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Passion, People and Principles


post # 303 — February 6, 2007 — a Client Relations post

I received two emails at opposite ends of an important spectrum yesterday. The first, from Bill Paul, Author (Ex-Wall Street Journal and CNBC energy reporter) read, in part:

As a former Wall Street Journal staff reporter, I’m not big on self-promotion, but I thought you might be interested in knowing about a new book just published by Wiley about the future of energy. . . Title is: Future Energy: How the New Oil Industry Will Change People, Politics and Portfolios. Sorry again about the self-promotion.

The second email was from Keith Ferrazzi, the author of the best-selling Never Eat Lunch Alone, one of the most successful recent guides to networking and self-promotion. Here’s (part of) Keith’s email:

I really wanted to maximize the opportunity for readers to actually start using the advice (in LifeCoachTool 1.0) in their own lives, I also had my team put together a simple online quiz/survey/tool that doesn’t cost anything and only takes a couple minutes to complete. If you visit this link

You can:

  • Watch a brief video of me explaining what it is
  • Try it for yourself
  • Even enter a contest we’re running that rewards you for helping make others more successful — prizes include personalized coaching calls with me, signed books, and DVDs. Should be fun.

What struck me about these two emails is not just the extra thought and investment that has gone into promoting Ferrazzi’s new venture, but (no surprise here) his utter self-confidence in putting himself forward.

By way of contrast, Bill Paul, (in common with many people including myself, ) actually feels so bad about letting me know about his new book that he apologizes – twice — for doing nothing more than politely informing me of the availability of something I might be interested in.

But here’s the interesting thing. While it’s clear that Ferrazzi’s approach is going to get more response, I’m not sure I could do it on behalf of myself. Like Bill Paul, there is something in me that holds me back from the more explicit forms of self-promotion.

Like many other professionals, I’m comfortable with showing my material and saying “Let the work speak for itself” but I’ve been around long enough to know that more than that is required. I’m just not comfortable doing it.

Those who are in marketing often laugh at the people who don’t want to “get out and network,” but the reluctance to self-promote is something many of us were brought up with. We can read and be impressed by Ferrazzi’s book about networking, but find it hard to do personally. (Maybe that’s why we try to hire other people as our marketers for doing it for us — which rarely works out too well.)

These are the things I am reflecting on:

  1. Where does the reluctance to self-promote come from? Is it a “social graces” thing that we were taught by our parents? A psychological characteristic we are born with? Is it a class-based thing?
  2. How many of you out there are like Bill Paul and me — fundamentally uncomfortable with self-promotion?
  3. Can non-self promoters be taught to get psychologically comfortable with it? (I know I can be taught to DO it, but can I be taught to get comfortable with it?)
  4. Are the Keith Ferrazzi’s of this world — stellar, skilled, unabashed networkers and self-promoters – born or made?
  5. Can, or should, I be doing more of what Ferrazzi advocates (eg., Never Eat Lunch Alone)?


Marcel Goldstein said:

Hi David, I believe there is a big difference between promoting oneself and promoting someone else. Because marketers are effective at promoting their firm or its principals does not correlate directly to their effectiveness at promoting themselves. In my personal experience, I’ve witnessed an even distribution of self-promoters in all kinds of fields. As with all things in life, I suspect it is a combination of innate nature exacerbated by the child’s home environment that leads to a person’s comfort level with self-promotion. If you can do it, you have a leg up, but if the content isn’t also there you’ll be unmasked over the long term. If you can’t do it, I’d be at peace with who you are and play to your other strengths, as there is no one route to success. It also helps to find an organization that recognizes and rewards your type of strengths. Best, Marcel.

posted on February 6, 2007

Joerg Weisner said:

Hi David,

very good questions, with which you come up there.

I am myself working as a professional consultant too, over here in Germany. And I feel quite often the same. I love it, to talk about my service, and even about myself, when I am asked.

But to be the first one, to offer the same – what a difficult task.

Maybe this come from what we were told, when we were a child. Phrases like: “self-praise stinks” (I don’t know what is the right translations, I translated our German phrase word per word)

Just intellectual I know, that guys like Ferrazzi are right, when they tell us, that we do a favor to others, telling them about our services. But from knowing to feeling – there is sometimes a very long way.

