How to grow your influence (and profits) by giving more than you get—my interview with Bob Burg
It’s human nature to constantly think, “What’s in it for me?”—especially when it comes to business. But this week’s guest turns that thinking on its head, teaching that the real way to succeed is by being a “go-giver,” constantly and consistently delivering value to others.
World-renowned speaker and author, Bob Burg‘s books have sold well over a million copies, and his universally acclaimed business sales book, The Go-Giver, has been translated into 28 languages. In this episode, Bob and I delve into how to cultivate deep relationships with others so they come to know, like, and trust you—and ultimately, do business with you.
We talk about:
- How shifting your focus from getting to giving is the most financially profitable approach to sales.
- The five key elements of value that you must communicate to your customers so that they choose you over the competition.
- How to become an industry influencer by placing the needs of others first.
- The one key question to ask to grow your network and your sales.
Listen to the podcast here:
Download the audio file here.
How to Be a Go-Giver with Bob Burg [Transcript]
Bob Burg, thank you so much for joining me on Let’s Talk Business.
It is so great to be with you.
You’re known for many things. You speak to large audiences internationally and your book is a bestseller, The Go-Giver. From the title, it applied to me and I appreciate it because in the society we’re known to, “What could I get?” From the title of the book, you said, “The Go-Giver,” and it stopped me. I read it from cover to cover. I appreciate how you broke down how at the end of the day, you benefit from being that go-giver. For our audience, let’s start understanding what went on behind the scenes, why you developed this concept of a go-giver and ultimately the book came out of that.
Years ago, I had a book called Endless Referrals. The subtitle was Network Your Everyday Contacts into Sales. It was a traditional how-to book. It was written for people who were in business. There was an entrepreneur, sales professional who had a great product or service. They knew they did. They understood the great value they brought to their customers and clients, but they did not feel comfortable with the process of going out there and building relationships that would lead to both direct and referral business. It was how to cultivate, create and develop relationships with people who would begin to know you, like you, trust you, want to see you succeed, want to do business with you and want to refer you to others. It’s been a successful book.
Through the years, I’ve read business parables, short stories that connected on a deep level. In our own tradition, one of the most famous sayings is, “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” I think that’s true. There’s the old saying, “Facts tell, stories sell.” That’s partly right but not 100% right. I think it’s, “Facts tell, stories connect.” Once you make that heart to heart connection with another person, the selling process can begin. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could take the basic premise of Endless Referrals, which is that all things being equal people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like and trust and put it in a parable form?” The best thing I did with that was to ask or rather pleaded with, John David Mann to be the lead writer and storyteller. That was how The Go-Giver came about with the basic premise of this parable, “Shifting your focus from getting to giving.” When we say giving in this context, we mean constantly and consistently providing value to others. Understanding that doing so is not only a more pleasant way of conducting business, it’s the most financially profitable way as well.Once you make that heart to heart connection with another person, the selling process can begin. Click To Tweet
In every industry, there are many players selling the same product. There are always those companies or those salespeople that stand out. Those people that are building relationships stand out and are able to be successful in their space. You mentioned two points that I want to expand on. The first part is shifting your focus to giving rather than selling. It’s such an important fact because we all know that at the end of the day, there’s a transaction happening. The question is how you arrive at that transaction. That’s where some people don’t understand the concept of the second point you mentioned, the know, like and trust. They don’t give it enough time to get to know you and ultimately make sure that they like and trust you before they want to open up their relationship.
Once that know, like and trust is there and you are now in the selling process, what’s important is that we all look at selling from a basic definition. Even the word selling comes with preconceived notions. People think of selling as trying to convince someone to buy something they don’t want or need. That’s not selling. That is called being a con-artist. Nobody wants to be that. Selling by definition is discovering what the other person wants, needs, desires and helping them to get it. When we approach it that way, we are approaching it at the correct way. We’re approaching it from what they believe is of value. What is it they want? What problems are you solving for them? How are you making your life better?
