EPISODE 588: The Art and Science of Keeping in Touch with Jason Levin

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This episode featured an interview with Jason Levin. He is the author of Relationships to Infinity.]

Find Jason on LinkedIn.

JASON’S TIP:  “Any salesperson needs to derive their own energy to move forward. There is that daily being self-directed, that mindset that comes from understanding that you have a job to do. I think on the personal side, you need your people. You need your tribe of folks that you know, like, and trust. I think that on the personal side, the nice-to-have side, for me is also essential because it allows for you to gain inspiration, to not talk about work, to just chill out and know that you’re still a human being.”


Fred Diamond: Today we’re going to be talking about moving beyond networking, and it’s a really interesting time. We’re doing today’s interview in the early fall of 2022. You’ve been a networking and relationship expert for a long time. You’ve been doing this for a while. The book came out in early 2022, correct?

Jason Levin: Correct. It came out in January of 2022.

Fred Diamond: It’s been really well received. Give us the general overview and then let’s talk about how relationship building has changed. Again, most people, of course, over the last two years have grown their online relationships. People are now starting to go back to things, but they’re going to conferences. They’re not really going back to the Monday through Friday things, the Chamber of Commerce, the networking events. Let’s talk about how people can be successful. First of all, give us your general approach to networking and building relationships, and then let’s get deep into some of these questions.

Jason Levin: Fred, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much. The genesis of Relationships to Infinity is that we say keep in touch, and yet we don’t. Keeping in touch is a saying. From my vantage point, it’s an aspiration, it’s a way of living. When we talk about networking, that assumes you have a network, and that assumes you actually understand what the academics say around network theory. Actually, I start the book by looking at what the academics have been writing about network theory for over 60 years, looking at dormant ties, strong ties, weak ties. Going through the academic research where it’s all showing that we want connection, we need connection, but really it’s a four quadrant approach where you have strong current ties, you have strong weak ties, you have dormant current ties, and you have dormant weak ties.

By understanding your tie strength, allows for people to understand who’s actually in their network in the first place. Where do you begin? I say go to the social science. Once you’ve got the social science down, then it becomes a function of how do you interact with each of those four quadrants and how as human beings do we think about connection and reconnection? I went to the mental health community and talked with them about why is it so hard to keep in touch. Something we want, something we don’t act on. I developed the concept of the Bermuda Keep in Touch Triangle, where just like ships and planes get lost forever, so do our own intentions for keeping in touch.

There’s three foundational emotions that mental health professionals identify that hold us back from reconnecting. It’s fear, guilt, and worry. These are normal human emotions. They hold us back from our own connection. That’s something we saw during the pandemic. We were lonely, we needed our people, personal, professional. It was hard for a lot of people that were used to going to the office and connecting with people on a daily basis to go to a home office, or some type of hybrid now that we’re in. I say to everyone there that the way that you can rescue yourself from your own triangle is come up with the most likely scenario.

Psychologists talk about this all the time. You think you’re going to reach out to somebody, you hold yourself back. You come up with what’s the most likely thing that’s going to happen if you reach out to this person. The reality is, is that there’s no case law or a criminal law on you reach out to somebody and they sue you, or reach out to somebody and you go to jail. All it is is, “Yes, I’m happy to hear from you.” There’s also the concept that when people are like, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to actually communicate to somebody.” How do I make that connection or reconnection?

The social science also shows us that leveraging nostalgia is actually a great way to connect and reconnect with someone. You have professional nostalgia, you have personal nostalgia. You have these positive memories that you have with people that you’ve interacted with, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, all the way through. First job, second job, first client, 100th client, partners, all those types of things. Really connecting and reconnecting, if you think about it from a social science perspective, is being structured in your intentions with the people you already know, who’ve already helped you, that you have a favorable memory, and sharing that. There lies Relationships to Infinity.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk a little bit about this. Again, this is the Sales Game Changers Podcast. Most of the people who are listening are sales professionals or sales leaders, typically at companies with a lot of salespeople. Let’s talk about the expectations of relationship. If I’m in sales, I need to sell, my company expects me to make transactions. Sales has become, I believe, the most important role in the company over the last two years, because sales is what has led most companies out of the pandemic, and it hasn’t been easy. There’s been a lot of things that have made sales more difficult. We’ve battled through The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle, having to go hybrid, having to have the fact that not only are you in a home office, but for a long time and probably still, your customer is in a home office and your customer’s customer is in a home office, so you weren’t able to go physically. Let’s talk about expectations. The way I see it is there’s two types of relationships. There’s those that are going to help you get business from a sales perspective, and there are those that are just good to have, which you alluded to. Talk about the mindset of a sales professional and how they should view these relationships.