Could we be taught, to feel comfortable with this?

I don’t know. But perhaps we can learn to shorten the gap, between that situation, where we will uncomfortable and comfortable. This gap, between the moment, when we make the first step, and that moment, when the other one is starting to ask us or gaining interest in our services.

And sometimes it helps me, to just do it, to even do it in some ways, which frighten me, afterwards the normal way seems much more comfortable.

Best wishes from Northern Germany

posted on February 6, 2007

Bryan I. Schwartz said:

I recently attended a coaches clinic for Young Presidents Organization (YPO). It was a focus on how to be a better coach in the workplace. Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Joe Montana were speakers (all players on the Champion San Francisco 49ers teams) . All of these guys were incredibily humble about their accomplishments. They also talked about how disgusted they were with dancing in the end zone. Dancing in the end zone is the ultimate in self promotion.

I am a believer in marketing and self-promotion. I just think there is a line and that line is where humility ends. When you have lost a sense of who you are and start believing your own marketing, I don’t think you are after excellence in what you do but instead you are playing to the other evil temptations: vanity, fame, money, insecurity, etc.

There is nothing wrong with letting your work be self-promotional. Humility is good. Sooner or letter, an overly-aggressive self promoter is a turn off. You no longer see a person who is excellent at doing something you see a can of Coke with nice advertising. There is a limit to self-promotion: the limit is humility.

posted on February 6, 2007

Dominique Hubart said:

I feel totally uncomfortable about promoting myself. I’m not passing any judgement on those who are doing it extensively, but I just can’t. My approach is also to let accomplishments speak for me.

My only recommendation is: “Just be yourself”, and results will come, naturally.

In social circunstances, either a party, a meeting, or a conference, what is important is to connect to the person in front of you. If you’re natural, results will come, necessarily. At least, that’s what I found out: in a group, if it’s large enough, there’s always someone with whom it is possible to connect, without forcing your talent, and if something has to happen with that person, it will happen, maybe immediately, maybe later.

No need to oversell. It is very often counterproductive.

posted on February 6, 2007

peter vajda said:

I believe many adults carry with them two basic mantras (now , as adults, two unconscious beliefs) they heard as children and have brought with them into adulthood, and these mantras that show up in their myriad forms have their origin in: “Little boys/girls should be seen but not heard.”, and “You’re stupid.”

Having been unconsciously “hurt” or wounded by hearing this over and over (e.g., your mother is not feeling well, so be quiet; your daddy had a hard day at work so don’t bother, annoy or disturb him; be quiet; and/or where did you get THAT idea!; you don’t know what you’re talking about!; that’s the craziest thing I EVER heard!; etc. ) have left their hard-wired imprints on many peoples’ brain that now, in adulthood, translate as “I can’t market myself;” I don’t feel comfortable talking about myself”; “nobody will want to read what I write.” etc., etc., etc., so, they choose to “hide” and “be quiet”.

I see this often in coaching entrepreneurs (and others) who love what they do but think no one else will, or feel small and deficient when it comes to putting themselves “out there” to the world.

Many choose to cover up their feelings of deficiency by saying it’s all about “humility,” for example, while not wanting to look at the deeper issues of lack of self-worth or their lack of experiencing their own value.

Many of these are the folks who attend countless workshops, read numerous books, watch endless videos and engage in countless discussions about self-promotion and marketing, can recite chapter and verse about the tools ad techniques, but who can never get off the dime. When they explore, inquire into, and work with the hard-wired imprints that keep them feeling small, invisible, afraid and the like, they are then more able to “show up” authentically and with a sense of self that includes both a healthy dose of self-promotion and true and real humility simultaneously.

posted on February 6, 2007

Jordan Furlong said:

Bryan’s reference to end-zone dances reminds me of the famous line, usually attributed to Alabama Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, admonishing a young player who wildly celebrated a touchdown: “Son, when you get to the end zone, act like you belong there.”

