(First published in the CAD++ Newsletter in early 1995)
In my many years of being an entrepreneur, I find one area of my business repeatedly being the most important – Schmoozing. I’m not sure where that word originated, but it does seem like it’s a blend of “Smooching” and “Oozing”, which is what Schmoozing looks and feels like if done by an insincere, shallow person. In the last few years, however “schmoozing” has fallen out of vogue, and been replaced by the more politically correct “networking” (but that’s just too 90’s for me).
So, why’s schmoozing important? Simply said, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Case in point: Several acquaintances of mine have been trying to get funding for a new graphics chip they wanted to develop and sell, but for some reason could never get the financing they desired. Then, they stumbled across Mister X, a former President of a major computer peripherals company. He took a liking to the technology, talked to a few friends, and Poof!, the company had its financing (several million dollars worth), and Mister X became President of the new company. The product these guys wanted to develop was the same before and after, but it took the magic of knowing someone (who knew someone else) to seal the deal.
First, in order to schmooze successfully, you need to be an extrovert. In other words, you can’t be afraid of starting a conversation with a complete stranger. Of course, it helps to be in a place where there are people who it makes sense to schmooze with, and who won’t be horribly offended by your striking up a conversation with them.
That brings us to Schmooze requirement number two – go to places and events where there are good people to schmooze with. You need to determine what type of schmoozing you’re looking for, of course, such as customers, fellow entrepreneurs, financiers, etc. For each type of target schmoozee, there’s bound to be a place to schmooze with them.
In my case, for example, my biggest potential customers are companies that make graphics hardware. So, if I wanted to meet new customers, I would go to conferences, trade shows, or parties where I’d be most likely to bump into such people. It’s always possible to schmooze by phone instead, but that makes it more like cold-calling on a sales call, something neither party necessarily appreciates. Face to face schmoozing is far more personal, and generally provides much better results.
Schmoozing is not limited to just customers and people that you want to give you money. Schmoozing is an art form involving making contacts and maintaining them. The “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” applies liberally to schmoozing, as people you schmooze with need to derive some benefit from schmoozing with you. Your stellar personality will only take you so far.
In event, never schmooze insincerely. Sincerity, honesty, and honor are all traits that others tend to appreciate, and unless you’re a really good actor, you’ll not get away with insincerity, dishonesty, and dishonorable actions during or after schmoozing.
Schmoozing With Peers
Your peers, and even your competitors, are great people to schmooze with. Peers can help you out when you encounter problems that they have already hit and resolved, and you might be able to do the same for them. Again, in my case, I’m the co-chair of the New Hampshire Software Presidents’ Forum, a roundtable of CEOs and COOs of regional software companies. We meet once a month, over dinner, to discuss various aspects of running a software company, what sort of problems we’re having, how we’ve solved other problems that had cropped up, and just generally helping one another out. None of us are even remotely close to competing with one another, and many of the participating companies don’t even target the same user markets – some are PC, some UNIX, some military, etc. But all of us have some level of experience and are willing to share that experience, in exchange for getting help when we need it. Groups similar to this one exist all over the nation, and if there’s not an appropriate group in your area, start one. It’s a great way to schmooze.
Schmoozing With Competitors
With competitors, or even better, with the customers of competitors, you can glean inside information that might not be available through any other source. Granted, you may have to reveal some information yourself, but it’s a fun game, seeing who can verbally (and socially) out-strategize the other. With some competitors, it’s real easy. For example, one particular set of competitors we have are really uptight. When I have a drink with them after a show or something, I remain sincere and honest. They, on the other hand think I’m trying to snooker them and as a result, get themselves all tied up in knots trying to figure out what I really mean, and in the process let slip some things that might not otherwise come out. Either way, schmoozing with your competitors is always better than snubbing them. Who knows, someday you may end up working together on something.
What Every Schmoozer Should Carry
Business cards – never leave home or office without them. Part of the ritual of schmoozing is the transfer of business cards. In addition to containing vital business information, the business card is very symbolic, as it contains an implied invitation to call the giver of the card for a follow-up. People who claim they don’t have any cards with them are either not born schmoozers, or don’t want you to contact them, or both. Your business card should contain all your necessary contact information, including company name, company tag line (i.e. what does your company do?), your name (preferably the way you want to be addressed instead of that formal name with middle initial that only your mother addresses you by), your title, address, phone number, FAX number, and e-mail address. Some people put more detailed information about their company’s services on the back of their card so that the card can act as both a brochure and a contact medium.