When we talk about this the Go-Giver way, there’s nothing about this that is magical or mystical. These absolutely ties into human nature. Why? I often say this when I speak at a sales conference, “Nobody is going to buy from you because you have a quota to meet. They’re not going to buy from you because you need the money. They’re not even going to buy from you because you’re a nice person. They’re going to buy from you because they believe that they would be better off by doing so than by not doing so.”
When I say free-market, I mean no one is forced to do business with anyone else. In this type of economy, the only reason they should buy from you, me or from anyone is because they’ll believe they’ll benefit from it. Why else would they buy? It makes it so that the business person understands that they must put their focus on bringing immense value to that other individual. This is why John and I say that money is simply an echo of value. It’s the thunder to values lightning.
There are so many people out there that they feel, “If I’m going to be giving, then maybe I’m going to be taken advantage of.” All of a sudden, I’m the person that will bend over backward. I gave so much value to the construction site plans, gave them all these ideas on how they could do a better job and ultimately, they ended up going somewhere else for price. How do you balance the concept of not feeling that giving doesn’t mean taking advantage? What’s the balance?
Someone could see the title and come to that belief based on the title. It is human nature. We make decisions based on limited information. First, let’s understand that there is nothing about being a Go-Giver that equals being anyone’s doormat, being a martyr or being self-sacrificial in any way. Being a go-giver means shifting that focus from an I focus or me focus to other focus. In other words, it’s looking to make your win all about the other person’s win. That is the most profitable way for you to do business but that doesn’t mean that you give away the store. It doesn’t mean you don’t make a profit.
In fact, Go-Givers tend to make high profits because they are not selling on low price. They’re selling on high value. Everything about the Go-Giver way is about being able to effectively communicate that additional value, not just the intrinsic value of the product or service. What separates you from others in a commodity-based world where so many products and services are the same? It’s important to understand that there should never be confusion in being a Go-Giver with being taken advantage of.
Let’s dive into the word that we’ve used many times, which is value. I want to ask you as a business runner myself. We run the Ptex Group agency where all we do is delivering value to our clients and strategically and ultimately with the execution of work that we do, which is value. Value is something that means different things for different people. Let’s say a salesperson is new. The business owner is reading the book on how giving value first and that money is the echo of value. He’s then trying to find out how much he can charge for the new salesperson’s services. How would you explain that? What would be the introduction to how to come to the proper understanding of how you measure the value?
You brought up a fantastic point that value is something that is defined differently by different people, which is why it’s important to have a working definition as we go through this. Law number one, it’s the foundational principle that says in the business sense, “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.” If you first hear this, this is very counterintuitive, “How am I going to survive in my business, never mind thrive?” For this, we have to understand the difference between price and value. A price is a dollar figure, a dollar amount. It’s finite. It is what it is. Value, on the other hand, is the relative worth or desirability of something to the end-user or beholder. In other words, “What is it about this product, service, concept, idea that brings so much worth to someone that they will gladly exchange their money for this and be glad they did?” While you, of course, make a healthy profit.
Let’s say you hire an accountant to do your taxes. This accountant charges you $1,000. That’s his price. What value is he giving you in exchange even on an intrinsic value based on what you would expect from an accountant? First, he saves you $5,000 in taxes. He saves you countless hours of time which frees you up to do what you’d rather be doing or what you can do more productively. He provides you and your family with the security and peace of mind of knowing it was done correctly. Value can be concrete. The $5,000 saving is pretty easy to get our arms around. It can also be conceptual. That peace of mind, you can’t even put a price on that. What this accountant did was give you well-over $5,000 in use value in exchange for $1,000 payment or price. You feel great about it because you received much more in value than what you paid. He made a very healthy profit because to him it’s well worth selling his expertise and time for $1000 to do someone’s return.Trying to convince someone to buy something they don't want is not selling, it's being a con-artist. Click To Tweet
I learned this from a mentor of mine, Harry Brown, who said, “In any free market-based exchange, there are always two profits. The buyer profits and seller profits. Each came away better off afterward than they were before.” That’s the Law of Value. You’re providing such a fantastic buying experience that this person feels that they received much more than they paid for while you make a healthy profit.