I know I could never be so certain of my own abilities and reputation — and so immune to the criticism that this sort of approach would automatically generate — as to send out the kind of e-mail Ferrazzi did. At the same time, Paul seems to take humility a step too far — apologizing profusely for his marketing effort. As usual, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

If you’re uncomfortable with full-scale self-promotion (as I certainly am), an alternative approach might be to ask others to do your promoting for you. Send them a copy of your work and, if they like it, ask them to contact their friends and colleagues to talk about how great it is. I instinctively doubt that Ferrazzi’s book is as amazing as he claims, seeing as how he’s not exactly an impartial observer. But if David had recommended it here in his blog, I’d take notice.

Paul might have written to David to say, “Here’s a copy of my new book about X; obviously I think it’s really good, but I don’t want to go around crowing about it; if you like it, please consider telling some friends; if you don’t, no worries and thanks for your time.” That would involve no degree of intrusion or self-promotion, and the worst he’d ever get back from anyone would be silence. It respects both the sender and the recipient while tapping into the considerable power of the personal reference.

posted on February 6, 2007

Richard Becker said:

Hi David,

This is a very interesting subject. I believe the reluctance to self-promote is a behavorial style.

Having lived in Milwaukee during my early years (a great city known for its reluctance to promote itself), I used to think those “social graces” wore off on me. However, as children, another Milwaukee native I know learned the exact opposite.

So I don’t think it is social graces as much as it is that we all learn behavorial patterns that we become comfortable with. Even in the same environment, two children can adopt difference styles that seem to work for them. After awhile, the behavior is automatic.

For me, I’ve struggled with being more like you and Bill for years, but find it a bit easier to move more toward the middle after realizing that my behavorial style was holding me back in some cases. So yes, you can be taught to be a self-promoter, but I don’t think you can unlearn the behavioral distaste for it. You see, nowadays I can do it… but I don’t always like to. It’s taken some time putting myself in the positions that attract attention, eg. board leadership and teaching.

Of course, there is the flip side of the coin. I’m not sure Keith Ferrazzi qualifies, but there are people who self-promote too much, which can be an equally distasteful behavorial style over time. (I used to worry about becoming too much of a self-promoter despite some apparent advantages such behaviors seems to garner.) I don’t worry about it anymore.

That’s not to say I’m a self-promoter now. Rather, I try to be more cognitive of my actions so I’m less inclined to react with invalid behavior styles. Try it on for size if you like.

Next time you need to self-promote, ask yourself if the reluctance is warranted or not. If it’s not, then you might be allowing your behaviors to control you rather than you controlling your behaviors.

posted on February 6, 2007

Heidi Ehlers said:

Friends of mine produce a wonderful product called the “Tree-mendous Apple”. It is an apple enrobbed in caramel and Bernard Callebaut Belgian chocolate. Christmas is their busiest time of year, as they move from one trade show to another. Both teachers by day, they produce these apples in the evening and then sell them at trade shows on the weekend.

Michelle a sweet, lovely, caring woman with a soft personality is the sales machine. When I spoke to her about it at Christmas she said, “Oh sometimes I’ll say to people, you may be unsure about this now, but please buy it, you will thank me when you taste it.” Then she went on to say, “I just know that I’m doing a wonderful thing for these people and giving them an experience they would be missing out on.”

My experience has been that who believe that their product or service is of great value to the recipient, and have a message that they think will help people, have an easier time with it. The conversation doesn’t radiate from a sales perspective it radiates from sharing a message that they are passionate about.

They don’t see it as self – promotion, it’s not a switch that goes on and off, it is the essense of who they are, and they are just telling their story.

Maybe just changing the nomenclature would help. A thought…..

posted on February 6, 2007

Shaula Evans said:

David, I think there’s a strong analogy between self-promotion and cold calling. And the clue is client-centricity.

When people ask how on earth they can ever get comfortable cold calling, I tell them not to cold call. Get out into your field, meet people, network, get involved, give knowledge away for free, and build relationships. But don’t make cold calls.

Most people who who can’t imagine themselves making cold calls aren’t averse to (at least the concept of) building relationships. And you get there by focussing on other people, not yourself.

The end result from either strategy may be “business development” or “making a sale”, but the psychological difference between the two is huge.