Business cards also have another incredibly useful purpose – note pads. If someone at a show asks me to send them something (information, a t-shirt, whatever), I first ask them for a card (even if I already have their card from a previous run-in) and then jot down what I need to do for them on the back of their card. In the lingo, this is also referred to as a “tickler”, as it tickles your memory to do something, but in this case everything you’d need to fulfill the request is right there. I frequently sort such requests on business cards, and then hand the various stacks to people at my company to take care of. The moral is to always leave a little bit of blank space on your business cards, and don’t make the back a color that can’t be legibly written on (in case you’re into two-tone cards).
In addition to business cards, you may want to carry around a small, compact brochure of your business services, which provides the recipient with a quick overview of how you might be useful to them. Again, some people just make their business card fold over to accomplish this, and avoid having to carry large brochures around. Either way, make sure that you create a lasting, positive impression on the people you schmooze with, as well as giving them a way to back in touch with you if they need to do so.
Never Lose That Name
While collecting business cards is a fun hobby, the purpose of schmoozing is not to see who can collect the most business cards (I’ve got about 12,000 in my collection), but to be able to put those contact to use. That means that you have to be able to access all the information quickly. Fortunately, seeing as we’re all in the computer business, we have access to database software. Use it. A well set-up database is worth many times its weight in gold – it can become your company’s biggest asset, but you have to keep it up to date. I consider my database so valuable that I don’t even let anyone else modify it in any way. Only I get to add, change, or remove names from it. After every show, I enter all the data from the business cards I collected into my database. If the person on the card already exists in my database, I update their information if necessary. If someone at the show told me that someone in my database no longer works for their company, or has moved on to another one, I make those changes as well.
To further keep my database up to date, I also make sure that any large mailings I make to a group of people in my database includes the phrase “Forward and Address Correction Requested” near the mailing label. This tells the U.S. Post Offices (and many others) to forward the mail to the proper address, and notify me of the change in address if the person has moved. Note that the post office does charge around 35 cents a piece for this service. I should also point out that this doesn’t always work, especially at large companies where the post office doesn’t know a person is no longer employed there.
My database has the following basic fields: Last Name, First Name, Title, Company, Street Address (2 lines), City, State, Zip, Country, Home Phone, 2 Business Phone numbers, a FAX number, Internet E-mail address, Comment field, a whole bunch of True/False fields to help me categorize people as press, close friends, members of a given organization, etc., and a date of last change. My personal database currently has about 3700 active names and addresses, by the way.
All those fields are important for being able to quickly retrieve information, especially the last name and company fields. The comment field is vital for putting notes in about a person. I use the comment field to record my impressions of a person, as well as more info about their company and them, including the names of spouses and children, birthdays, whatever. This is a valuable field, because it helps me figure out who someone is when they call me for the first time in 3 years, and I don’t remember who they are, or if I need to prepare for a meeting with several people, and don’t necessarily recall all the basic information I should.
Remember, the sweetest sound anyone hears is the sound of their own name being spoken by someone else. The next sweetest sound is that of someone who knows and remembers something about them. I can usually recall, with very good accuracy (and no referencing of my database) when I first or last met someone, and under what conditions. I sometimes have a harder time remembering their full name, but there are all sorts of easy ways around, including being honest and saying that while you remember meeting, you just can’t bring their name to mind at the moment. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was offended by my not remembering everything about them.
Degrees of Separation
All the schmoozing I’ve described so far has been first-person schmoozing – you talking with someone else. But, never forget that the greatest power in schmoozing is knowing someone who knows someone else (who in turn might know someone else, and so on). Use this to your advantage, just as others will take advantage of your contacts. For example, if I needed to speak with the president of a major software or hardware company regarding something reasonably important, I now know enough people to be able to pull that off. But I also know not to abuse such contacts frivolously, as it reflects poorly on both my judgement, and the judgement of my contacts for having permitted me to waste the time of a person who doesn’t have enough to go around. The current theory is that no more than four people are needed to make contact between you and anyone else in the world. In my experience, that has definitely proven true.
In conclusion, here are my 10 rules of schmoozing, most of which have been covered above:
- Be ready to strike up a conversation with anyone.
- Go to places where schmoozing makes sense for your goals.
- Schmoozing works only if it’s a reciprocal arrangement.
- Be friendly, sincere, honest, and honorable.
- Don’t be afraid to schmooze with competitors.
- Always carry spare business cards and a pen.
- Keep meticulous records of who you’ve schmoozed with.
- Don’t burn your bridges.
- Make yourself accessible to those you’ve schmoozed with.
- Always go to after-show parties and events.
Go forth and Schmooze!