The next day Susie was up early for her morning jog, and at 8:00 a.m. sharp, she walked slowly into the coffee shop and looked around. Sheila Marie Deveroux, dressed in a flattering pale blue linen dress and a brightly patterned scarf, was at the same back table, this time, though, with a different couple—a rather dignified gray-haired man and woman, both in their seventies.
Hesitantly, Susie stopped at the oak bar.
“Good morning, Susie. The usual?” asked Bennie.
Susie smiled hello and nodded, looking back at Sheila Marie.
“Yep. That’s her,” Bennie said, to Susie’s surprise.
“You know about my appointment?” she asked.
“Sure,” Bennie answered, handing her coffee to her and ringing up her payment. “You’ll like her. But then, she’s relational-relational.” Before Susie could comment, he was off to help another customer.
Susie watched Sheila Marie quietly for a moment and realized why she looked so familiar. She recognized her face from what seemed like half the For Sale signs around town. And suddenly Susie felt quite intimidated.
This isn’t going to work, she said to herself and actually took a step back toward the door. But then she caught Sheila Marie’s eye, and instantly she was bathed in the glow of a thousand-watt smile sent all the way across the café directly at her. Or at least she thought it was for her. Susie glanced behind her, then to her left and her right, just to make sure. Then she turned her eyes slowly back toward Sheila Marie. And yes, the woman was smiling at her.
Sheila Marie waved at her, held up a finger to signal “Just a minute,” and then stood up to walk the couple toward the door. They passed so close to where Susie stood she could not help but overhear the end of their conversation.
From what Susie heard, the well-to-do couple wanted to move to the area and start over for personal reasons. And Sheila Marie was listening. Oh, she was listening. She seemed to listen very, very well, and from the look she was giving the couple, she seemed to be genuinely moved by what she was hearing. At one point, she even touched the older woman’s arm comfortingly.
“So you think that house can be fitted for our daughter and her son’s special needs?” the woman asked.
Sheila Marie’s answer was revealing. She didn’t keep talking about the real estate market or a quick sell. Instead, she said, “If it can’t, we’ll find another. But we’ll know as soon as my contractor friend takes a look.”
The couple glanced at each other, relieved.
And then Sheila Marie added, her voice quieter, “I know I’ve said this before, but I want you to really believe it. Moving to a new area and knowing no one is hard for anybody, much less when you have such a crisis going on. When my clients buy a house, I feel I also am responsible in part for their new lives, so please don’t hesitate to see me as your go-to connection. And beyond that, if I can ever help, now, or a year from now, with any difficulties with your grandson, just let me know. My assistant and I do this for a living because, to be candid, we love to help.”
The old man seemed very pleased. “What George said about you is true, Sheila Marie. Isn’t that so, Maggie?”
The older woman sighed with what seemed to Susie like thorough relief.
Sheila Marie seemed to glow in their gratitude. “We’ll meet after lunch, okay?” she told them as they said goodbye.
Before Susie could move, Sheila Marie had turned the buoyant feeling her way and was striding toward her. “Susie? You are Susie McCumber, right? David Highground has a talent for describing people.”
“Yes, I’m Susie.”
“Wonderful. Highground has told me all about you. He says you have great things in your future.”
Susie couldn’t help but feel a bit buoyed by those words, even though she had doubts about the matter. “Well,” she said, a little embarrassed, “he keeps telling me that.”
“Believe it. I’ve never known him to be wrong. Come on, let’s take a ride. I need to look at another listing for that couple, just in case the news on the house they picked is not good.”
Susie could barely put down her coffee cup before Sheila Marie had whisked her through the door to her waiting car—a white Mercedes with a personalized license plate frame that said “Sheila Marie.”
Nestled comfortably in the tan leather upholstery of the beautiful car, Susie said what she was thinking. “You know, I admire how much in control you are of your life, Sheila Marie. You are obviously so successful and comfortable.”
