Networking is SO 1990s

It’s time to give up the dreaded networking events, sweaty palms and overly rehearsed (read: obviously contrived) conversation starters you learned in Forbes Magazine back in the 90s.

The new currency for building a network is genuine interest in others, compassion and providing value before asking for what you want. Use these principles and a few innovative ways to build valuable business relationships and you’ll never have to read a blog about networking, again.

Why Should I Stop “Networking” and Start Being Interesting?

Making yourself visible in the dark sea of distracting tweets, emails, campaigns, texts, Snapchat, LinkedIn message and Youtube is….nearly impossible and, frankly, a waste of time. Has your cookie-cutter email to companies and people you don’t know really having an impact? And what about those binge-drinking events you attend masquerading as “networking socials.” Doubt it. News flash: drunk people are not the best people with whom to strike a deal or to network. They won’t even remember your name in 20 minutes, let alone care about why you’re sending them your follow up email.

The solution: stop networking and start enjoying yourself and building a reputation for being interesting. Interesting people command attention, develop their own knowledge base and provide value. Here are some ways to do exactly that (Alexandra Levit‘s summary of Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha’s,  The Star-Up of You):

Start Your Own Association

Convene influential friends and colleagues with similar interests to share ideas and resources.  Offer thought-leadership and high-level conversation so that it’s more than just a networking group.  Meet on a regular basis, in a convenient location.  This is a great way to keep relationships strong and receive great insights in the process.

Look for Individuals, not Opportunities

Opportunities are attached to people.  Identify the people in your network who always seem to have their hands in interesting pots.  Try to understand what makes them hubs of opportunity and resolve to meet and develop bonds with more people with these characteristics.

Create an “Intriguing People” Fund

Automatically funnel a certain percentage of your paycheck into a bucket that pays for coffees, lunches, and the occasional plane ticket to meet new people and shore up existing relationships.  Pick a person who is a weaker tie but with whom you would like to have a stronger alliance, and for several months, invest time and energy into building the relationship via shared knowledge and offers to help.

Connect the Dots in Your Network

Pair individuals together who have similar interests, and make introductions via e-mail.  You may not benefit immediately, and that’s okay.  Then, think about a challenge you are dealing with and ask an existing connection for an introduction to someone who could help.  Jump-start the process by offering a small gift – such as a relevant article – to the person you want to meet.

Do the Layoff Test

If you got laid off from your job today, who are the ten people you’d e-mail for advice on what to do next?  Reach out to them now, when you don’t need anything specifically.  Have lunch, coffee, or even a phone call.  You never know what gold nuggets might come out of an informal conversation without an urgent agenda.

With these small, but significant, efforts you will build your network while also building your skills, profile and unique value proposition. No shoulder pads, feigning interest or whiskey shots required.

*Picture from Purdue CCO Career Blog

So, you screwed up and your client is a jerk

What is the main ingredient in Zappos, Barbara Corcoran and Victoria Secret’s explosive success? A focus on delivering unprecedented customer service … even when they screw up, even when the client’s a jerk and even when the client has unrealistic expectations.

Given the ability for anonymous bad reviews to spread like wildfire on social media etc., you need to know how to effectively address your client’s interests, needs and complaints. So, what to do when you have a bully client? Unlike dealing with bully negotiators and bully bosses, you have to follow a much more accommodating approach.

Step 1: Determine the Client’s Motivations

These tips will determine how to approach your client and informs how you’ll negotiate and your likely outcome. For example, if your client feels like he should get something for his dedication to you or your company, you may have to give him a concession. If the client, on the other hand, is looking for a win and has showed no loyalty you can give in on inconsequential parts of your contract to make him feel like a superstar.

The top motivators(provided by Tom Searcy on Inc.) behind your angry or difficult client is:

  • Compliance – The buyer is going through the motions, including shadow-boxing on pricing in order to make the right appearances without any real desire to change things.

  • Consideration–The buyer needs a win, but is willing to give you something for your flexibility. This is a negotiation where both sides are willing to provide concessions in the discussion.

  • Accommodation–The buyer feels the need for a discount or a win in the discussion with no willingness to provide a concession.

  • Domination–The buyer wants to penalize or injure a supplier for either the purpose of making a point, establishing a position, or “righting a wrong” based upon some sense of having been taken advantage of in the past.

  • Termination–Buyers sometimes use unreasonable demands as a way to drive a vendor out of their company.

Step 2: Calmly Confront and Manage the Client’s Complaint

Before you interact with the bully/angry client, prepare yourself emotionally. They will yell, scream and say nasty things. Get into a state of “Zen” because the LAST thing you are permitted to do is show that you’re ruffled by their rage or uncertain that you did nothing but your best to deliver. Show either of these emotions and you’re open to attack. This is the time to let them vent and for you to take notes. And vent they will.