Jason Levin: Well, I think that any salesperson needs to derive their own energy to move forward. There is that daily being self-directed, that mindset that comes from understanding that you have a job to do. I think on the personal side, you need your people. You need your tribe of folks that you know, like, and trust. I think that on the personal side, the nice-to-have side, for me is also essential because it allows for you to gain inspiration, to not talk about work, to just chill out and know that you’re still a human being.

On the how-to-get-sales side, where you’re looking at your roster of your funnel, where are your prospects, how are you taking it all the way to those signed orders. People, as you were talking about, are changing jobs. Maintaining those ties from organization one to organization two, or if your current customer moves within inside of an organization, you get a new person. I think that the connection and reconnection, even in your business, is essential. For me, it’s a 75/25. 75% you’re focusing on the actual work and those types of relationships, but then on the 25%, you’re leveraging those personal relationships so that you are able to be present with your 75%.

Fred Diamond: I want to ask you another question about that. Again, I get the whole point about connecting with people in high school and elementary school, and growing up and from the neighborhood. An interesting little story. I actually reconnected with my third grade teacher this week. I wrote my book on Lyme disease and she had discovered my book on Lyme disease and reached out to me. It was very nice reconnecting. I have no expectations of the relationship. It was nice to reconnect and I have a lot of friends from back in the day in first job, in various social and religious places. From a sales perspective, we want to develop relationships. People say all the time, “People buy from people they like.” A lot of the quotes that, “They’re buying you,” and those types of things.

Give us some of your advice, Jason, on the authenticity of a relationship in the sales process. Let’s say I’m a sales professional and my target is a large company, American Express, whatever it might be. I need to develop relationships with people in IT to get them to become a customer of mine. I may be authentic, it’s like, “Hey, I’m not here to sell you. I’m here to develop the relationship.” Well, the customer sees me as the sales professional who knows that I’m trying to sell something. They just don’t need to strike up another friendship with a sales professional from a tech company trying to sell them. Talk about that dichotomy and how do you, as the sales professional, breakthrough? Should you open up with, “Hey, I know I’m the sales guy from ABC Software, but I just want to be your friend and I want to know how you’re doing”? Give us some of your thoughts on how you can quickly today, 2022, get to the authentic relationship in that particular scenario.

Jason Levin: It’s something that I talk about in my book, that you can’t rush trust. You cannot rush trust. Actually, the social science shows that hours upon hours it takes to build trust. I think setting honest expectations in the beginning shows a reflection of your own personal brand. For you to say, “I’m not here to sell you anything,” is just disingenuous, and it’s not true. I think you lead with, “Well, you recognize the role that I’m in, and I want to build a relationship with you. Tell me the types of people that you’ve worked with and how they were able to do that.” I think if you go in with a consultative based approach, an honest based approach, because frankly, people just don’t have the time for anything else. That’s how I would recommend folks starting that relationship, with a level of honesty.

Fred Diamond: Like you just said, if you’re in sales, I don’t disagree with you, if you’re selling things that are B2B, complex, enterprise, if you will, it’s not a one phone call type of a thing. It’s going to take some time. You have to prove things. I like what you just said about your personal brand and who you are in the industry and how you get recognized. For the salespeople out there, talk a little bit about your experiences on what is the customer expecting from the relationship. Again, we talk all the time on the Sales Game Changers Podcast, we’ve done over 500 episodes about building trust, and providing solutions, and helping them achieve their goals. We talk a lot, Jason, about helping the customer solve not just their problems, but because of all the issues of the last couple years, their customer’s problems, their customer’s customer’s problems. What is the customer looking at from us, and from your expertise, what are they expecting from a relationship perspective?