“It wasn’t always like this.” Sheila Marie turned her eyes toward Susie as they rounded the corner. “When I was referred to David, I was not in control of anything. In fact, my nerves were so frayed and my self-esteem was so bad that I could hardly function. But David said, ‘Sheila Marie, the problem is you are a relational-relational person trying to convince the world you are a business-business person.’ All my effort wasn’t working because I was trying to be someone I was not. I was not trusting my own abilities and was speaking disingenuously, trying to be something I wasn’t. You know?” Sheila Marie shined that bright smile directly at Susie. Susie couldn’t help but smile back.
“But what does knowing you are ‘relational-relational’ really do for you and your business?”
“Well, that’s a good question. For me, it affirmed that I’m the kind of person who loves people and values relationships so highly that I will always, naturally, put them before my business and financial needs. But that always made me think that I couldn’t be a good businesswoman. Trust me, I was never at risk of putting the ‘program’ ahead of the relationship with my clients. Business-relational people and especially business-business people are always at risk of seeming like they are driven purely by profit. Not me. The problem was I wasn’t making a living, no matter how much I loved the people I worked with. Then I met David Michael Highground. With some simple coaching, he helped me develop a process to build a community of referring clients and associates that fits my personality, my life—and within less than four months, my business completely changed. What did it really do for me and my business? It was one of the foundational pieces that changed my world!”
They turned at the stoplight and drove into the town’s nicest section of homes. “Do you really think, though, the same philosophy and process that works for you can work for me and my industry? What I mean to say is, you’re a Realtor with big commissions on each sale and all that. I’m not sure it can be the same for what I do.”
They stopped at a stop sign, and Sheila Marie looked at Susie. “Let me answer that question with some questions you should answer for yourself, okay?”
“Do relationships count in your business? How much of your product would one client who was treated well buy in a lifetime? How would you feel about a philosophy and process that lets you be you, enthusiastic but not overly aggressive? Would you rather be known for your interest in the well-being and success of your clients and associates than for the profits you can make from them? Would you rather wake up each morning confident that you have a process that works for you, using the most powerful and most economical marketing method known in business—referrals?”
Susie smiled. “I take it these questions are rhetorical.”
Sheila Marie tilted her head toward her passenger. “In a way. But in another way, not at all. And I’ve saved the best for last. This is the one that David Highground wants me to explain to you:
Susie almost laughed. “Who wouldn’t?”
“Exactly,” Sheila Marie said, pulling up to the curb of the property she wanted to eyeball.
“In my business,” she went on, “people kept referring to their sphere of influence, advising me to ‘work’ mine. I thought I was doing that—until I met Highground. ‘Sheila Marie,’ he said, ‘you keep throwing words around like “sphere of influence.” Do you know what those words really mean?’ Of course, I wasn’t about to offer an explanation, knowing I was about to learn something valuable. He then, very succinctly, articulated that a ‘sphere’ was a domain in which one could exercise control and that ‘influence’ was the ability to effect change on something, or someone, with apparent ease.
“He then asked me, ‘Sheila Marie, are you exerting some form of friendly control over those you know to refer business to you with apparent ease?’ My blank look answered no. I have since learned what it takes to build and maintain a true sphere of influence.” She turned her head toward Susie. “Have you heard this before?”
Susie pulled her new notebook from her satchel. “Mr. Highground gave me this notebook. Are you referring to Principle 1?”
“Yes,” said Sheila Marie. “Principle 1: The 250 by 250 Rule. It’s not only who you know that counts, it’s who your clients and associates know that matters most. Or as I like to put it, it’s not only the people who you know that count, it’s also who your clients and associates know. And for a person like me, well, it’s like having 250 by 250 potential friends. Every day I look forward to who I might meet.”
She smiled that big smile and laughed. “Oh, sweetie, I do love that part of my work. In fact, I can’t imagine a life without it now. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago I wasted money on scheme after scheme to find new clients—everything from direct mail to my face on shopping carts and street benches.
Principle 1: The 250 by 250 Rule. It’s not only who you know that counts, it’s who your clients and associates know that matters most.
