Relationships. Not Marketing.

It’s really that simple.

While I was in Kenya last week I met with a new friend for a few hours to discuss his need to bring in new clients. He was thinking he might need to do some marketing. I suggested he forget marketing and talk to his friends instead.

The tactics of “old marketing” still live on out there. When we need to bring in new customers our first reaction is that we should start calling, mailing or emailing people in our target market. I was re-reading some of Seth Godin’s book, Meatball Sundae, while on the plane and was reminded again that when we interrupt people without them asking us to, we start out on the wrong foot. Getting their permission to talk with them is just so much better.

It’s no different in Kenya. My electrical engineering friend was thinking he should go after the companies that would be good clients and see if he could get some conversations going with them. It seems reasonable and most of us would start there.

We sat in a coffee shop and came up with a different approach. Rather than call, email, or show up and ask to talk to someone, we decided that in just about every instance, he could get permission before he ever talked to any of these possible customers.

How? Talk to his friends and existing customers. Really. Just talk to them and ask them to make introductions.

Four Steps to New Clients
At first he thought that they might not have the right contacts or that they wouldn’t want to help. But as we talked it through he realized it was the best, quickest way to expand his customer base significantly. Without spending any money on expensive “interruption marketing.” Just cups of coffee.

1) We first defined his target market – what did his ideal client look like and from what segments of the market? We narrowed it down to just a few.

2) Then we made a horizontal list across a napkin of the types of people who could find him those customers. We listed mechanical engineers, building contractors, business lawyers, commercial real estate agents and others who would already have contacts with his ideal customers. We added to the horizontal topics categories like “existing clients”, “past clients”, “friends” and “raving fans” because they might all know someone who a) could refer him to a client or b) actually know a possible client themselves.

3) Once we had the horizontal list on the napkin, his job was to go back to the office and list every person and company he knew in each category (mechanical contractors, friends, customers, etc.). This was going to be dozens if not a few hundred people and companies.

4) We then decided on a measurable activity and objective because you get what you intend, not what you hope for. He decided he would be able to have 6-8 cups of coffee a week and I asked him to set objectives for how many new customers and how much new revenue he intended to get from the coffees (don’t have lunch – it costs too much and takes too long).

Getting the Conversation Going
We talked about the best way to motivate these people to work with him – do for them what he wanted them to do for him. For his close friends he could simply ask them to help. Most of us won’t do this – we think we’re bothering them.

Even though we would love to help our friends, we’re not so sure about asking them to help us. He didn’t seem to have this common hang up. If you do, get over it. People want to help us and you need to ask for that help. Too often we assume they would already be sending people our way if they wanted to, but you have to realize they have a life and you are not in the center of it. They need you to get a cup of coffee and help them focus on it for 45 minutes. They are glad to help, they’re just not focused on doing so. Help them help you.

Be What Yout Want Them to Be
To communicate the “do for them what we want them to do for us” message right up front, my friend was going to say something like, “I’d like to get together to see if we can push each other forward. Since we work in the same space, I might have clients you want, you might have clients I want. Would you like to see if we can help each other?” I’ve only had a couple people ever turn me down. Anyone who turns this down the opportunity to be mutually helpful to each other isn’t someone you would not want to do business with anyway.

Three Questions to Ask
After small talk and asking other questions about their business, we had three questions he would ask:

1) Strategic Alliance – Do you know one person who might have the same customers as I do who might want to build an ongoing strategic relationship with me so we can pass clients back and forth for years to come? (and if appropriate, “would you want to do that together with me?” Would you introduce me via a mutual email or even a phone call?

2) End Client Referral – Do you know one person at any of these target market companies who you could introduce me to who might have a project I could be on?

3) Do you know one other person who might be interested in having a cup of coffee with me over this kind of possible strategic alliance? Would you introduce me?

Friends want to help us, and the smart ones that don’t know us real well are highly attracted to the idea of having strategic alliances. And when all of the connections are made by someone else introducing us, it’s all by permission.

I’ve never made a cold call in my life and was the #1 sales person in a bunch of companies, some of whom had people making cold calls all day long.

