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

My Father Taught Us To Fly

When I was 16 and my sister Gwen was 17 my parents gave us two 30-day Eurail Passes and the book “Europe On 5 and 10 Dollars A Day,” put us on a Pan Am plane to Luxemburg and said “go find yourself.”

After a week in Luxemburg and Paris we split up. She went to the infamous Sisters of Mary convent in Darmstadt Germany and I went to fly glider planes in Fulda.

It imprinted us for life.

We both went on to become missionaries, her managing a runaway shelter for teens in Newark NJ and me…well, I’m still figuring out my mission.

The First Guy Naked Wins

There’s an image I’ve played in my head for years.

It’s the most momentous event of my life, a vivid scene of reckoning that’s yet to come. But as sure as death and my entrance into the great hereafter, it will indeed come.

It’s that moment in time when, as the song “I Can Only Imagine” states, I meet Jesus face to face.

I have no clue what events will transpire besides the great judgement of my life — for the things I did, didn’t do, think or say.

Once that moment has passed (thank God), at some point in the hereafter my mind imagine’s I’ll have a chance to speak face to face with Jesus, and get the chance to ask a few questions.

The most important one I’ll ask is this…

During all the dark, painful, unfruitful times in my life, why didn’t you deliver me from my enemies…from the demons of my childhood, from crushing failure, from those who rejected me, from deception and stifling bouts of depression and anxiety?

Why?

My dear friend Mark helped prepare me for the answer, the explanation of the ”why?” of unanswered prayer.

In a brief conversation Mark paraphrased a passage of scripture that brought a whole new light to the “why?” and “what-for?” of unanswered prayer.

He paraphrased the story documented and scientifically validated in history, of a man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit.

The story goes that as the crowds were following Jesus from town to town, seeking for him to perform more miracles on the sick and diseased, a man in the crowd yelled “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by an evil spirit that throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes stiff. I asked your disciples to drive it out but they were unable.”

Jesus sternly replies “O you unbelieving generation! How long must I remain with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring me the boy.”

So they brought him, and seeing Jesus, the evil spirit immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus then asked the boy’s father “How long has this been with him?”

“From childhood, he said. “It often throws him into the fire or into the water, trying to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

“If you can?” echoed Jesus. “All things are possible to him who believes!”

Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd had come running, he rebuked the unclean spirit, “You deaf and dumb evil spirit,” he commanded, “I command you to come out and never enter him again.”

After shrieking and convulsing him violently, the spirit came out. The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead. But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

Jesus answered, “This kind cannot come out, but by prayer and fasting.”

There’s so much meaning to this story I don’t know where to begin unraveling it.

But I’ll just say the thing that strikes me most is the notion that the disciples – whom Jesus was training to build his church upon his ascension after his resurrection – had no effect in attempting to cure this boy or cast out the vicious demon that crippled him so severely.

I’m convinced the disciples, after spending many months watching Jesus cast out evil spirits and healing the sick, saw a methodology that worked. So they tried to copy it, not knowing that the true power in the miracle of healing comes solely from the heart and mind, not a formulaic method or display of hubris or empty rhetoric.

I’m also convinced the other secret ingredient to miraculous healing and deliverance from our enemies, as with Jesus, lies in complete transparency of the person seeking the miracle.

The truly miraculous always finds its place in the hearts and minds men and women who — with transparency before God and others — pray early, often, and always. But that’s the problem, and the problem with the disciples’ feeble efforts — “the effectual prayer of a righteous man”, though it avails much, is nearly impossible to pull off. Because, unlike Jesus, we’re human and our distractions quickly take our focus off God and onto temporal things. The command to “pray often and always” is not for the faint of heart and mind, which is often why our prayers don’t get answered.

They say there’s healing in bearing one’s soul to another, to bear one another’s burdens – in all their ugly, ghoulish darkness – to a trusted friend.

This man trusted Jesus as a friend and healer, which boiled down to faith in the impossible.

In 2020 I’m hoping and praying for my own miracles – from deliverance from the enemies and obstacles of my soul that would like to bring my dreams to their knees.

But with simple, humble transparency and the plea of “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” I’m striving for greater transparency, to be a burden bearer for my friends, and to live in the naked truth in a miraculous life of faith.

(taken from Phil’s blog — www.ripple-effect-blog.com)

 

ELECTRIC BIKE SALES BOOM, BUT BIKE DEALERS STILL WORRY


SILVERDALE, Wash—IBDs enter the e-bike market with distinct advantages over other channels: consumers instinctively expect to find e-bikes in bike shops, the shops have service departments already skilled with the bikes’ non-electric parts, they know how to fit riders to their bikes, and they have relationships with the major bike brands now offering e-bikes.

But the channel remains nervous.

An array of statistics show explosive e-bike sales growth in the IBD market. For example, wholesale sales of the bikes were up 79 percent last year in the U.S., and the bikes’ high average selling price helped bolster revenues in a year when the number of bikes sold declined 10 percent. But the still immature market segment could evolve in ways that don’t favor traditional bike shops.