“I even had a telemarketer working for me,” Sheila Marie went on. “Can you believe that? Here I was, a person who hates cold calling, trying to motivate someone to do what I hate doing and even hate having done to me! Talk about irony! And my broker actually asked me if I would train other agents!” She shook her head. “It seems incredible now. And what’s worse is I almost did it because my ‘great’ telemarketing skills—which made me look like some sort of expert—had paid off so little that I needed the money!” Sheila Marie looked at Susie, and Susie looked at Sheila Marie. And they instantly broke out laughing. It felt good.
“Yes, it is,” Susie said, running her hand over the soft leather interior. “I’m beginning to think maybe it’s crazy like a fox, though.”
“Now you’re understanding. Do you know that in a national survey that asked people who had just purchased a home using a real estate agent if they would use the same agent again, almost 80 percent said they would? But in a separate survey, home buyers were asked if they did use the same agent and only about 10 percent responded yes!
“Here’s another way to look at it. If I only take care of the people I know and gain their business each time they make a move—the 80 percent—then I’ll do fifty transactions a year. Not bad, when you consider the average Realtor in this country does less than twelve a year … which is where I was before I started the program. I could easily have handled the sales of the people I know if I had simply made a proper effort to keep in touch and maintain those relationships. Susie, if you compound all the referrals I could have had that my competition received instead …” She sighed. “Well, let’s just say, now I pay close attention to my past clients and the 250 people I know in my database.” She looked at Susie. “Any questions?”
“Yes. What if you don’t know 250 people?”
“I’m glad you asked that question, Ms. McCumber,” Sheila Marie said in her best marketing-seminar-teacher voice. And then she belly-laughed again. “How many people do you think you know?”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe one hundred if I really worked at counting.”
“You’ll be doing that soon. And you’ll be very surprised to find out that you probably know quite a few more than that. I certainly was when I tried to answer that question. Highground told me I knew 250 people.
“When I challenged him about the research that made him so confident I knew 250 people, he quoted some British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar who researched our abilities to maintain relationships and came up with the Dunbar number in the 1990s. Basically, he stated we have the ability to maintain 250 relationships.” Sheila Marie started laughing again and said, “I think he noticed my eyes were starting to glaze over and we moved on.
“At the end of the day, he was pretty close, I have to admit. He then taught me the 250 by 250 Rule—that if I simply take care of the 250 people I know and become consistent with the rest of his philosophy and process based on relationships, I could actually motivate them, through taking an interest in them, to refer me to the 250 people they know. Are you good at math?”
Susie did a quick mental calculation. “But Sheila Marie, that’s impossible. That’s over 62,500 potential clients!”
“And here’s the thing Susie, even if you took half of that number for you and your clients and multiply 125 by 125, you still come up with over 15,000 potential clients! That number can fluctuate up or down based on your business model. You know your price point and how often your clients purchase from you, but here’s the key point: you want to develop a big enough database so it will always generate all the business you need. You want a big enough database so as you work this process, you will have a steady amount of referrals that will support your business goals.
“Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Thinking that 62,500 people could be thinking of me if they ever need a real estate agent. Why? Because one of their friends is someone I’ve kept in contact with or done good business with. And if I have done a good job with the first 250, if I have proven to be trustworthy and professional and have educated them to refer me, many in fact will do so. That’s just good basic human nature.”
“Okay, but Sheila Marie, I really don’t know 250 people.”
“Oh, yes you do.”
“Oh, no I don’t.”
Sheila Marie giggled while she talked. “Oh, yes, sweetie, you do, and don’t get me started or I’ll tell Highground what you just said and you’ll have to sit through an anthropology lesson.” Stopping for effect, Sheila Marie looked directly at Susie with a deadpan expression, and both starting laughing out loud.
Sheila Marie then added, “But seriously, if you don’t, you will in no time. That’s exactly what I said, and you know what? By the time I combined my e-mail and social media databases, along with implementing Highground’s other suggestions, I was at well over 150 people. I may not have kept up with them the way I should have, but I knew ’em. Then Highground taught me how to add even more relationships very quickly and easily to my list with the ‘magic questions’—which you’ll find out about soon, I imagine. I didn’t have to feel like I was being pushy with anyone. And when I got through learning and enacting Principle 4 and Principle 5, they all heard from me—consistently and without fail. And then everything began to happen.”
