a prospect for you. That’s fine! Not everybody needs your particular product, service or business.
But that doesn’t mean this person can’t still be a wonderful referral source.
Most people know at least 250 other people—so every single time you develop a relationship with one person who knows, likes, and trusts you, you’ve increased your personal sphere of influence by another 250 people or more.
When you ask for referrals, what do you say?
You might say something like, “Dave, I’m in the process of expanding my referral business. I find it’s helpful to partner with my friends, such as you. Can we take a few quick minutes to run past the names of some people I might be able to help?”
In a very non-threatening way, you’ve let this person know what it is you’d like, and you’ve done so in a way they feel comfortable with. From there, you help them picture specific groups of potential prospects in their mind’s eye.
Interesting how you put it—“… the names of some of people I might be able to help.” That’s a very different question from “… people who might want what I have.”
Exactly—just like the scene in The Go-Giver when Joe says to Pindar, “If you could find a way to sell this coffee on an industrial scale, you could make a killing.” And Pindar says, “What I said was, share her coffee. What you said was, make a killing. Do you see the difference?”
It’s exactly that shift in focus that makes all the difference.
They say the conscious mind can hold only one thought at a time. Most of us naturally go into a prospecting conversation with the thought, “I hope I can get someone interested in my business.” What is the thought you suggest we hold instead?
Simply this: “How can I add value to this person’s life?”
That single thought is the core premise of The Go-Giver—and for that matter, it’s really the premise of Endless Referrals and Winning Without Intimidation, too.
It’s shifting one’s focus from getting to giving, and understanding that not only is that a nice way to live life, but a very profitable way, as well.
At what point do I know the time is right to talk about my business?
Different relationships take different amounts of time. It could take a week, a month, or a year—or six minutes.
Sometimes it happens that someone has a particular need or want right now, and right in that first conversation you’re already setting an appointment to talk about the business. But I wouldn’t count on that happening too much.
When I was ten years old, my babysitter’s boyfriend Greg took me bowling. After watching him bowl strike after strike, I said, “Man, Greg, you are really great!”
“Thanks,” he said.
I said, “You must really practice getting those strikes!”
He said, “Nope.” He saw how confused I was, and added, “Master the spares, Bobby. Master the spares, and the strikes will come by themselves.”
If you master the fundamentals and do them continually, the strikes will happen. But you can’t make that happen. So what do you do? You practice the spares.
Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI, says it’s farming, not hunting. It won’t typically happen fast, and we can’t be emotionally attached to getting instantaneous results. In fact, the less we’re attached, the faster it will tend to happen.
So the goal isn’t necessarily to bowl a strike every time.
It’s not going to happen with every new person you meet. But here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to.
Often you’ll meet someone and it ends up being just a nice conversation that goes nowhere. And that’s fine! That’s what’s so powerful about this whole process.
Often in network marketing, there’s almost a desperation to have someone, anyone, listen to us. Instead, when you use this more natural approach, you’re in control. After your initial conversation, you decide whether or not this is someone you want to pursue a relationship with. It’s totally up to you.
The great thing about it, too, is that as you start doing this, you realize that every single
conversation is going to be fun. You’re actually going to enjoy it.
So many people in networking are mission-oriented, so your theme of adding value strikes a chord here. But doesn’t that mission focus sometimes get in the way?
True. Most people in this business feel passionately about their products and services, and feel everyone needs to know about them. And that can come across as a kind of missionary zeal that puts people off.
This is where posture comes in. It’s one of the most difficult things to teach, yet it’s so crucial. I often describe posture as “When you care—but not that much.” What I mean by that is, again, you can’t get emotionally attached to the results.
You can be absolutely passionate about this product, but you’ve got to realize that if you come off inappropriately, they will never hear one word you say about it.
They first have to buy into you.
Any final thoughts?
The sages said, “Who is the wise person? The one who learns from all others.”
Understand that whatever you want to learn, it has already been accomplished by someone else, so seek to learn from those who know. Then it’s just a matter of being willing to apply the information with persistence.
To that, add the Law of Compensation, which we described this way in The Go-Giver:
Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
Nowhere does this apply more powerfully than in network marketing. As long as you continue to provide value and touch a whole lot of lives, you have no choice but to grow very, very wealthy.