By Dr. Sharon Livingston

I have a confession to make. You know the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I have to admit I’ve been guilty of not practicing what I preach.

The response to the last newsletter was so enthusiastic that I went back and reviewed it to see what might be helpful to add. In these times, we can all benefit from honing our selling tools. After reviewing “Sharon’s Seven Selling Strategies”, I realized that I had omitted a crucial lesson of which I was painfully reminded when I lost a project shortly after issuing the newsletter.


A new research manager at one of my best clients, whom I had only recently met, called about a follow up proposal. I understood it to be a “done deal,” a perfunctory piece of paperwork to get the wheels in motion, which I have done with this corporation many times. I turned the proposal around in a day, feeding back the details she had requested. She told me she was so pleased to get it so fast. I assumed that we would work out the types of questions for the project needs as it got closer.

I called her a couple of times over the next week or two because she said she was in a relative hurry to get started. The first call, when I got the RFP info, took place on a static laden cell phone line, driving in the car, between meetings. I caught her and held on long enough to find out what she needed. Week three, I received a voice mail saying that the project had been AWARDED TO ANOTHER FIRM.

My jaw literally dropped as I listened to the message? What did she just say!? I replayed it, and then realized I had gone into a state of shock. I sat there stunned. W-what? How did that happen? At first, I actually couldn’t understand what transpired.

I shared the disappointing news with my friend at home. Being the loving friend that he is, he was empathetic and consoling. He said a number of things to help me figure out how I had read things wrong, but most importantly, in the midst of all he said, he compassionately soothed me saying, “You’re upset because when you work on a project for your clients you put your whole soul into it. No wonder you feel so sad. But that’s what makes you so good at your work”

That stopped me from obsessing, beating myself up about not reading the signals correctly or sensitively, and helped to make me re-think my strengths. It was true. I love the work I do. I give myself to it whole-heartedly. I work each given study, doing secondary resourcing up front, delving the depths during the project and actually dreaming about solutions at night.

I do my homework and believe in my capabilities, so I can broadcast that authentic sense of enthusiasm and confidence when I talk to clients or potential clients. The exception to the rule is when I’m on a steep learning curve with a new approach and haven’t quite gotten my footing.

But in the case of the lost project above, I was TOO cocky and made a false assumption. I might have lost the project anyway, but I didn’t do my homework – I hadn’t fully put my soul on the line – the proposal I had submitted was without soul, and I now know that ‘soul’ is the ONE critical element you HAVE TO sell with each consulting project.

I’m going to review my Seven Selling Strategies briefly, but I want to point out the importance of avoiding making quick assumptions. (We all know that old thing that to ass-u-me makes an ass of u and me. Yeeeesh … but it’s kind of true isn’t it.)

So a subset of selling strategy # 5 (see article on site), Shaping Behavior is -- Steer Clear of Assuming:

It’s very important to know the waters we’re swimming in – the depth, the waves, the shape of the circumference, how many other swimmers there are and how close, is it a casual swim or a competition, are there electric eels, boats, oil spills, and most importantly what are the needs and skill level of the person you’re swimming with.

With the aforementioned client, I didn’t find out if there were other people bidding on the project. When I captured her attention from the car, I was more involved with my time table than hers. Instead of asking her if this was a good time to talk, I forged ahead, responding to the urgency I thought I saw in the e-mail note she had sent. Moreover, I neglected to ask more specifically than what I saw in the one page RFP, what she expected as end results. I didn’t ask if there were any particular approaches, especially new ones that she wanted to pursue. I could have invited her to lunch or suggested a visit to her place to discuss the project.

I assumed we had a relationship that was several steps further than it was in reality. I hadn’t actively worked at building a bond to help her feel connected to me and my company. She needed to feel confident that we could help her accomplish what she wanted to do in the way she believed would be most beneficial for her purposes and team. While I knew we could do a great job, and I knew her colleagues in the company had that level of respect for us, she did not know our work, AND she had a collection of previous agencies with whom she had established a great working rapport.