Susie shook her head. “You’ve really got it figured out.”
“But, Sheila Marie, I still say it sounds too good, too simple. Why doesn’t everybody rely on that good basic human nature you mentioned and live on referrals and relationships?”
Sheila Marie opened her car door. “Come on in with me and we’ll keep talking.”
As Sheila Marie herded Susie inside the empty house and began to put her expert eye to the place, she said, “I have a good analogy. Do you work out?”
“Do you find it simple? Easy to keep doing?”
Susie looked at Sheila Marie rather nonplussed. “Well, not exactly. If I didn’t meet my friend for a spin class three times a week, I’m sure I wouldn’t. But I keep up.”
“You have a simple routine and you’re confident it will keep you healthy and trim, right?”
“Then if it’s that simple, why do the majority of the people in this country have a problem with weight?”
“You’re saying it’s because they don’t follow a routine or process?”
“Or they start one and then, as they say, fall off the wagon.”
“I knew there was a catch,” Susie said with a sigh, leaning against a bedroom doorframe as Sheila Marie inspected here, there, and everywhere.
“But such a nice one,” Sheila Marie added.
Having seen enough, Sheila Marie made shooing motions toward the front door, which tickled Susie. She liked this woman with the big personality. It was hard not to.
“I have a big concern as well as a confession to make,” Susie blurted out to her newfound friend. “How in the world can I start treating all my old contacts like my best friends when I haven’t as much as sent a holiday card to anyone in the past five years?”
Sheila Marie burst into laughter. “Excellent. Now we are getting to where the rubber meets the road. We all went through the same steps getting the process up to speed. You said it right when you used the word ‘confession.’ That’s what you will do—you will confess through a simple letter to all you know that you have not done a good job of keeping in touch, but starting now, you will. Easy as that. Philip will give you a copy of a letter similar to the one I sent out to those in my ‘sphere of influence’ before I started to influence them.
“When you meet with Jeanne, she will outline how you can use technology to not only reconnect with clients you haven’t communicated with but also generate testimonials from them at the same time!”
“Unbelievable! And what a relief,” Susie said. “I’ve been carrying around that guilt since we started talking. My mother must have done an awesome job.” Again, almost simultaneously, they looked at each other and howled with laughter.
Once outside, Sheila Marie stopped and stretched her arms wide to enjoy the warm sunshine for a second. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
Susie glanced around. Yes, it is. She hadn’t really noticed before.
By the time she looked back, Sheila Marie was already in high gear, moving toward the car. Susie had to hustle to catch up.
As Sheila Marie unlocked the car, she smiled across the car’s roof at Susie and said, “Sweetie, let me give you another quick tip on how to add new friends to your database. I did this with what we in the real estate business call a ‘farm,’ which is basically a particular neighborhood of people with which a real estate agent has no personal connection. So the agent tries to build ‘brand awareness’ by pumping a lot of dollars in direct mail throughout the neighborhood in the hopes of getting responses. Big money, not a great return.
“Well,” she went on, “Highground challenged me to build a ‘relational farm.’ And it turned out to be a simple, different, and supereffective idea. He had me commit to a ten-week period of making fifty calls a week into the same neighborhood I farmed, saying the following: ‘Hi, my name is Sheila Marie and I have been sending you information regarding real estate in the neighborhood for quite some time. Do have a second?’ When I got permission, I asked the following easy, qualifying question: ‘If any of your friends or relatives were interested in buying or selling real estate, do you have a good agent you would refer them to?’
“If they answered yes,” Sheila Marie went on, “I thanked them for their time, assured them the person they mentioned would do a great job, and then deleted them from my list, saving further marketing expense to that address, and moved on. If they said no, I asked if it would be okay if I continued to keep in touch. It’s called ‘permission marketing.’ I now had permission to communicate and build a personal relationship. In less than the projected ten weeks, I saved a bunch of money and became an ‘overnight’ success because of my personal communications. Susie, I developed a relational farm in no time and became the number one agent in listings and sales in the Cliffview neighborhood.
