The Magic of Rapport

My friend Steve is kind of a big deal in the world of documentary films. His company produces and distributes some of the finest direct-to-consumer educational, inspirational movies on the planet.

Cigars and Rapport

He’s well know in factual entertainment circles. As such, there’s a never-ending parade of executive producers and showrunners knocking on his door eager to pitch their projects to him in the hopes of getting a distribution deal with Steve’s company.

Yesterday when we were talking on the phone, Steve told me of his recent exchange with a film producer who had spent a fortune in research, on-location exploration and filming of a lost civilization in the deep jungles of Peru. The documentary was a fully produced series, and the producer was pitching hard, doing his best to get Steve’s full attention to sign a lucrative distribution deal that would potentially put a lot of money and new audiences in both mens’ pockets.

Unfortunately, the conversation was beginning to stall out. Issues related to mutual compatibility, financial risk, liabilities – typical sticking points – began to emerge like a fast rising tide.

Just as they were approaching an irretrievable impasse something remarkable happened…that essential thing every salesperson or deal maker prayers for and hopes to establish in the early stages of dealmaking. That thing called…

Rapport.

In dealmaking, rapport can be like magic. It can forge an ironclad bond in an instant in the right situation, and can grease the skids of an agreement like nothing else.

Cambridge Dictionary defines rapport as that which “forms the basis of meaningful, close and harmonious relationships between people. It’s the sense of connection that you get when you meet someone you like and trust, and whose point of view you understand. It’s the bond that forms when you discover that you share one another’s values and priorities in life.”

For Steve and his instant new best friend, the lightning rod of rapport was cigars. Yes. Smoking cigars. Not just any cigars…expensive Cubans.

Do you smoke cigars? Heck no, neither do I. But there’s a tight knit cadre of cigar-smokers who treat each other like the closest of kin. If you’ve seen a few guys (or women) toking on cigars together along with a splash of rare scotch on the side, you know what I’m talking talking.

But when it comes to rapport-building, curiously, cigars have that extra special something.

EGM Cigars of Switzerland says this about the mystique of cigars:

“Tobacco has been used across all different kinds of cultures for various reasons. Aside from pure enjoyment, smoking has been commonly used for spirituality. All across the planet, you can find churches, temples or any place of worship burning incense, myrrh and joss papers to release smoke as a form of spiritual practice. For Native Americans, they saw tobacco as a sacramental gift that can also be smoked as a form of prayer. Smoking tobacco was seen as a connection from the ground to the heavens, as the plant’s roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the sky. Therefore, it’s no surprise that smoking Cuban cigars is an amazing way to meditate and become mindful amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life.”

Clearly, sharing cigars can create a spiritual atmosphere and emotional connection. And even the mention of your cigar passion can ignite the flames of commonality and connection, as was the case for Steve and his new best friend.

For me, my rapport-building mojo usually is focused around my unique passions – outdoor adventuring, extreme sports, motorcycles, fishing and hunting, music, art, books, etc.

In fact, nearly every relationship of any significance of mine includes one or several of these connection points.

What might yours be? Your favorite vacation spot…playing cards, running triathlons, your pets, riding horses, raising chickens, playing golf?

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty decent at rapport-building. I’ve had to, it’s part of every business development executive’s job.

Here’s a few tips…

Do a little research – Before meeting someone important to your future, go online and snoop a tad. Social media often provides a treasure trove of clues to disclose someone’s true passions. Travel photos, stories, memes, quotes, and videos posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest are dead giveaways of a person’s interests and passions. Find one that’s similar to yours and use it as a rapport building tool, but only at the right time.

Remember people’s names – It’s amazing how simple it is to remember someone’s name and use it discretely in a conversation. When you repeat a person’s name you are essentially commanding their attention. Just don’t use it too frequently, and use it sincerely. Otherwise an oft-repeated name can seem contrived and manipulative.

Keep an open mind – You have no idea what’s really going on behind someone’s eyes. It’s important not to prejudge a situation or person too quickly. Time will tell whether the person you’re dealing with can work with you toward a mutually beneficial deal. And, if you have mutual personal interests that might add glue to your emerging partnership.

Look and listen intently — Be a keen observer of body language, tone and style of communication. It can often tell you more about the person than their words. And when it comes to rapport-building, mirror the person’s style. If they’re energetic and intense, seek to match it. If they’re humorous, be funny back, or at least chuckle when it’s right to. But don’t be fake.

Ask good questions – The more you can learn about a person’s interests the tighter the bond you can forge. Asking relevant questions shows your interest in a person which always translates into further bridge-building.