The same thing goes for the two examples you give above.

In the first letter, the author is promoting himself. He’s uncomfortable, and it shows.

In the second letter, the author is trying to connect new readers with ideas that can help them. The focus isn’t on him, it is on other people. He’s not promoting himself, he’s helping others and promoting a solution. Also, he is presenting immediate benefit to you as the recipient: you’re not doing him a favour by responding, you’re helping yourself (according to the subtext of the letter).

Whether I’m involved in this conversation as the writer or as the recipient, there’s a big psychological difference between the two approaches.

You ask if non-self promoters can be taught to get psychologically comfortable with it. I would never purport to try, at least not in the “conventional” idea of self-promotion, which is generally self-centric.

However, I do beleive that it is possible for non-self promoters to be so passionate about an idea (or a book or a service or what have you) which they genuinely believe will bring value to others, that in the right circumstances they can get comfortable and even enthusiastic with a “client-centric” approach that’s all about bringing value to other people.

Do you (or anyone else in a similar situation) need to change? — Absolutely not. Or at least, you don’t need to change who you fundamentally are, or your thresholds of discomfort, but you might want to consider testing out new approaches and behaviours that can work more effectively for you within your comfort zones.

Can you effectively promote yourself without being uncomfortable? — Maybe not your self, but with practice, and by following your strong suits rather than trying to change your core nature, you can probably be very good at promoting anything you really care about and believe will help other people.

Are power promoters born or made? — I’d have to say that if someone really wants to become effective at promotions or networking, in a supportive environment with a guide or mentor they can learn all of this — based on my experience of working with social wallflowers and watching them transform into proficient fundraisers, networkers, and (self)promoters for a cause they really believed in.

If you drop yourself out of the equation, and make the task at hand all about the cause, and the audience, and the person who you’re asking for help right now, and you really care about it, and you make the person helping you the hero…it is really amazing what you can get done. And it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or awkward at all. In fact, it is usually a lot of fun.

That sounds like a better deal than being uncomfortable and ineffective to me.

posted on February 6, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Bill Paul, the first author referred to in the original blogpost here, has just dropped me a note with some additional comments on my blogpost. He writes:

The only point I would add to your blog entry is that my “forgive me” approach was thought out.

This book represents a delicate exercise in trying to get people with very strong and very different points of view to try and find common ground, thereby ending the political stalemate on energy in Washington.

If I were to take a very aggressive approach in my “pitch” email, I can imagine a large segment of my potential audience dismissing me because I’m not going to be reinforcing their own ideas on how to solveAmerica’s energy crisis.

Hopefully my approach may get those who firmly believe that solar and wind power are the only answer, as well as those who just as firmly believe we’ve got to drill, drill, drill for more oil, to try to find common ground.

I guess my overall point is that maybe sometimes the “in-your-face” approach may be counterproductive if the “product” is something that already generates heated public debate.

posted on February 6, 2007

Deborah said:

When I view marketing efforts as requests (subtext: “Would you be my client?”), I notice my energy and motivation recede as all the standard rejection fears kick in. But when I reframe my marketing efforts as offers of value (subtext: “Here’s a great service you may not otherwise know about”), I find I have a lot more motivation.

After all, I believe in what I do (and I keep a file of positive client feedback on hand, lest I ever waver!) And I am certain there are people out there who would benefit from my services but may not otherwise find me unless I come to them. Much like the “Tree-mendous Apple” example above, what drives the marketing-as-offer approach is a fundamental belief in the value of the product/service we offer. That, and a desire to see that value in action!

In the end, reframing may just be a little game I play in my head, but I find it helps me refocus my attention on the unmet needs of my potential clients (the recipients of the offer), rather than on my own fears (which would otherwise render me invisible.)

posted on February 6, 2007

Gautam said:

I think self-promotion as different from marketing. There will be a link in the views of others but for me, my idea promotion is different from pure self-promotion. I am comfortable promoting my ideas (about HR, knowledge sharing, communities and innovation) than I am about promoting myself per se.

That difference though subtle, is critical for folks like me.

That is what makes me comfortable networking.