When you have a relationship that’s a win-win, it’s a long-lasting relationship. Any one-sided relationship will not stay for a long time. The illustration of this accounting example is terrifically illustrating the point. Here’s a follow-up question. You have this buyer that’s comparing two accountants. One is charging $500 and one is charging $1,000. How would you walk through this accountant with your method of delivering value and pricing in value? How would that person showcase the value beforehand? Looking back you say, “I got the value.” At the get go, I might not be given a chance because my price is higher. How would you approach that?
This brings up an issue that is prevalent now. Technology has leveled off the playing field. I’m not talking just online technology, I’m saying everywhere. Most products and services now work pretty well, that is what it is. If a prospective customer or client cannot distinguish between any two accountants or anyone else, it’s going to come down to who has the lowest price. As I like to say, unless your last name is Walmart or you’re Amazon.com, trying to make low price your unique selling proposition is not a good way to do business. It’s not productive, not profitable and not sustainable. When you sell on low price, you are a commodity. When you sell on value, you are a resource. The question is, “How do I create and communicate that additional value?” It begins with the understanding that you need to be that additional value. They are buying you before they buy the product or service before they are buying the company. You need to be that additional value. The question is how?
Fortunately, there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to communicate that additional value. They tend to come down to five elements of value. Those elements are excellence, consistency, attention, empathy and appreciation. To the degree that you are able to communicate hopefully all five of those elements of value at every single touchpoint. We’re talking from the time you first meet this person, whether it’s in inbound or outbound connection, to while you’re developing and creating that relationship, through the selling process, the follow-up and follow-through and the referrals. To the degree that you’re able to communicate these elements of value, that is the degree you separate yourself, distinguish yourself and you take price and your competition out of the equation.
Would we have time to go in a little bit deeper on those five?
Excellence, that’s the competence part. As Stephen MR Coveys says in his wonderful book, The Speed of Trust, “Trust is comprised of two basic elements, competence and character.” If any sale of any significant amount, we need to trust both that person’s character and their competence. Excellence has mostly to do with competence. That means that you know your stuff. You know your business, you know your product or service, you know the inner work things of everything. If you have a niche customer or market that you work, you know their business than they know their business as it pertains to how you conserve them through your product or service. This allows you to go past the discovery aspect and add those insights. You can point out those issues, problems and challenges they might not even be aware of and be able to come up with the solution that’s going to serve them to a wonderful degree. That’s the excellence part.
Does that take care of building that trust factor?
That’s the competence part, yes. Then there’s consistency. This is important because we live in an inconsistent world, yet as human beings, we crave consistency. We want to believe that we’re consistent in our actions, but we absolutely demand it of others. I thought Robert Cialdini and his excellent book, Influence, pointed this out wonderfully. It goes back to the cave person days when every day was a matter of survival. Everything had to be consistent. You had to know who is who, what was what, who had your back and who might club you on the back. You had to know what the bent twigs meant. You had to know what the footprints meant. They had to represent the same thing day after day. We don’t have those same problems of survival anymore. It’s been hardwired into our DNA that we crave consistency. That’s why when there’s someone who’s one day the nicest person in the world and then the next time you see them they’re an absolute bear, it gives you real feelings of distrust to that person. It’s not enough to communicate excellence. We also need to consistently be the same person time after time.
Attention is two-fold. Attention means that you do your research, you find out about this person, not just about their business but about them personally as much as you can. These days, there’s almost no excuse for not doing that. It also means when you first get to know them, talk with them and ask them questions about themselves, you pay attention to these. You learn about their family, about how they got started in the business, their recreation, their causes that they stand for and charities and so forth. You get to know them as a human being.