Build relationships by asking people you already have a relationship with to help you. But most of all, help them first. A picture is worth a thousand words. If you want them to refer to you or build a strategic alliance with you and send you clients, do it for them.

People buy from people, and they buy more from people they know and trust. If you build relationships you will make more money than if you interrupt people with fancy and expensive marketing.

Get out there and have a cup of coffee with someone you already know – it just might change your business.

Complexity is paradigmatically iniquitous, nocent and peccant.

Simple kicks butt every time.

3″ binders and 6 CDs usually signify a lack of effective content. We desperately want complexity and fancy stuff to solve our business problems. Good luck with that.

We use something like 1-2% of all the features on our software. A fighter pilot would turn off most of his systems going into battle in the Gulf War because the complexity was confusing and dangerous. We love to respond to offers to build giant business plans and three-day workshops on the 57 things you need to implement for a successful marketing program. And we spend months analyzing opportunities to death while other people are moving on them.

We’re addicted to complexity. We can’t help ourselves.

If there is anything less than 6 CDs we’re pretty sure the offer isn’t going to help us. But real-live business tells us something different.

Simple kicks butt every time, but only when you do it. The reason we love complexity is that it allows us to hide from the fact that the things that make us successful are simple acts of intention that will move us forward. Make a phone call, respond to a client, thank a stakeholder (employee), listen, ask a question.

The biggest reason we don’t like simplicity is that the simple things are hard to do. They are simple, but that doesn’t make them easy. Making that phone call is really simple, but I avoid it because it might result in someone not liking me or creating work for me. It’s simple, but hard.

Meanwhile, the complex things are actually easy to do. Developing a fancy excel spreadsheet showing how successful I would be if I every did anything. Research stuff to death before we move on it. Developing a killer website. Conducting focus groups, endless market research, telephone surveys, PR polls, hall tests, online hybrid surveys.

Sure these things were hard for me the first time. But then I learned how to do them and how to avoid actually being effective by doing them a lot. And they became easy. But other people are still impressed by the grasp I have of all this complexity and how much time I spent getting it all figured out. Heck, I’m even impressed with myself.

But complexity almost never tells us what we want to know and rarely makes us successful.

The Few, The Important
In each business there are a very few simple things that will make us successful. We need to strip out all the dumb stuff that we’re reacting to on an every day basis, stop fooling ourselves that we’re being effective, take the bull by the horns, be proactive, and do something simple that will push us forward.

Successful people have a knack for stripping out the complex and focusing on the simple things that will make us successful. Be that guy.

The simple things are hard to do. The complex things are easy to do.

The simple things are where we make money. The complex things are where we hide.

Hang this sign in your office:

Am I hiding right now?

The best route in life is always simple, but rarely easy.

There is another level above win-win.

Be the board.

There are a lot of ways to lead. I aspire quite imperfectly to only one of them.

Some leaders lead from “win-lose” – I’m going to win at your expense. I need you to lose so I can win. I had a boss once who built his business on this principle. He was a sad, insecure and unpopular man.

Some leaders lead from “lose-win” – I’m co-dependent on you – you can suck the life out of me and I’ll let you do it. I’ve never had this boss but I’ve seen them in action. They let everyone around them run over them all the time. They are worn out as a lifestyle and nobody respects them. They make no lasting impact in the world around them.

I believe most leaders lead from “win-win” – they work hard to set up environments where both the owner/leader and the stakeholder/employee will win. Each of them winning is dependent on the other one winning. I’ve had this boss a number of times and they are a pleasure to work with and for. I always wanted to work harder for them.

Some leaders take it to yet another level. What if you decided that, as the leader of the business, you didn’t need to win anymore? What if your focus was now going to be creating win-win environments for others, and that those environments didn’t involve you having to win or lose?

Be the Board
In their book, “The Art of Possibility”, which I read a number of years ago, Zander & Zander called it “be the board.” Most of us choose to be one of the game pieces and interact with the other game pieces on the board. When we interact with the other game pieces, we have a choice to create win-lose, lose-win, or win-win for the two of us.