Jason Levin: Well, I think they’re looking at, they want someone on the other side that is actually going to hear them out and actually hear their entire ecosystem, so that you’re coming in with a question based approach of patterns trying to do the right types of discovery so that you’re understanding what’s their issue, and then how is it buckling in and around the people that they’re working with so that you’re understanding the issue. But then, all right, who are the 4, or the 12, or the other types of stakeholders that need to weigh in on this so that they can solve the problem collectively? I think that’s what the customer’s looking for, is to be able to have a thought partner that can actually ask structured questions, and then on the sales side, be consistent in the follow-up so that you’re getting all the right people in the room to have that conversation saying, “All right. Here’s where you’re at. Here’s where you’re currently using. This is what you’re trying to solve for. Well, let me show you our experts and what we’re trying to do and how we can do that better.”

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about just the general concept of keeping in touch. It’s interesting, is some people who I’m in frequent online contact with, I was thinking about this the other day in preparation for today’s podcast recording. Some of them, I’ve done one Zoom call. It occurred to me, a couple of these people I did one Zoom call with in the last two years. Most of the relationships I’ve picked up online, for obvious reasons. I was thinking, is that enough? Just the one Zoom call. I know what you do. You know what I do. I see you every day on LinkedIn, sometimes on Facebook maybe. Should I be pushing to do a Zoom call with this periphery network once a month? Or have you found just the LinkedIn or Facebook friendship, liking a post, commenting on a post is enough? Or should I have a plan on how to develop this relationship? I’m curious on your thoughts.

Jason Levin: The way I think about a plan is setting intentions. Setting a daily intention that you have a certain level of commitments that you need to do in your work, and then how can you be leveraging either nostalgia or gratitude to be sharing that with someone in a genuine way? After I get my 11-year-old and my 9-year-old to elementary school and middle school, and I thank the world that schools are open and I can do that, then I say to myself, “All right, what’s my intention today? Who am I going to share a memory with? Who am I going to share gratitude with because they’re worthy of all the great things that I have in my world?”

Especially with sales professionals, you wouldn’t believe the number of sales execs I talked to that say, “You know what? I helped so and so find a job. I helped so and so with a lead. I helped so and so,” and that salesperson never reminded them, or thanked them, or showed appreciation, or just took that and went dark. To all the sales people out there, I’m in the air with sales execs all the time. I’m helping people all the time, and maybe a fraction of those people actually come back to me and tell me what happened because of that generosity.

Really when we talk about intentions, Fred, it’s like lean into the gratitude, lean into that appreciation. Therein lies, when we talk about being authentic, we say authentic, we don’t act authentic. The reason we don’t act authentic is because we’re like, “Give me. Give me. Give me.” In reality, the intention should be like, “Well, who do I need to spread my love to?”

Fred Diamond: We’re all gone online in the last two and a half years. I know you mentioned that you’ve been virtual for the last 15 some odd years, but it’s increased with everybody. A lot of people said, “Well, in sales, I’ve been working from home,” but your customer hasn’t been, and most of your partners haven’t been. Now, people are slowly going to an office, but even still, it’s going to be hybrid for the most part. What is your recommendations on meeting in person, versus the phone, versus a text, versus an email, versus a social media post or comment, to really take those relationships to the next level?

Jason Levin: Well, I think you can take your analog intention to a digital reality by doing honest and thoughtful commenting to the people that are in your world. You can have your dashboard, you can be using Navigator on LinkedIn or whatever it is that you’re using, whatever CRM tool you’re using, to understand within your client base, your prospect base, who’s succeeding, and how are you putting thoughtful commentary out there? That’s absolute. The research actually shows it doesn’t matter. It actually doesn’t matter whether it’s an email, a phone call, or a letter that you can show that appreciation to.