Step 3: Focus on the Customer

Next, shift your focus on what your customer wants (provided by Evan Horowitz, Advising):

Before you get into the bad news, show your customer that you know what they want and are working to get it for them.  This powerfully frames the conversation with you on THEIR side, understanding their needs and going to bat for them.  Otherwise, it will quickly become adversarial, with you as an obstacle to what they want.  If you’ve gone above and beyond in any way, this is a good time to mention that.

For example, if you’re a realtor and the property isn’t selling, start with: “Selling your property for a price acceptable to you is my priority.”

Step 4: Take Responsibility

Take full responsibility for the issue your client believes exists. Make this part of the conversation short, avoid going on and on about the issue as this will destroy your credibility and then move on to the solution. As Evan Horowitz puts it:

It’s our natural impulse to show the customer that it’s not our fault!  Don’t do it.

Blaming suppliers/partners/employees not only shows an inability to manage your business, but an unwillingness to take responsibility for satisfying your customer. People don’t buy from companies that don’t take responsibility for satisfying them.

Also resist the temptation to get into the story of how the issue happened, and how complicated it is.  This invites your customer to second-guess you at every step along the way.

Step 5: Identify the Solution and Clarify Expectations

Let the client know exactly what you’re going to do to solve the problem and what type of outcome they can expect. Vague responses will only insight nervousness in the client and doubt about what you’ll do to solve the complaint. Provide dates and estimates that you are CERTAIN you can meet and under-promise so you can shine when giving them great news later.

It’s imperative to outline how hard you’re going to work to improve the situation. Here are a few pointers provided d by Evan Horowitz:

  • Tell them how you and your team are busting your butts to fix the problem quickly.

  • OPTIONALLY, you can offer an apology gift (such as a discount for next time, free overnight shipping on the replacement, etc.).

  • If the client is the type who needs to “win”, then give him a few small concessions that don’t affect your position, but boost his ego.

  • Explain what you’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  (But, avoid the gory details as this will damage your credibility.)

  • Offer penalties you’re willing to take if you don’t meet the solution.

Step 6: Tell them why you’re committed to your client

It may feel dramatic, but a genuine statement clearly telling them they’re important to you goes a long way.  Do not use the tired cliches like “Your business is important to us.”  Rather, “tell them WHY you value them and how you look forward to a long relationship together“.

Step 7: Going forward, over-deliver

The client may still not trust you and doubts your ability to get the job done. To avoid any future confusion and to assuage these concerns, be sure to do the following:

  • Provide weekly reports that details what you’ve completed to move the client closer to the desired outcome.

  • Immediately inform the client of any issues. You’ll save a lot of time and demonstrate transparency and honesty.

  • Carefully listen to feedback and re-state their concerns to show understanding and be willing to collaborate with the client on finding a better solution.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I learned – the hard way – that one should always begin the client relationship by outlining expectations and detailing what you’re going to do whenever an expectation isn’t met. For example, if your client expects his house to sell for $500,000, ask him “in the event that we don’t get offers at that price, when and what is the best way to tell you?”

If the client is stumped, tell them:

“My clients have told me not to deliver bad news on a Friday, to call them immediately, to provide market information and notes on responses from the purchaser’s agents, outline options and the implications of these solutions.”

Once the process and expectations are established, reaffirm how you’re going to handle any setback by saying:

“This is much too important for me to not get exactly right, because in the event we need to have such a conversation, I want to do it exactly as you have suggested.”

Repeat back exactly what they told you and ask them if you got it right and wait for them to respond with, “Yes, you got it.” If they alter the smallest detail in what you just said, start from the beginning and repeat those modifications back to them.

Finally, when that prickly problem rears its ugly head, remind them of this conversation and say:

“I’m not sure if you remember a conversation we had about how to best communicate with you about bumps in the road and if memory serves, you gave me these guidelines (then repeat what they told you above) and we’ve hit one of those bumps (and then follow exactly what they explained as the best way to communicate with them in such a situation).

Stuck for phrases that acknowledge their emotions? Here are a few from Customer Experience Insight:

I’m sorry for this trouble.

Please tell me more about …

I can understand why you’d be upset.

This is important — to both you and me.

Let me see if I have this right.

Let’s work together to find a solution.

Here’s what I’m going to do for you.

What can we do to resolve this now?

I want to take care of this for you immediately.

Do you think this solution would work for you?

What I’ll do right now is … Then I can …

As an immediate solution, I’d like to suggest …

You’ve come to the right place to get this resolved.

What would you consider a fair and reasonable solution?

OK, let’s get you in better shape.

I’m more than happy to help you with this.

If I can’t take care of this, I know who can.

I hear what you’re saying, and I know how to help.

You have a right to be upset.

Sometimes we fail, and this time I’m here and ready to help.

If I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way.

You’re right, and we need to do something about this immediately.