Back in the ‘90s, I read a book by Harvey Mackay called Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. It was a book of good general business practices. It was his first of five or eight New York Times bestsellers. Harvey owned, and still does, MackayMitchell Envelope Company. They manufacture envelopes. You talk about a commodity-based product, an envelope. As Harvey said in his book, “In the always fascinating world of envelope manufacturing, there’s only so much one manufacturer can do that any of the other competitors can’t.” You think that his salespeople would be out there trying to low ball and be the lowest. What else can they offer? Yet, his salespeople consistently sold at higher prices, higher margins and were profitable. How?Selling, by definition, is discovering what the other person wants, needs, and desires and helping them get it. Click To Tweet
Mackay had this tool called the Mackay 66. It was a folder that his salespeople would carry around. It had 66 bits of information they needed to learn about their prospects. That had nothing to do either with envelopes or even the business with the other person. They had to learn things about that person, their family, where they vacation, where they went to school, whatever it happened to be. By the time their relationship got to the point that person was ready to buy, they were no longer buying from an envelope salesperson. They were buying from a friend. They were buying from someone they know who looked at them as a person, as a human being. That’s part of attention. Attention also means you make sure to listen. You listen not just to what is said, but what’s not said. That’s where the next element of value comes into play. That’s empathy.
I truly believe that empathy is not only the most important business skill, it’s the most important life skill. The dictionary definition of empathy is the identification with or vicarious experiencing of another person’s feelings. It sounds like a fancy way of saying step into the other person’s shoes. It would be, except for the fact that most of us have different size feet. We literally can’t step into their shoes. We figuratively can’t step into their minds. Why? Because we’re not them. We haven’t had their same experiences. We haven’t lived exactly as they lived. As human beings, we tend to see the world from our own view point, vantage point, own model on how the world works, our own beliefs which I call our subjective truth, the truth as we believe the truth is. We tend to think that everyone else sees the world similar to the way we see it and it’s simply not true. That’s why asking questions is important. It’s not assuming that this other person sees value the way we see it but understanding they see it the way they see it.
If you’re in your business, it’s a process you’re used to, you do it every day, this prospective customer or client may be nervous about something. They may have feelings about something, they may feel they don’t want to ask a question that would be a stupid question. Empathy is not necessarily understanding exactly how they feel because you might not. It could be by words. It could be how you show up. Empathy is communicating that while you may not understand exactly how they feel, you understand they’re feeling something that is distressful to them and that you’re there to help them through it.
Sometimes you can have great conversations with a potential lead and somebody that wants to buy from you. At the last step, you feel something is there but you can’t pinpoint it.
That’s where empathy comes in. It allows you to ask that question, to draw it out in a way that is not going to make that person defensive but is going to make them feel comfortable with you. That is the key. Empathy is an important concept to understand and to develop. The fifth element of value is appreciation. We have excellence, consistency, attention, empathy, and appreciation. We’ve heard that old saying, “An attitude of gratitude.” It sounds quaint but you know it’s important because gratitude is an attractive quality. The person who is grateful for what they have, the sages said, “Who is rich? That person who rejoices in their lives.” That doesn’t mean they have to settle for where they are but they are so filled with gratitude for what they have. That feeling of gratitude emanates from them. It makes them attractive to others. People want to be around people who are enjoying their life, who feel grateful. It’s not just a matter of feeling grateful, it’s communicating it. That’s why it’s important when you have a conversation with the person you’ve just met to send a personalized handwritten note. Not a text, not an email, a brief note that says, “Thank you. It was a pleasure meeting you. I wish you much continued success in your business,” or however you want to do it depending on the context of the meeting.
If someone after that buys from you or someone who refers to you, “Thank you for your kind referral. Please know how much your trust in me is appreciated. Be assured that anyone you refer to me will be treated with the utmost professionalism.” Put it in a number ten envelope, hand address it, hand stamp it and send it out. To the degree that we can thank others, feel grateful and communicated, that brings us all together. When you combine those five elements of value, from the moment you meet that person through the process, you’ve separated yourself.
