Putting your inner Schmooze to work

“It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you.” Susan RoAne.

Guy Kawasaki opens his blog entry "The Art of Schmoozing" with that quote. I’ve included the full list of his points, and have added in a few comments about how it relates to my work as a community liaison. Enjoy!

1. Understand the goal. Darcy Rezac in his book, The Frog and the Prince, wrote the world’s best definition of schmoozing: “Discovering what you can do for someone else.” Herein lies eighty percent of the battle: great schmoozers want to know what they can do for you, not what the you can do for them. If you understand this, the rest is just mechanics.


That is such an incredibly perfect quote. Working with community is all about the mantra "everybody goes home happy". And what makes you, the company rep, happy is seeing people do more with your product, being brand ambassadors. So that means your task as  the community rep is helping them to stay interested and identify opportunities you know they will enjoy. You meet your goals by ensuring their goals are priority 1.

2. Get out. Schmoozing is an analog, contact sport. You can’t do it alone from your office on the phone or via a computer. You may hate them but force yourself to go to tradeshows, conventions, and seminars. It’s unlikely that you’ll be closing a big order with someone you met online at MySpace or via Skype. Get out there and press flesh.

In the more than 5 years I was at LEGO, I racked up 450,000 American Airlines miles. I attended events all over the world, from large 40,000 people event hall events to small 4 person garage events. Much of this is simply showing "I’m here – the company is, in fact interested in you". You loose much of the "big company" stigma and stink when you willingly go have chips and salsa and beers at some fan’s house while looking over his LEGO creations.

3. Ask good questions, then shut up. The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozers are good listeners, not good talkers. Ask softball questions like, “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” “What brings you to this event?” Then listen. Ironically, you’ll be remembered as an interesting person.

Spot on. I’ve taken a few colleagues with me to events who have spent most of their time there trying to correct misconceptions that fans may have about certain issues. One tactic I always try first is to ask leading questions and let the fans get to the answer on their own. Tends to work more times than not.

4. Unveil your passions. Only talking about business is boring. Good schmoozers unveil their passions after they get to know you. Great schmoozers lead off with their passions. Your passions make you an interesting person–you’ll stick out because you’re the only person not talking about 802.11 chipsets at the wireless conference. Personally, my passions are children, Macintosh, Breitling watches, digital photography, and hockey if you ever meet me.

For me, there’s two pieces to this. Yes, you need to ensure that the community members see you as a human rather than a community rep. But it is also extremely important to know your game. If you show up in front of hobbyists and don’t know as much or more about the hobby than they do, then it’s way to easy to write you off as a "marketing schmoo". Don’t talk about only company business, but be really ready when the subject comes up. Which leads to the next point….

5. Read voraciously. In order to be a good schmoozer, you need to read voraciously–and not just the EE Times, PC Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. You need a broad base of knowledge so that you can access a vast array of information during conversations. Even if you are a pathetic passionless person, you can at least be a well-read one who can talk about a variety of topics.

As in the point above, it’s absolutely good to have a rounded knowledge. But ensure that you’re keeping up with all community activity and discussions. Even if one part of the hobby interests you more than another, you’d better be fully versed in all aspects of the hobby.

6. Follow up. Over the course of my career, I’ve gave away thousands of business cards. At one point, I thought I was nuts because if all those people called or emailed me, I’d never get anything done. Funny thing: hardly anyone ever follows up. Frankly, I don’t know why people bother asking for a business card if they’re not going to follow up. Great schmoozers follow up within twenty-four hours–just a short email will do: “Nice to meet you. I hope we can do something together. Hope your blog is doing well. I loved your Breitling watch. I have two tickets to the Stanley Cup Finals if you want to attend.” Include at least one thing to show the recipient that she isn’t getting a canned email.

My colleagues always ask me: "How can you give out your cards? Aren’t you worried you’ll get a flood of emails or phone calls?" The answer is a simple: no.

First off, I had some methods I employee to combat any possible contact overflow. First, I had two sets of business cards – one with my full contact details, and one with only my email address. Both worked equally well for getting the point across that I was interested in hearing from the fans. But while 90% of the fans were respectful of my weekend time, 10% weren’t. So giving out my cell phone or desk phone was not something I did much. There was a sliding scale of contact. Everyone had my email, some had my instant messenger, and very few had my phone.

But over the years, I too have given out my contact info a great many times. And it resulted in nearly 17,000 incoming emails from fans. But as strange as this may sound, that was fairly managable.

7. Make it easy to get in touch. Many people who want to be great schmoozers, ironically, don’t make it easy to get in touch with them. They don’t carry business cards, or their business cards don’t have phone numbers and email addresses. Even if they provide this information, it’s in grey six-point type. This is great if you’re schmoozing teenagers, but if you want an old, rich, famous, powerful people to call or email, you’d better use a twelve-point font. (These are the same folks that need the thirty-point font vis-a-vis the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.)

From a practical standpoint, make your "community friendly" email address easy. I had to fight the LEGO IT tooth and nail to get jake@lego.com in addition to my standard jacob.mckee@america.lego.com, and it was well worth it. People can actually remember the first off the top of their head, even if they completely forget it. The second one…well…..

When talking about community, it’s also a culture thing. You have to make it clear that it’s OK to contact you. One of the reasons I had 17,000 incoming emails is because I made it clear over and over and over that it was OK to contact me. That 90% of fans are completely polite and respectful and don’t want to bother you while you’re working… even if your job is to be bothered.

8. Give favors. One of my great pleasures in life is helping other people; I believe there’s a big Karmic scoreboard in the sky. God is keeping track of the good that you do, and She is particularly pleased when you give favors without the expectation of return from the recipient. The scoreboard always pays back. You can also guess that I strongly believe in returning favors for people who have helped you.

This has come in so very handy over the years. This is as much about having the favors returned as it is creating a culture of support. You do something nice for community Web site A, then when they received leaked photos of your new products, they’re much less inclinded to post them without asking you if it’s OK. Favors are the juice that makes your job possible.

9. Ask for the return of favors. Good schmoozers give favors. Good schmoozers also return favors. However, great schmoozers ask for the return of favors. You may find this puzzling: Isn’t it better to keep someone indebted to you? The answer is no, and this is because keeping someone indebted to you puts undue pressure on your relationship. Any decent person feels guility and indebted. By asking for, and receiving, a return favor, you clear the decks, relieve the pressure, and set up for a whole new round of give and take. After a few rounds of give and take, you’re best friends, and you have mastered the art of schmoozing.

This is also how a relationship is formed. And since relationships are the core of a community person’s activities, you can’t wait to start building them.