“You could use the same strategy with any current potential client list you have. Just insert the proper words that relate to your business and increase the number of people you have permission to call! As the saying goes, if you don’t know who you’re going to call on Monday morning about your business, you’re temporarily out of business until you do.”
“Susie, did Highground ask you the three questions?”
“Let’s see. Do I want to be my authentic self in business? Do I believe in my products? And can I stay the course? Those three?”
“Those three. And the last one is the real game changer, but it’s like your exercise program. You probably enjoy it now, don’t you? You’d miss it if you didn’t have it.”
“Then you’ll do fine. We all get busy. And we think we don’t have time to stop and put into practice some foundational truths that we really want to live by. All it takes is understanding yourself and then understanding the lifetime value of a relationship above a commission check. Instead of wandering around with a dollar sign on your forehead as I did—oh, I was a mess—you stride ahead with a willingness to help people get what they need. Give to get—that’s so much more fun, not to mention fulfilling.”
Sheila Marie touched Susie’s arm. “See here, sweetie. You just trust the simple process and philosophy that Highground is going to show you today and tomorrow and then shift that thinking of yours just a little, and I am here to tell you that dim bulb will be a beacon and it will change your life. It did for me. Let me have your card. I’m going to keep up with you, see how you’re doing, okay?”
They pulled up to the coffee shop. Susie opened the door, got out, and then handed one of her business cards to Sheila Marie, who handed Susie one of her business cards in return. Then she said, just before she put the car into gear, “Keep that card now, and just let me know if there is anything else I can do for you, including house hunting. Remember! It’s not only the people you know that count but who your clients know that matters most! Let’s keep in touch!”
And with her big smile and affectionate wave, Sheila Marie drove away.
Susie turned around to find David Highground coming her way, and there was a man with him, the man he had pointed out the day before in the café.
“So, Susie, how was your morning?” Highground asked.
“Great,” was her honest answer. “Sheila Marie definitely lights up a room.”
Highground laughed. “That she does! Did she give you a good understanding of Principle 1?”
“The 250 by 250 Rule. ‘It’s not only who you know that counts but also who your clients and associates know that matters most.’ Right?”
Paul was a rather short, average-looking man with thinning sandy hair, pleasant enough, but not someone you’d remember upon first meeting him. He was the kind of man who gets underestimated. And that’s what Susie did.
“Hello,” she said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Paul said, clasping Susie’s outstretched hand with both of his. Susie found herself looking at him again.
“Paul wants us to have lunch with him. Is that okay?”
“Yes. Certainly,” replied Susie.
“Okay, then. We’ve still got about thirty minutes before our reservation, so it’s a good time for your first assignment. And Paul and I have some things to catch up on. Got that pen or pencil I suggested you bring today?”
She patted her satchel. “Yes, I do.”
“And your notebook?”
“And my notebook.”
Highground had his phone in his hand. “I just e-mailed you an audio file that I created just for you. Mostly it’s my favorite classical music. Go sit over at the harbor, pop your earbuds in and listen to it, do as it says, and we’ll be back to get you by noon. We’ll have lunch at the Capri restaurant right over there.” He pointed a few blocks down the oceanfront. “Okay?”
As soon as she checked her e-mail on her phone and saw the link, Highground and Paul were gone. She roamed over to the bench that overlooked the cliffs, the sailboats, and the beautiful California coastline that she loved so much.
To her surprise, she realized how long it had been since she allowed herself to relax long enough to enjoy the view. Breathing in the salt air and listening to the gulls, she pulled out her notebook and her pencil and then situated her earbuds and started listening. And this is what she heard to a background of soft Mozart music.
Susie, for the next few minutes, I want you to take the first step toward making this philosophy and process work for you. In the space provided after Principle 1 in your notebook, you’ll note the numbers 1 to 250 on the next several pages.