So what are you passionate about? If you are really passionate about it, are you spreading the ideas too?

posted on February 7, 2007

Shamelle said:

Hi David,

Very nice post. You have asked some thought provoking questions as well.

Thank you for the wonderful post


posted on February 7, 2007

Steve Roesler said:

Wow, David, this is THE question!

I’ve been in the consulting business for 30 years (incorporated March, 1977). Have never—not once—spent a dime on what would be considered “advertising.” Like you, I have always believed that the work speaks for itself. And, after 30 years, have been thankful that others have obviously spoken for me.

But I’ve had a nagging feeling for a few years that my practice is not what it really could be. And it’s because I don’t promote myself. I promote others with no problem. I enoy that. But there is something innate that says “Don’t toot your own horn.” And I simply cannot get past that.

So here’s what I did: I just hired some people to toot for me! And am near the end of a re-branding (thanks to the help of my clients who also thought I didn’t toot my own horn enough).

It has me re-energized. And being around people who are rainmakers actually keeps me in more of that mode for myself.

So I guess one solution is: If you can’t toot your own horn, at least hire a good trumpet player!

posted on February 7, 2007

David Kirk said:

I love analogies. Great stories, great educational aids, great ways to communicate. The folllowing legal analogy highlights what some of the other commenters have said, but with a sligtly different approach.

In some countries (not home home country of South Africa), it is possible to enter a one-sided contract. Party A can contract with party B that Party B will pay Party A $50 in one week’s time for nothing in return. The argument here is “why shouldn’t one be able to contract for anything one wants?” The counter argument is “How can there ever be a ‘meeting of minds’ in a one-sided contract?”. If Party B still wants to give Party A $50 in one week’s time, then so be it, but why would Party B ever agree to be forced into it for no reward.

Why should we get something for nothing? Shameless self promotion does everything for the promoter and only a little for the recipient. I think this is partly what makes some people (me included) reluctant to push too hard in promotion. Those people who are convinced deep within their hearts (rightly or wrongly, I might add) are ok with promoting themselves, their product or service because they believe it is in the best interests of the recipient of the message. There can be a contract because both parties get something.

So am I saying that David Maister doesn’t believe his product is worthwhile? I most certainly am not (and I believe in my own products as well!) What I am saying is that maybe part of the reason some of us may be reluctant to push too hard is that there is always a chance that the promotion fails on a particular person, and then almost be definition, that person didn’t see value in the service and we have imposed ourselves upon their rights to be left well alone.

Could it be that it is rejected promotional activitiess that make us feel bad, not because we didn’t make the sale, but because with hindsight we shouldn’t have tried in the first place?

(Incidentally, the legal arrangement described above lead to ridiculous contracts, such as selling an item for $0.01 just to show that there is some quid pro quo!)

posted on February 8, 2007

Pat McGraw said:

I have more than 25-years experience in helping companies of all types and sizes identify and execute more efficient ways of attracting and retaining profitable customers.

When I have something to say, I know it’s of value and have no problem sharing it with the right audience. No dancing in the end zone. No apologizing. Just straight forward value – and those that receive that information know that when they hear from me, I have something they should hear.

It’s not promotion. It’s knowing my audience and delivering value.

posted on February 11, 2007

Luke said:

3 Reasons I have trouble self promoting. All 3 are fears that the other person is thinking:

1. “He’s cocky” (and therefore extremely insecure – a character trait that I find particularly undesirable)

2. “His message is not sincere” (it can’t be, the conflict of interest is so blatantly unavoidable – and if you’re setting yourself up for a message where you feel your audience lacks your sincerity, why even give the message?)

3. “I have to choose between keeping peace in our relationship (on whatever level that relationship is) and choosing what I actually want.” (I especially don’t want to do this to friends…but ironically, friends [and complete strangers] should be the ones most comfortable with shooting you down, because the relationship is, or should be, based upon more than whether they support your self promotive efforts)

posted on April 6, 2007

Lance Dunkin said:

There’s an interesting article today in WSJ on the subject—”Not Even Politicians Can Out-Campaign Office Grandstanders.” B1

posted on April 10, 2007