But at the highest level of leadership we can live at a whole different level and remove ourselves from the game altogether. At the highest level of leadership we decide to focus on connecting this person to that person to create win-win. To do so we become the board on which people play the game of business.

What if you became the board on which people played the game of business, or even the game of life? What would that look like for you? Do you know someone who lives this way, always creating environments where two other people can win, and then slipping out the back door without taking credit?

Servant Leadership
This isn’t a new idea. The idea has been around for thousands of years. Zander & Zander just gave it a great name – “be the board”. Sometimes it’s called servant leadership. A servant leader uses their position to be the champion of making others successful, connecting people to opportunities and to other people who will all win as a result of that third party leader putting them together.

Zig Zigler said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” Jim Rohn said, “Whoever renders service to many puts himself in line for greatness.”

Want to be successful? Make sure you practice win-win. Want to be a great leader, leave a lasting legacy, and get more out of life than you could possibly imagine? Remove yourself from the win-win equation altogether and become the board on which people play the game of business.

Good leaders create a win-win environment for themselves and for others. Great leaders make themselves the board and focus on connecting one winner to another winner. If you do that, you’ll get to your own goals and put yourself in line for greatness.”

Oh, and it’s possible no one will ever know you were “great” except you. It’s part of the joy of being the board. People don’t have to know you created a small place in this world for others to win. You know, and isn’t that it’s own reward? It is for those who decide to be the board.

Let’s all decide to be the board on which people play they game of business.

Why shelf-help books only help your shelf

Expert-itis & Other Diseases

“That book was great! You should read it.”

Beware the pursuit of knowledge.

The great majority of business books (and other non-fiction) are really just “shelf-help” books. They help your shelf look better. But they don’t change anything. Why?

I get a lot of business book recommendations from people. When I do, I usually ask them how they have used the book to push their business and/or their own life forward. What I’m really asking is, “Did this book transform something, anything, or was it just intellectually stimulating without changing anything?”

Head vs. Heart
We’re addicted to intellectual knowledge, which is only one of the two kinds of knowledge we find in most dictionary definitions of knowledge:
1) Intellectual knowledge – knowledge of the head.
2) Life/experience knowledge – knowledge of the heart.

The ancient Greeks had two words for knowledge:
1) Gnosis knowledge of the head – the pursuit of information
2) Epignosis – knowledge of the heart – the pursuit of transformation

Too many books are based in gnosis, which, by itself, does nothing to make us successful. The reason we’re addicted to gnosis, is that head knowledge makes me “feel” more equipped to deal with my business, without having to actually do or change anything. It’s cost-free.

Consumers flock to the 3-easy step diets, the magical-millionaire website promises and the business book that claims it will get you a 4-hour work week. Educational institutions are the worst perpetrators of this lie – you’ll be richer tomorrow because you know more (gnosis).

Most seminar leaders know you will pay more for a seminar with a 3″ binder and 6 CDs than a simpler one that will change your life.

The Trenches of Transformation
The best business books aren’t informational, but transformational. Very few come from the trenches of transformation, where someone took big risks, put themselves out there, worked hard, sweated through it, and lived to write about it. I pay a lot more attention to people who have done what they are asking me to do, who are sharing from their experience, not from their head knowledge.

When I was in my early 20’s people told me I should be writing books. As I was formulating my first book of knowledge created in the ivory tower of my mind, I met a guy who had written a successful book when he was in his late-20s. He told me he had learned so much through experience that he realized his book was a load of hooey. But since it was in print, he would live with that mistake the rest of his life.

After that meeting I vowed to not write until I had experienced transformation and knew with my life (epignosis) that it could transform others, too. As a result, I didn’t publish my first book until I was 56. The most gratisfying thing about that book – it was named #1 Business Book of the Year not for volume of sales, but “for impact”. And people who read it don’t say, “that was interesting”, but “that changed the way I do business.”