What I’ve gotten back into, I’m going to show my cards, I’ve gotten back into actually sending postcards. Whenever I take a trip now, I actually come up with a set of labels and I intend to send postcards to wherever for the people that I care about, both personally and professionally. I think there’s a lot of ways that you can show that. What do we want, Fred? We want personalization. We want to show that people are thinking about us.

Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to the intentionality. People here are in sales, most people who are listening. I’ll give you an example here. I’m interested in your thoughts on this, about the intentionality. I was in a networking group for about 15 years, and I had probably 100 people who came through the networking group. I did an analysis, and three of the 100 people led to business, and they actually led to almost half my business, these three particular people. I was a marketing consultant at the time, and all three of these people interfaced with CEOs who at one point were struggling with marketing. There were a couple of people in the group who just there was no relationship besides meeting once in a while. There was one person who was in the group for 10 years, and I remember saying to myself, “She never gave me an introduction, never really led to anything. She’s nice.” Then one day she called and said, “I have an opportunity for you.” It led to a six-figure consulting opportunity. It was a random thing, but having been in the relationship for 10 years, it led to it. I actually discounted her, Jason. For the last five years before that, I said, “Okay. This particular person, she’s just a friend.” You know what? I guess we need friends.

Talk a little bit about the intentionality, not just the, “Okay. I’m going to make a phone call. I’m going to send a card.” Talk a little bit about, do you suggest that people write down everybody that they’re in a relationship with and what is the expectation? Is it just friendship? Is it kindness? Is it introductions to CEOs? Is that part of the plan, or is your recommendation build the relationship, whatever that looks like, and hopefully it’ll lead to something of value?

Jason Levin: Well, one, I do believe that you should get organized. What I talk about in the book is build an Excel file. Why? Because that’s the love language of CRM and contact management. Anything uploads or downloads to a CSV or an XLS file. What are we really talking about here? Just have your own personal Excel file. What goes into the Excel file, and you can customize it to however you want. For some folks it’s like, “You know what? I want to keep my personal contacts in a place and do it chronologically, middle school, high school, college, first job, second job. These are my personal relationships.” I like to pick a name off once a week and just ping somebody and say, “Hey, I’m thinking of you.”

You need to have that reminder. Often what I talk to people about in their Excel files, what’s the memory? What do you want to share with them? What is that connection to them? What you’re describing with that woman who you’re in this networking group with, who you discounted as a friend, is the essential dormant weak tie. She’s on the periphery, but the entire time, Fred, you were probably showing up as who you are. You were showing up as an honest, good soul, and you know what? There was no opportunity there, or she hadn’t thought of you at that moment in time. But the important thing is, she’s probably connected with you on social, you’re out there posting, so she’s on the periphery.

When it comes to these professional sets of relationships, you’ve got your super referrers, that could be like 5, 10, 15, 20 people, and you’re doing things with them on a more frequent basis. That’s current weak or current strong, along that continuum. But then there’s a whole host of other people that you can ping from a time to time basis, where you could categorize them as a friend, and that’s fine. I think that’s why involving yourself in those professional associations is a wonderful use of time, investing your time there whether it’s local, regional, or national. Because that allows for you to maintain those relationships and go to those different places, whether it’s virtual or showing up.

Fred Diamond: We have a lot of junior people in sales who listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast. Some of the people who are more senior, you had to go to events and you had to meet people. That’s how you develop those relationships. My mother who’s over 80 years old, she says, “Networking, we used to call that joining associations,” like you just said before. She was always going to various things, B’nai B’rith, whatever it might be, to meet people. She was very well networked. Talk to the junior people here, because a lot of them, they live online, they don’t know the value of association. They have relationships, they do, but most of them are either via Snapchat, or online, or Instagram, whatever it might be. Give some advice, not just to young people, if you will, but to those who are in sales about how they should be conscious of the types of relationships they need to be developing to embark upon a career that’s going to be successful in sales.