Don’t overdo it – I can’t tell you the number of times protracted rapport-building can actually backfire on you. I’ve found that even the busiest and most successful executives leave room in a conversation to get personal and chatty, but not until the latter stages of a conversation or negotiation. Busy people want facts and relevant details quickly in order to make informed decisions which is top of mind when entering most business discussions. They want to make progress in a conversation quickly, especially when making critical decisions that involve the 3 Ps of dealmaking.. people, product and price.

Similarly, they will most often want to engage in a bit of small talk and connect personally by talking mutual interests like hobbies or families, to get to know you. But often only after the heavy lifting of dealmaking is done. Not every time, though. One must always use discretion with rapport-building. Not too much, not too little.

Did my buddy Steve eventually saddle up with this producer and add his documentary series to the company’s catalog of films?

Even after the warm and fuzzy cigar talk, he tells me he’s not sure it’s the right fit. But maybe…

Time will tell, or maybe Steve will pull the trigger and sign the deal after opening the gift box of fine Cubans his new best friend sends him for Christmas this year.

Who knows.

About SmoothStone Partners

SmoothStone Partners is a business development firm that carefully builds brands in the sports, entertainment and lifestyle space. SmoothStone Entertainment’s Talent Division is led by Phil Herzog who provides marketing and social media support to recording artists, entertainers, fine art and photography talent. Phil’s most recent endeavor, TrailMasters, is a new social network for men of adventure. His role as Chief Trail Guide seeks to encourage men to live their best lives through acts of leadership, character-building and charity. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com

When Your Inner Voice Says “Let’s Roll”

Miracle surgeries performed aboard the Mercy Ship transform thousands of West Africans

Everyone has “ahh-haa” moments in their career

Those times of profound revelation. Times where you approach that rare intersection of fate and providence, face into the winds of promise, then whisper “I’m taking the narrow road. Heck yeah it’s dangerous but I’ll always have regrets if I don’t try.” That’s happened to me on more than one occasion.

In my early adult years it happened when I pulled myself away from friends and family immediately after college. I said a tearful goodbye to the comfortable yet stagnant pace of Upstate New York’s rust belt and headed West to stake my claim of fame and fortune in the buckle of innovation and creativity–Southern California. After setting down roots in Redondo Beach I never looked back.

A few years later I left a lucrative commercial sales career to serve under the mentorship of Freeman Gosden, Jr and Bob Hemmings, two of modern direct market’s most accomplished pioneers. My curious intuition told me direct mail would soon become the forerunner of digital interactive marketing. My hunch paid off.

My biggest headfirst dive into the dark unknown, however, was enlisting in the service of Mercy Ships, the faith-based fleet of hospital ships that is redefining volunteerism and the modern short-term missions movement on a global scale.

Working with children in a remote village outside Dakkar, Senegal.

At the time it seemed like a mistake. During most of my eight years with Mercy Ships my family and professional friends kept bashing me with words like…“That’s just a dumb idea. Why would you ditch a promising career path to work for free for a religious order?”

What they didn’t know (nor did I at the time) was that there’s no such thing as a “promising” career path. I learned–and keep learning–that weird stuff happens to you. And by you. Neither did they understand I never worked a day of those eight years for free. What I got in return for my service was international travel and a million dollar education in global fundraising and public relations of the highest order–worth more than an MBA at Cornell and an unlimited travel pass at ClubMed. And a cool extended family on every continent.

Yes I was a volunteer. Yes our income was often cobbled together–month to month…hand to mouth–by sacrificial donations from friends, family, churches and businesses. But I discovered almost daily that you can never out-give the God who put you on this earth. That’s certainly been my story.

Fundraising in port cities around the nation with Mercy Ships founder and CEO Don Stephens

After helping to build a global fundraising, public relations and recruiting infrastructure (much of it still remains) I made yet another big move. This time heeding the call of the wild to one of the most ruggedly beautiful, pristine corners of the globe–the North Kitsap Peninsula, west of Seattle’s Puget Sound.

Ironically, I’ve discovered my eight years with Mercy Ships were not the end of my missionary exploits. Rather, that season of life was preparation for an equally important and altruistic mission: helping businesses protect their most important assets with robust commercial security services (my day job with ADT Commercial Division); and, helping sports and entertainment professionals prosper through innovative, cost-effective marketing strategies that bond their brands to customers and fans for life.

We all have stories of standing at a crossroads. More will confront us in the future. Will we ignore that still, small inner voice that says “This is the way, it’s hard and risky but you can’t afford not to try it?”