Thank you … (for bringing this to my attention, being straight with me, for your patience with us, your loyalty to us even when things go wrong or your continued business).

It surprising how these words can sooth rage and force collaboration between you and the angry or bully client.  Use them in your next conflict and please let me know about the outcome.


You’re Sued! The Most Common Mistakes You Make

Before you hit “DELETE” because you’re not in sales or a real estate agent, think again. The mistakes made below are universal and applicable to almost every profession. I find numerous parallels between the top reasons agents get sued and the top reasons doctors, lawyers, dentists, physiotherapists, insurance agents/brokers and chiropractors get sued. Ignore this at your own peril.

The Reasons Why Agents Get Sued

Q: What’s the biggest fear most professionals have?

A: Getting sued by a client.

We all fear lawsuits because a lawsuit implies:

  • Poor customer service;
  • Lack of knowledge; and
  • Overall failure to do what’s right and ethical.

Q: What’s a growing trend?

A: Clients suing.

Agents are faced with managing numerous details, multiple parties and valuable assets. These hurdles become gruelling mountains to climb when you throw in: rushed time lines, emotions and fear of losing the deal. It’s no wonder mistakes happen and clients sue. Having said that, lawsuits are not inevitable if you know the most likely reasons you’ll get sued and how to protect yourself from making fatal mistakes.

The Top Three Reasons You’ll Get Sued

1. Failure to Disclose Property Defects

Yes, we all want to get a deal done quickly, as well as make sure our clients are happy with the price and expediency. But, a great price and a quick close won’t necessarily bar you from facing angry clients. Especially if you forget to fully disclosure all latent defects.

The numbers don’t lie: you’ll be the first to get served with legal papers after a deal closes if your client or the other party discovers defects. Defects range from improvements without permits to noises, stigmatized properties or nuisances.

“But, I didn’t know, so I’m not responsible!”, you’ll claim. Sorry, that’s not a defence. The threshold to prove that you were negligent isn’t that you did know, but that you should have known. After all, aren’t you supposed to be a real estate professional!

2. Breach of Duty and Negligence

If you’re an agent who “dabbles” in different asset classes or locations, be warned. You might be breaching your duty to your client and exposing yourself to claims of negligence.

Here’s why: your client places a high level of trust in you. They believe that you have the expertise you claim and “suggest” by taking on the deal. And if you don’t and if you make a negligent mistake – even if your intentions were good – then be prepared for a fight in the courtroom. The problem with negligence claims is that it’s difficult to determine if you’ve acted reasonably. This means that, even if you weren’t negligent, you’ll still face a lawsuit and be left with a soiled reputation.

3. Giving quasi-legal advice

Every deal requires legal advice, especially since we’re moving away from non-binding offers to binding leases masquerading as offers. Not to mention, our increasingly litigious society calling for an extra “layer” of protection by way of a legal review.

Despite the real risk facing agents – and the fact that agents are signing up their clients to binding agreements without proper advice – agents don’t want to get lawyers involved. They fear that lawyers will kill the deal and slow the process. So, the agents offer some general advice and don’t encourage their clients to get a quick legal review. After all, you’ve been doing this for years and you know more than lawyers.

Such an approach is not only problematic for the agent’s reputation, but also his commission. I’ve witnessed many deals dying because buyers, sellers, landlords and prospective tenants use the “we didn’t get legal advice” excuse to get out of deals. And some unscrupulous clients then point the finger at the agent, claiming that they never advised them to get the advice they need.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

The most common cause of lawsuits is assuming you know everything and subtly putting your interests ahead of others.

There are three simple panaceas to this litigation cause:

  • You can’t learn what you already know: Remain humble. Neither you nor I know it all. The most dangerous people are those who think what they learned in the past holds true today. It simply doesn’t: laws change, clients change, communication standards change and the product changes.
  • Don’t stop learning: agents must constantly educate themselves if they want to call themselves experts. Their knowledge should not only be about local rates and sale prices, but also the potential issues that may arise, such as structural and potential legal threats. Various bodies such as your real estate board, the Real Estate Institute of Canada and Institute of Real Estate Management, Urban Land Institute (ULI) and
    Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR)
    , offer excellent programs and designations to stay on top of all of the changes in your industry.
  • Get a professional involved early: always recommend that professionals get involved early, before anything is “firm” and make this recommendation in writing. Getting the professionals involved early will ensure that you avoid wasting your time negotiating certain points that simple won’t work from a legal, financial or logistical perspective. My experience shows that advice on sticky issues early in the process always helps to close the deal faster because everyone is working in tandem and major headaches are anticipated and prevented.

These solutions are so simple, yet rarely followed. If you believe you’re too busy to take a moment and protect everyone’s interests – including yours – then believe me: you’ll likely face a disgruntled client and a damaging lawsuit. When feeling rushed, remember this: it’s always better to have no deal, then a lawsuit and no deal.