Jason Levin: Fred, you’re talking about something that’s foundational, is that if you are a really good salesperson, then you are consultative and you understand your market. Where is your market happening? But in the either industry or professional associations, whether it be IT or HR or whatever it is that you’re selling to. How are you going to better understand the people that you’re selling to? Going to the associations and the panels where they’re opining about their problems. We talked about in the very, very beginning about how do you start a relationship? Well, you can say, “Did you see so and so write about this which I saw in that professional association? Did you see that panel where CXO said this?” You’re bringing your own level of expertise because you become a student and an observer of the market you’re selling to.

That’s happening, that’s been happening, even in the virtual environment the last two and a half years, where a lot of these both trade and professional associations, they realized also they couldn’t be doing their annual meetings. They went into monthly webinars. Then it’s a function of, well, what are you doing when those webinars are taking place? Are you doing work while you’re listening or are you actually taking notes on what people are saying and actually reaching out to them, or showing those anecdotes in your conversations?

For me again, back to lingua franca and what are foundations, in addition to having a solid Excel file, is how are you not investing in those professional associations? Because a lot of your targets will probably be at those places. The fun part is that if your organization is sponsoring or doing anything with the conference, you’re probably getting the list of the people that are going to be there in advance, or you’re getting the list of the people that are likely going to be on that webinar. For me, and I even have a chapter on, I call it Be in the Room Where it Happens, associations, that’s the excitement. That’s the joy. You’re mixing together your market knowledge with the people that you need to sell to.

Fred Diamond: Jason, I want to ask you one final question before we get to your final action step. A lot of sales is, like you just mentioned before, intentionality, spreadsheet, who do we need to talk to? I have a list of 60 targeted companies that we’re talking to at the Institute for Excellence in Sales to get them to apply for a designation called our Premier Women in Sales Employer. I’m trying to, as a sales professional, move my 60 prospects down the line to eventually become customers. But I want to talk about the mindset of being attractive, I guess, of how do you suggest people be so that people want to be in relationship with them? What are some of the mindset things for people to understand, particularly some of the junior people here right now who are really focused in the beginning part of their career on process? “Okay. I need to make 10 phone calls per day. I need to meet people who know CIOs. I need to understand what my company offers. I need to understand the buyer’s journey.” There’s a lot of things that you need to know to be successful in sales. Spend a minute, just as we wrap up here and get to the last question, talk about from a ‘be attractive’ perspective, how should people be so that people want to be in a relationship with you?

Jason Levin: That’s just how you show up. You were talking about methods and process. I derive inspiration from the greats. What was Seinfeld’s process for joke writing? How he would noodle and had a commitment to himself that he was going to write something new on a particular joke. How professional athletes work on a particular type of mechanic and they do that with a consistent basis. Some of the best violinists out there and how they’re practicing to get their technique in a certain type of way. Often when I’m talking to sales professionals, there are probably hobbies or interests that you have. I want you to go look to the greats within what you think is interesting, and you will find inspiration on how they do those mechanics. I think that’s one piece around mechanics.

The second piece is, who’s the best listener you know? Who’s the best question asker you know? Whether it be family, friend, or someone you work with. Therein lies the opportunity for you to enter into a mentoring conversation. “I really like how you ask questions. How do you think about that?” You don’t become better at something until you engage with someone that you respect in that particular domain. I say to everybody on the line, find the best listener that you know and interview them on how they listen.

Fred Diamond: Jason, this has been fascinating. Congratulations again on your success. The book is fantastic. I applaud you for getting out there Relationships to Infinity. I applaud you for it and for the value that it’s helping all the customers and clients that you are helping develop successful relationships. Give us one final thought. You’ve given us 15, 20 great ideas, things people can implement. Give us one final action step, Jason Levin, that people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Jason Levin: Go on LinkedIn, go into connections, and do a sort on your own connections to identify people that you want to go out and thank. Because we have all these connections and all those kinds of things, but we don’t use LinkedIn in a way that is genuine or authentic. Your job is to go out and either on the personal side, find folks from undergrad that you want to reconnect with, or within your own connection base, to go out and thank somebody that has done something favorable for you. Using LinkedIn connections, literally the connections tab on LinkedIn, to go show some appreciation. That’s my final thought.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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