Before you answer, consider the mountain of data collected from interviews with senior citizens who were asked “What would you do differently if you could live your life over?” Nearly all of them said the same thing. “I would take more risks.”

So, the question…Are you approaching a crossroads?

Here are a few things I’ve learned from some of the seismic changes I’ve made in my life, and particularly my career.

  1. Listen to that inner voice. You won’t hear it very well if you don’t pay attention to its soft whisper. Get away for a half-day, frequently if necessary. By yourself. Take a few pieces of paper or notebook and a pen, get into a comfortable quiet place and listen patiently. Pray. Listen to music. Then start taking notes. Do whatever will surface your subtle inclinations from deep within.
  2. Talk to trusted peers. Share your hopes and dreams with them, but only those people you can trust to support and love you unconditionally–and give you tough love in return if your ideas are too off the wall.
  3. Do the research. Get busy learning about the opportunity that awaits. Keep in mind we’re talking mostly about career changes here, but it can also apply to hobbies, volunteer work, a sabbatical, travel, etc.
  4. Get your affairs in order. That especially includes your finances. Far too many folks approach big life changes without the financial resources to carry them through the transition period. On the other hand, financial shortages can often be the very catalyst to get you in motion.
  5. Think long-term. Remember that life is an unending journey. Over a lifetime of risky career experiments I’ve learned that there are no mistakes if you follow the voice and will of God. In the same way I’ve learned you can never out-give God, I’ve also learned that all things work together for good if you love your Creator and are trying to follow the path carefully set before you.
  6. Enjoy the ride. When you jump into the deep, fast moving current of opportunity, savor the exhilarating experience of trusting your faith when conventional wisdom runs counter. It won’t always be a smooth ride–sometime it’ll be anything but. But in the end you can look back and say “I did it.”

Phil Herzog is a senior consultant for ADT’s Commercial Division and moonlights as a sports and entertainment marketing executive as CEO of SmoothStone Partners.com. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

Why Don’t Men Suit Up?

I’ve lived in all four corners of the nation–New York, Miami, LA, Dallas, and now Seattle. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the advertising agency world, then a few years as a missionary for global charity Mercy Ships. Then back to commercial sales where I’ve landed once again. With all the traveling, meetings, conventions and business lunches and parties I’ve seen a lot.

After 30 years in business one of the things that still perplexes me terribly is the notion that most men just don’t care how they dress for business. Most men just don’t care what they look like at the office, job site or even at a client’s business–and rather focus on perfecting their technical skills and head game. But in the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I say “Big Mistake.”

I’ve lived in Seattle since 2001. I’m in the security business by day, but occasionally I keep my side hustle afloat in the entertainment space working with sports and entertainment clients. Let’s just say it keeps my day job fresh.

I still keep a shared-space office at the Pioneer Collective at King and First which to me is worth a million dollars. Why? Because it gets — and keeps — me close to the culture, to the Seattle arts and entertainment and business scene. And it keeps my eyes on the fashion scene (what little there is in Seattle as compared to New York).

Here’s the simple truth about Seattle men’s fashion. It exists, yes. But it’s got its roots in the tech world–t-shirts, jeans and black square-toed shoes. As such, these guys are seldom taken seriously when venturing out into the big venture capital world, or consumer brand marketing space, or sports marketing or PR or whatever. The simple truth is that sloppy-dressed guys miss out on big deal-making, favors and even attention and respect by their peers simply because their self-image projects, well, a poor self image. Or worse, an “I don’t care how I look” image.

I love watches. Mostly because they are one of the few pieces of jewelry that makes me feel comfortable and “myself” in various settings (plus I’m always trying to keep track of my time). I have four of them, three pictured above–each with a different mission. One tells time in a business setting; one tells time in the woods; one tells time at dates or parties; one is a secret weapon.

I could write a book on how Seattle men could up their game with an ever-so-slightly elevated fashion sensibility. But I’ll save that for another post.

For now, if you’re a guy — for starters — go out and buy yourself a “fashion” watch and be amazed how that outer statement changes your inner vibe. If you’re a woman looking for the ultimate Valentine’s gift for your honey, go out and buy him a stainless steel watch or even a Timex Expedition (if you spend more than $50 for any watch it’s too much…guys lose and break stuff). It will make you one lucky girl. And if you buy him a Rolex (get a fake one online from Japan for less than $100 that keeps better time than the real McKoy) I guarantee you’ll get very lucky with your man on February 14.

Phil Herzog is a senior consultant for ADT’s ICI Division and moonlights as a sports and entertainment marketing executive as CEO of SmoothStone Partners.com. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.