Where Have All The Good Shmoozers Gone?

Published: August 30, 2005


It’s a question that has perplexed Richard Abraham, author of “Mr. Shmooze: The Art and Science of Selling Through Relationships,” who worries that the time-tested skill of shmoozing faces extinction. (Editor’s note: Our inclination was to spell it “schmooze,” but Mr. Shmooze was just so convincing.)

Abraham laments that corporate America’s old guard isn’t passing down the crucial skill of shmoozing to younger generations. The result: Instead of getting out there and building personal relationships with clients and colleagues, today’s younger employees are relying too heavily on technology, like email, and are creating only superficial bonds with clients. While technology certainly has its place in business, human nature hasn’t changed, Abraham says. A skilled shmoozer will always outmaneuver the competition.

Abraham, 54 years old, developed his shmoozing skills as a commercial-real-estate developer. His ability to build emotional connections with clients helped his company close more than $1 billion worth of deals in the Chicago area during the 1980s and 1990s. Abraham studied shmoozing at University of Chicago, where he earned a master’s in liberal arts degree in 1998. He wrote his master’s thesis on the art of building relationships and its effects on business. Now, Abraham travels around the country giving seminars on the topic.

SmartMoney.com recently asked Abraham to share some advice on shmoozing and explain why it’s still so important for success in today’s workplace.

SmartMoney.com: Why must we shmooze?

Richard Abraham: If I look at some of the things I’m buying on a day-to-day basis, I’m buying insurance, banking and investment services. I have a tailor, I go to the same guy for most of my shoes, and I have a real-estate broker and a doctor. They all have one thing in common aside from being good: I like them. The real question is, If all other things are somewhat equal and we have a lot of choices out there, why would we buy from any of them unless we like them? If you don’t think it’s important to be likeable, look out, because there’ll be someone you’re competing with who is just as good as you are, and who takes just a little bit more time reaching out and touching customers emotionally, and [he or she will] take them away from you.

SM: Is this something everyone can use?

RA: Absolutely. It’s universal. It’s really more about communications than sales. It’s about forming the philosophy and habit of getting up every morning and looking in the mirror and saying ‘what opportunities will I have to connect today?’ When I meet somebody, or when I talk to somebody, I really feel like I’m meeting or talking to 1,000 people. That person has his or her own world and his or her own universe that they are operating in. I’m getting a chance to get my message into that portal. So if I’m doing it right and doing it in a way that’s appealing to the other person, they are going to spread the word into that group.

SM: In your book you say it’s important to make an emotional connection with someone. How can you do that with someone you’ve just met?

RA: I’ve always been fascinated with people who walk into any sort of social setting and electrify the atmosphere. We wait for those people to show up at the dinner party so that party can really get started. What’s with these people? They seem to have a special gift for making every person they touch feel better about themselves. So we did some research on charisma to figure out [what these people are doing right]. I thought we were going to find that charisma is the ability to come across as very appealing and charismatic from the inside out. What we found is that charismatic people make other people feel charismatic about themselves. There is a fine line. When it comes to making an emotional connection very quickly, these people will walk into a room and you begin to feel better about yourself. It is a wonderful transition of emotions.

SM: Can someone learn to be charismatic?

RA: Yes, this is something you can learn. Techniques include great listening. A study shows that in the financial services arena the so-called communicator, or the salesperson, was talking 47 minutes out of 60 and letting the buyer, or the other person, talk for only 13 minutes. That is absolutely contradictory to anything that we know about building relationships. When you are trying to build a relationship or reach out and touch another person, there has to be some parity or respect with the other person’s point of view. In order to come in and communicate, one of the best things you can do is just be quiet and listen to what the other person is saying. The other person will quickly, first of all, understand that you’re the type of person who empathizes, and will tell you a little more. And that opens up the whole game.

SM: You also mention in your book that a good communicator will “elevate an encounter.” What do you mean?

RA: The best shmoozer can elevate a situation or conversation in ways that other people can’t. A hostess who throws the best parties always has some kind of twist or detail that’s clever. There are people who do that in all walks of life, and Mr. Shmooze [the fictional main character in the book] does that by saying, “Look, there are all sorts of age-old ways of getting out there and entertaining people, but I’m going to get out there and make it an art form. I’m going to take it further than anyone else takes it.” It doesn’t have to mean throwing money at a situation, but Mr. Shmooze is going to be endlessly creative and alert to ways of making every little encounter a little more memorable. If you create a memory and if you do that time after time, you’re going to start to stand out from the competition.

SM: Can you go too far?

RA: No, because the whole idea in the Mr. Shmooze platform is not being aggressive. You’re trying to get a relationship going and trying to get good feelings going in the air, but not trying to sell them your product or your service or the ultimate object that you are trying to reach. Great salespeople never sell too soon. They try to relate to you and figure out what you need and what you are trying to do with your life. They may be able to help you in many ways.

SM: You shmooze everyone, even the waitress and the parking attendant. How can these people help you?

RA: Everybody I meet is a potential ally of mine. Once you get into the habit of trying to understand every person you interact with, what turns them on and how you might be able to help them, it’s easy to do a little something along the way. It just all connects and you never know when it will come back to you. That parking attendant may park the car of a big client who you would like to get to know. You’re like Johnny Appleseed planting seeds, and after a while it comes back… If you want to go positive like this and be a fanatic about going around and seeing what you can do, you’re going to wind up with a bank of goodwill that will eventually help you reach your goals and objectives.