Stay Away from Gurus and Experts
Research shows most people don’t get past page 18 of every book they buy. That makes perfect sense to me because we are not naturally cognitive, we are naturally intuitive, and we know in our hearts that the “3-easy steps” book we bought won’t give us the success it promised.

Are you reading shelf-help books or transformational books? Please recommend your transformational books to others here – thanks!

Dodd-Frank is devastating the Congo right now.

The collateral damage is unacceptable.

We have a social enterprise in the DR Congo to end systemic poverty. The opportunities to solve it are at our fingertips. Global Witness and Enough Project, human rights advocacy groups who should be aligned with us, are doing everything they can to stop us.

UPDATE: I originally wrote this in August and updated it in November. Just this week a UN Panel of Experts report came out that verifies the depth of the problem Dodd-Frank is causing for the Congolese people. So far Dodd-Frank has not even been implemented and the result has already been devastating.

We need to continue to put the pressure on groups like Enough Project, Global Witness and the SEC to admit how destructive Dodd-Frank is in the Congo. We need them to stop supporting what everyone else has deemed an abject failure and get behind repealing that 1502 clause in Dodd-Frank that has been so injurious.

See the summary of the UN Panel of Experts report here , then read how you can help change this below. Original post follows:

DR Congo is the 12th largest country on earth with the 8th most mineral wealth in the ground. With 70 million people as a workforce and all this latent wealth, it could easily be a first world leader in a very short time.

My Congolese partner – a Congolese Chief, and I have committed to create infrastructure and sustainable economies in the Congo by exporting agriculture and minerals, and leaving a significant portion of the profits local, something no other company has ever done. We will also fund and train local business owners to learn how to run businesses. The net effect – we believe we can solve systemic poverty in the DR Congo in 5-10 years.

The Problem – Dodd-Frank
But now an obscure provision pushed forward by Global Witness and Enough Project and tucked into the Dodd-Frank Act (Provision 1502) could be jeopardizing much of this, and is already hurting millions of Congolese and putting thousands in immediate danger of their lives.

The provision requires tens of thousands of companies to disclose if their products use minerals from the Congo, and to prove they did not come from criminal militias. As a result of the unintended stigma this has created, the mineral trade for all of central Africa has evaporated, creating a devastating de facto embargo of the entire region.

We have been trying for months to find buyers for the minerals these Congolese tribes own and have talked to every legitimate smelter and buyer in the world. None are buying Enough Project and Global Witness continue to claim there is no embargo, but we have asked them a dozen times to give us the name of a single buyer of artisanal minerals in central Africa – they can’t.

The Negative Effect
If all Congo minerals came from criminals, then Dodd-Frank would make sense. But the fact is that a tiny percentage of Congolese minerals come from criminals in the comparatively small conflict area. The rest are from honest, hard-working chiefs and their tribes throughout the vast Congo, millions of whom, with no connection to the conflict area, have lost their income and have moved from poverty to destitution.

Only the Criminals are Benefiting
COCABI, COMIMPA and COMIDER represent 20,000 miners in the conflict area. The wrote a letter to the SEC imploring them to not listen to Global Witness or Enough Project who have never even consulted with those most affected by Dodd-Frank, the miners.

While all the NGOs and politicians are quoting each other’s support of this, we are quoting chiefs and tribes who are actually being affected by it, all of whom say Obama’s Law (that’s what they call it) has been disastrous for them and their livelihood. Doesn’t this say something very powerful to us?

The Nuclear Option is Not Acceptable
The World Bank says 10 million people in the Congo get their living from mining, most whom are in regions never connected with conflict. And even in the conflict region there are 100,000 honest miners who have been moved from poverty to destitution by Dodd-Frank.

Dodd-Frank creates the equivalent of a nuclear option because it is not targeted specifically at the militia, but at minerals.

Demonize Criminals, Not Minerals
This approach is no different than burning down every house in town to stop a burglar from stealing. Dodd-Frank has burned down the entire mining industry in central Africa in hopes that their scorched earth policy will catch a militia group or two in its path. They are willing to take down every innocent man, woman, and child who live off mining. Such massive collateral damage is not acceptable under any circumstance.