Rather than continuing to cry over spilt milk, let’s just talk a little more about new people in old business relationships. It’s important to start the courtship from scratch as if this is your first contact with the company. You must put SOUL into ALL of the seven strategies each and every time you use them, or they just become a see-through cookie-cutter formula. Here’s how to do it:

  1. First encounters. Concentrate on the other person. Listen more, talk less. Be sincerely enthusiastic and positive. If you like your work this should come naturally. If you haven’t figured out what you like about your work there are exercises you can do to connect YOUR soul to your source of financial sustenance. You'll be able to try one at the end of this paper.

  2. Say “Yes! Yes I can. Sure, we can do that”. If it’s anywhere near your comfort zone … say ‘yes’ now, and figure out the how’s and what’s and when’s afterwards. As long as a project sounds feasible, is in keeping with your ethics and somewhat related to your area of expertise, go for it. If the particular project is different than you’ve done before, what a wonderful opportunity! You’ll grow and learn by stretching to meet your client’s needs.

  3. In the proposal, make human contact in an energetic way. Find a way to relate to the topic and the client that shows genuine interest so your excitement is grounded in authenticity. Feed back more of what you know about the client and the project needs than how great you are. Most corporations now have websites with their logos and info on the particular product you’ll be studying. Include their graphics and corporate mission or product strengths digested from their website in the proposal. People like to see themselves reflected in your eyes. Even though the client often will ask what you can do, what they really want is to be reassured that you see them and can help them because you know who they are. Once they have that sense, they want to confide their needs and concerns and get confirmation that you heard them clearly.

  4. Make your client look like a hero to her/his higher ups or internal clients. Use your interviewing skills to understand who the real client(s) are and what they need. Give your client the tools and info that will make him/her look good to their bosses/higher ups. If they look good because of what you do, they’ll be back for more, even if you never get credit for it. That means you need to find out who the real boss and what that person wants beyond the stated intent of the project and help your client manage that need. ( More about this in our 4 hour CD seminar on The Art of Focus Group Back Room Effectiveness)

  5. Shaping behavior -- The concept of small bites and baby steps. No matter how sophisticated you may be in your research capabilities, you can only feed information that client is capable of digesting. Someone accustomed to Burger King and Pepsi may have great difficulty at first appreciating a gourmet recipe or the delicate bouquet of a fine wine. Many of our clients are very smart in other arenas, but novices to your unique approach (even though it may be what got you in the door to begin with.) While you may know the right way to do the project, your new client may have an idea of how it should be done. Avoid falling into the trap of teaching them how to do it correctly (at first. There’s time for that later. In fact, it can take years to teach your clients to do the right thing.) Think of working with your client as an exercise in training. Imagine trying to teach calculus to someone who’s just learning arithmetic. People learn in small steps and can only take in information and progress one step at a time to master a new set of skills. If you can stay connected with their needs and pace them in their way of thinking for a while, you’ll be able to take the lead and give them the tools they need to do the work that needs to be done, in the way it really should be done.

  6. At the end, remember to Declare A Victory. “Yes!! We did it!!” If you give your client a feeling of confidence that they accomplished what they set out to do, they will be likely to feel triumphant regardless of the comfort level of the information that was uncovered. Sometimes focus groups reveal bad news. It’s important but unpleasant and so must be couched as the important learnings that they are, so people can face all the news, good and not so good. The victory is in having completed the task which will provide valuable direction for next steps. Make sure you think through exactly what the victory is so that you are GENUINE and ENTHUSIASTIC in your declaration.

  7. In reporting: Similarly, applaud what worked well and, present concerns as opportunities instead of problems. You know the old Chinese adage about crisis. The word is made up of two characters; risk and opportunity. Measure the risk and create enthusiasm about the opportunity. This is important to understand, since some researchers feel compelled to reveal the brutal truth without concern for how it will be taken by the client. Very often, this is a sensitive, fragile issue where feelings can be hurt, and jobs can actually be put in jeopardy. People will act as though they are interested in the honest feedback, but often there is too much at stake to have raw facts presented without a compassionate cushion with suggestions for making things better.

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So what if you know you’re good at running groups, but don’t have as much joy in doing it as you wish you did. Maybe in these hard economic times it’s not as lucrative as you’d like. It makes sense that the anxiety of earning a living would take some of the fun out of it. So how can you add soul to your work, regardless of why the passion has dissipated?