Enormous companies from the automotive and motorcycle world are entering the market — in the U.S., GM and Harley Davidson are just the first — and are likely to sell through their existing dealerships.

Consumer-direct e-commerce brands promise lower prices and convenience favored by modern consumers. E-bike and e-scooter share programs threaten to overshadow retail sales. The industry took note, for example, when Uber’s Lime division began importing thousands of e-bikes this winter.

In the enthusiast market, some note with alarm that companies like Harley-Davidson and Cake are offering light electric offroad bikes that don’t bother with human power: will electric bikes with pegs, but not pedals, pull sales away from the e-MTB?

Some IBDs remember being burned by earlier generations of unreliable e-bikes, while others fear that traditional IBD suppliers are on the wrong track pushing e-bikes that sell for $3,000 and more, opening the door for other channels offering e-bikes for half that.

E-bikes, like other tech products, are becoming better values with each new generation and at least one analyst worries that if the growth rate softens, the industry and retailers could be stuck with showrooms full of the equivalent of last year’s laptops — lesser products at the same or higher price tag.

In a January report on retail bike sales, an NPD Group analyst noted that while e-bike sales were continuing to grow, the growth rate was softening, “indicating the early stages of market saturation.”

Finally, e-bike only retailers and suppliers appear to be outperforming IBDs and their traditional suppliers in the e-nbike market.

Ed Benjamin, CEO of the International Light Electric Vehicle Association, noted that two of the fastest growing brands in the U.S. e-bike world, Pedego and Seattle-area supplier Rad Power Bikes, have one thing in common: focus.

“What do we know about them,” asked Benjamin? “They’re focused on electric bikes. They’re focused on electric bikes. And by the way, they’re focused on electric bikes.”

“The bottom line is focus. You can do a little research and find out that where one IBD bike shop may sell four or five e-bikes in a year, an established e-bike shop is selling a couple hundred. It’s not rocket science. Focus is everything.”

But Benjamin remains bullish on e-bike sales through IBDs.

“It’s important to understand the shifting trends in the bike industry, like the mountain bike craze or the 10-speed boom in the 70s. During the peak of those trends we saw a wide range of retailers jumped on the train — department stores, drugstores, toy stores, and hardware stores. The same is happening right now. It’s a bit like the Oklahoma Land Rush—ebikes are now lining the sales floors of garden and tractor supply stores, Costco warehouses, sporting goods stores, even RV and boat dealerships. It will settle down, and in time only reliable, solid dealers will remain.”

“The truth about established IBDs is that they generally have an advantage over their new-to-the-scene ebike retail counterparts. They’ve got the bicycle tools, bicycle parts, they know how to fix bikes. A good 90% of electric bike problems are bike problems. Yet, it’s not uncommon to see an ebike mechanic who knows how to swap out a defective controller but has no clue how to true a wheel.

“The only thing that’s keeping IBD bike mechanics from servicing electric bikes is fear.”

Even Pedego, which sells through more than 100 licensed Pedego-only stores, is seeing growth potential in the traditional IBDs. The company launched a trial program this winter to explore opening Pedego “store-within-store” in bike shops.

Retailers like David Brumsickle, who opened Silverdale Cyclery in Washington in 1985, are finding their way into the e-bike market after years of watching the category develop.

Brumsickle sees e-bikes as a solution to slow growth in the enthusiast market his store has served for decades, but he’s been careful about taking the right approach.

“We started exploring e-bikes 10 years ago,” he said. “The first ones were either very expensive or very unreliable. But In the last couple of years e-bikes began to be standardized … motors, batteries and controllers. But the price points were still above peoples’ tolerance here locally.”

Brumsickle eventually settled on offering e-bikes in the $1,500- $2,500 range that fit his customers’ needs.

“It’s a bit early,” says Brumsickle, “but we’re ready for the selling season. It’s definitely our year to go electric with some great products I know our customers are going to buy. It’s time.”

This article written by Phil Herzog for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News Magazine.

Vantage Road To Lead Media Production For SmoothStone Entertainment

For Immediate Release

January 15, 2019

Contact: Phil Herzog, CEO—360.621.2753 or phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com

Seattle-based SmoothStone Sports + Entertainment is pleased to announce a new partnership with Vantage Road Media Production to provide live-event TV production and video services to SmoothStone’s sports and entertainment clients.

“I’m thrilled to be partnering with Phil Herzog and his SmoothStone team. We’ve been good friends for over a decade, and I’m so excited to finally get to work with him on some of his cool entertainment projects,” said Craig Kelly, CEO of Vantage Road.

Future media projects undertaken by Vantage Road for SmoothStone will include live event video and TV direction, video shoots and editing for entertainment, nonprofit and corporate clients.

About Vantage Road

Vantage Road is a media production company led by company founder and CEO Craig Kelly. Their media engagements have included live event TV and video production for global brands and organizations including Boeing, Billy Graham International Crusades, The Winter Olympics, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Rolling Stone, The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, President Barack Obama and many others.

About SmoothStone Partners

SmoothStone Partners is a boutique business development agency 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. Reach him at 360.621.2753 or phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com