One woman said, “I used to tend my fields, but women who farm get raped regularly by the militia. My only safe job is in the mines. I don’t know what I will do now.”

The solution is simple. In an appalling show of weakness, the UN (MONUSCO) has been sitting around in the Congo “observing” the atrocities for 15 years. They need to grow a spine. The militias are small, rag-tag, poorly organized, poorly led thugs with no significant weaponry. They could be over run in a few days of concerted effort.

If there is no militia, there would be no need to demonize minerals. But if you demonize minerals, the militia will still be there terrorizing, raping and killing.

Global Witness and The Enough Project Are NOT Advocating for the Congolese
These two NGOs are directly and personally responsible for getting politicians to insert the disastrous 1502 provision into Dodd-Frank. It was well intentioned – they did not want it to have the effect it’s having. But now that they are fully vested in the political side of this provision, they have completely lost their way regarding the Congolese themselves.

They steadfastly refuse to even admit it has had a negative effect, regularly deny the de facto embargo in the face of every statistic and my personal experience, brazenly try to deflect by blaming the opposition for the embargo they deny exists, and worst of all, have now taken to recommending that the Chiefs sell their minerals to human rights violators.

The NGOs Solution? – Sell to human rights violators and smugglers
In a conference call with Enough Project’s main leadership, I was astonished to hear them recommend that we sell to the Chinese, who have one of the worst human rights records on earth and who have no regard for the human rights of the Congolese. A stunning position for a supposed human rights advocacy group.

Global Witness has also lost its way. In a response to the swell of opposition to Dodd-Frank by those supporting the Congolese people, Global also stunned the advocacy world, supporting Dodd-Frank by pointing to the smuggling of the militia as a good thing, “High levels of smuggling…reflect the reality that mining is continuing” and is “in fact substantially higher because of increased smuggling”. Truly amazing.

This is incredible. Global wants to stop the militias and yet points to the smuggling of minerals, a common militia tactic, as proof that things aren’t as bad in the conflict area as everyone says. Read the Forbes article and my response to it in the Comments section .

Clearly these two NGOs are no longer advocating for the Congolese miners, but for their own reputations which are now fully vested in arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as Dodd-Frank sinks the Congolese economy.

They are also both in direct violation of the OECD Guidelines because they have done no due diligence among the miners who are most affected by the colonialistic decisions they want to impose from the outside. The hypocrisy is beyond the pale.

Advocating for What or Whom?
As Eric Kajemba, the leader of a Congolese civil-society group has said, “If the advocacy groups aren’t speaking for the people of eastern Congo, who are they speaking for?”

We’re advocating for the millions of Congolese miners and their families. Global and Enough stopped doing that a long time ago. They are so vested in their Dodd-Frank solution that to admit they were wrong now would create serious questions about their expertise in such situations. Too late – it already has. The best thing they could do is re-join us in advocating for the Congolese miners and stop pushing forth a political position that creates donors for them while Congolese people starve.

Please write or text them and challenge them to replace their political agenda with advocacy for the Congolese people:

Global Witness
Annie Dunnebacke
Oliver Courtney
Sophia Pickles
Phone: (202) 621-6665

Enough Project
Sasha Lezhnev
Jonathan Hutson
Fidel Bafilemba
Phone: (857) 919-5130

Contact Your Politician
Contact your local politician and also the following major supporters of this disastrous 1502 provision:

Senator Barbara Boxer
(510) 286-8537 (202)

Senator Chris Coons
Phone: 302-322-1140

Senator Dick Durbin
(202) 224-2152 – phone
(202) 228-0400 – fax

Use Social Media to Get This Changed
Please use your social media network to get this changed – post the above on Facebook, LinkedIn, and others. Link to it from Twitter and push people to it via email.

10 Million people are negatively affected, hundreds of thousands have lost their subsistence living, and thousands are in immediate jeopardy of their lives – all because of Provision 1502. Please help us correct it immediately. Universal collateral damage to the innocent is simply not acceptable under any circumstance.

Thanks for whatever you can do!