Try this:

Create a ladder of benefits with a starting point of being a moderator of focus groups. As you probably know, a ladder starts with a statement or feature and asks what’s a benefit of that? The next step of the ladder asks about the benefit of the answer to the first question. The ladder progresses until an emotional end benefit is reached. You know that you’ve reached the end of the ladder when the last rung is: Self confidence, feeling good about myself, enhanced self esteem, liking myself. The rung just before the overall positive self image is the emotional end benefit. (See ‘Cracking The Code: Self Esteem & Purchase Behavior’)

Do the Moderator ladder in small steps to give yourself a chance to think through what about being a moderator makes you feel good about yourself. For example, in the medical arena, cardiologists often ladder up to excitement of rescue and being a hero; while pediatricians ladder up to the satisfaction of a being a good caretaker and parent.

To boost the feeling of excitement and pleasure in your work as a moderator, first identify the emotional end benefit. Consider asking a colleague or friend to do the ladder with you. You can also try it more than one time since the first question can direct the ladder in different directions.

It might go something like this:

What’s one benefit of being a moderator?

Getting to meet a lot of people

What’s one benefit of Getting to meet a lot of people?

My views of the world are expanded by meeting people with differing ideas?

What’s one benefit of your views of the world are expanded by meeting people with differing ideas?

I become a more sophisticated and understanding person

What’s one benefit of becoming a more sophisticated and understanding person?

I’ll be able to communicate with more people in a deeper way

What’s one benefit of communicating with more people in a deeper way?

I’ll always have friends and never be lonely

What’s one benefit of always having friends and never being lonely?

My life will be full, I’ll feel good about myself.

So, in this case, the emotional end benefit is “always having friends.” When you get to this part of the ladder, ask yourself to think about a time in your life, perhaps just a moment when you experienced that feeling. If you'd like, close your eyes for a moment and allow yourself to drift off. Really be there. See what you see, hear what you hear, feel what you feel. Bring it to life. Let yourself touch the positive feeling attached to the thought, the memory of that time. When you have that positive feeling, press your thumb and fore finger together to anchor the memory and feeling. Use your preferred hand. If you’re right handed, use your right hand; left handed, use your left hand.

Allow yourself to feel that emotion a little longer and press your thumb and fore finger together a couple of more times to make the connection. [We’re conditioning your own positive emotion to one of your already held positive beliefs about moderating.]

Now think about how moderating is in some way similar to the emotional end benefit you identified in yourself. How else? Tell yourself, imagine, get a sense of all the ways being a moderator is in some way like the experience you just identified. When you want to draw on that feeling just press your thumb and forefinger together to make that positive association and recharge your moderating satisfaction battery.

(Note: I just took you through a projective technique called MINDWALK(tm) ... you can learn more about how to use it in your own groups by reading our article at the following URL:

The ladder that I demonstrated reminded me of a time when I was 13, moving from a small town in South Jersey to Big Bayside, Queens, NY. I was scared and sad. A few days before I moved, “The Groff Gang” of which I was a member threw me a surprise party to say goodbye. I had no idea they were planning to do it and certainly didn’t expect it. Feeling their expressed friendship by way of the party helped me transition to a new place even though I was reluctant to leave.

Every time I walk into a focus group it’s a little like that surprise party. I’m never sure exactly what to expect but I know it’s going to be fun or interesting and know I’ll end up feeling warm towards the people I meet (exceptions of some nutty ones, of course) even though I may never see them again. Friends are important to me. Making new ones is exciting. Moderating is exciting because it’s an opportunity to create new friends and relationships with clients and always meet new people in the research.

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THE MAIN POINT: Knowing all this about myself helps me find the SOUL to sell in my research and my proposals. A new study is not just a fact finding expedition for me, ... it's a life-enhancing opportunity ... one where I will encounter other human beings, connect with them and their struggles, and not only have the opportunity to enrich their lives, but perhaps to connect more deeply with the fire in my own soul ... the engine that keeps this party running!

So ask yourself, beyond putting dinner on the table, what’s the pay off in moderating for you? Try the exercise and see how it may revitalize or give a little boost to your enthusiasm about moderating and selling.

Would those of you who do be so kind as to share with me your experience?


Contact Information

Phone: 646-600-6566

email: The Livingston Group for Marketing

The Livingston Group for Marketing, Inc.
347 W 57th St., Suite 25C, NY, NY 10019

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