As an exercise to make you see and believe how many relationships, old and new, you have, I want you to list all the people you know who may be a potential fit for your products or services and everyone who might know someone who is a potential fit. Take a stroll down memory lane—through your school years, church, family, and daily interactions such as with the grocer and the dry cleaner. Acquaintances count when you see them all the time, such as the convenience store manager or your mechanic. My educated guess is you’ll be able to list seventy-five people fairly confidently, and the rest you may have to be coached to recover from forgetfulness or make new connections. I have included a memory-jogger list of typical contacts—relationships that will help you get started.
I also want you to take comfort in the fact that when you are focusing on others, attentive to what they do as opposed to putting your agenda first, you will easily add new names to your list on a weekly basis. You will do this by reversing your focus from your own needs to those of others, learning how to give before you get. But you’ll also do it by invoking the following magic questions. I know you’re concerned about how to get to 250 names, and there are many ways. But one wonderful way to get there is to get to know and connect with people through the magic of these simple questions. The next time you meet anyone new and have had time to briefly introduce yourself, ask them the following questions:
1. What is it you do?
2. What do you like most about that?
3. If you could start over, knowing what you now know, what would your day look like?
And here’s a fourth question for those you meet who own or manage a business or are engaged in selling a product or service:
4. What is the single biggest hurdle that’s preventing your business from moving to the next level?
Putting the relationship first starts with focusing on others instead of yourself. It’s also important to remember that most people would rather talk about themselves. Once you fully grasp this concept and start leading with questions about those you meet instead of talking about yourself, you will quickly get to your 250 names. I guarantee you will experience some fabulous responses and quickly connect and make more friends. You’ll be found more interesting and have less pressure and stress in your life when it comes to meeting new people and prospects. Because you have a philosophy and process behind you, you will never walk into another networking event, business mixer, or cocktail party and face the stress of feeling like or being perceived as a “pushy salesperson.”
Your primary prospects manage or own their own business. So after you have had a pleasant exchange with a business owner or professional at your next business networking event and decide this is a person you would like to work with, simply state, “I think we can help each other build each other’s business. Let’s exchange business cards. I’ve enjoyed meeting you. Why don’t we keep in touch and get together to discuss how we can do that, does that sound good?” Then exchange business cards, and the next day send a note to your new contact, who found you so interesting because your focus was on him or her as a person instead of a “sale,” and start to communicate. It’s called “permission marketing”; it’s enjoyable and it gives you an opportunity to build a relationship. At the appropriate time, you will have a willing person to listen to what you are offering. Think about what it will mean to your business and motivation to follow this philosophy and process that allows you to first focus on the needs of others and then be invited to talk about what you do—without ever making a cold call!
One last point, Susie: don’t get wrapped around the axle worrying too much if you have a database of 250 people or not. This philosophy and process is based on the depth of the personal and professional relationship you develop with each person in it. I have coached many to extreme success with smaller databases. So start by combining your e-mail and social media databases and print those out. Then follow the instructions in your notebook.
So, enjoy my music and get to work!
With her tablet on, Susie stared at all her contacts in her e-mail list and all those numbers in her notebook for a frozen second, wondering why she had spent so much time cold-calling and getting rejected when she could have simply asked the four “magic questions” and received permission to communicate. Then she started racing to combine the databases of her relational and business contacts: her sisters, her pastor, her friends at her old job, her teachers, her doctor and her dentist and her insurance salesman. She then started adding names like Bennie down at the coffee shop; Jane, the hairdresser; Amy, the nail shop owner; Joni, the manager at her usual lunch spot. She added all the vendors in her business, her current clients, her past clients, and all those at her church who she thought might be a fit for her products or know someone who is. Every time she thought of one name, a new trail of old relationships came to mind. They don’t have to be my best friends, she reminded herself. Highground said they just have to know my name.
She was on a roll. My goodness, she thought. Look at all these people I know. And she began to type faster and make more notes in her notebook—she couldn’t wait to see how big her combined list would be before Highground returned.