Sometimes when you train a new salesperson or you’re a business owner and you’re trying to grow your company, or even with somebody within the company, you know that you need to shape up your game. This is practical, no nonsense advice of where are the elements of yourself where you could start improving. When you take any of those five pieces of it and you start saying, “I need to be a little more grateful, I need to have a little bit more empathy as far as understanding our clients better.” That’s a great start to understanding how you’re going to bring up the value for your potential clients.
That’s self-accounting that we need to continue to do on a constant basis, to know where we are and where we can continue to grow.
I want to shift to one more take to this whole concept. Our readers may not be salespeople or they want to know where the supplies in their personal life. Let’s bridge the gap in understanding these are qualities that a person has to have as an individual and how this applies in everyday life as well.
Success covers many areas. There’s certainly financial but there’s also physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social and relational. The laws of value, compensation, influence, authenticity and receptivity apply across the board. They apply anywhere. In the story, we also had a subplot with Joe, who was a protege of the story, his wife, Susan. We talked about their marriage. Some of the dialogue that Pindar, the main mentor, shared with Joe about marriage was, word for word, from a conversation that I had with my dad when I was about ten years old. I asked dad why he and mom had such a happy marriage. Dad said to me, “When you love someone, you care more about their happiness than you do your own.” He was not saying that in a co-dependent way. He’s talking about in a relationship where both people truly love each other and like each other.Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment. Click To Tweet
As Rabbi Weinberg of Aish HaTorah said, “When you love someone, you identify with that person’s happiness,” which I thought was another beautiful way of saying it. When my dad said you care more about the other person’s happiness than your own, that other person feels the same way. We’re not talking about a co-dependent relationship where one’s a giver and one’s a taker. That’s where Pindar said, “That’s why any great relationship is not 50/50. It’s simply 100.”
People always speak about perfectly balanced. When it comes to relationships, perfectly balanced is not 50I50. It’s 100/100 because everybody cares 100% for the other party. I want to touch another piece that you speak so much in the book which is influence. I think it’s an important topic. I feel, personally, that the word influencer is abused or misunderstood, especially now with social media. People think to be an influencer means it’s a count on how many people follow you. Explain to us, in a personal relationship or even in the business world, how do you explain the word influence?
That word is misused now. On a basic level, influence can be defined as the ability to move a person or persons to a desired action, usually within the context of a specific goal. It’s the definition, but it’s by no means the essence of influence. The essence of influence is whole. It’s an attraction as supposed to push. We’ve all heard the saying, “How far can you push a rope?” The answer is, “Not far.” At least, not fast or effectively, which is why great influencers don’t push. You never hear someone saying, “That Susan or that David is such a great influencer. He has a lot of push with people. He sure is pushy, we’ll follow him anywhere.” No, he or she is influential. They have a lot of pull with people. That’s what influence is. It’s pull, it’s an attraction. It’s understanding that people first buy into you before they buy into your message
The great influencer, who we call the genuine influencer, constantly ask themselves questions to ensure that their focused the right way on the other person. Dale Carnegie and his magnificent classic, How To Win Friends And Influence People said, “Ultimately, people do things for their reasons, not our reasons.” The great influencers ask themselves questions such as, “How does what I’m asking this person to do align with their goals? How does it align with their wants, needs and desires? How does what I want in asking this other person to do align with their values?” When asking ourselves these questions thoughtfully, intelligently, genuinely, authentically, not as a way to manipulate another human being into doing our will, but as a way of building everyone in the process. We’ve come a lot closer to earning that person’s commitment as opposed to trying to depend on some type of compliance.
Is it fair to say that the influencer, instead of pulling, he’s again the Go-Giver?
This is why law number three is the Law of Influence which says, “Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place the other person’s interests first.” Not in a self-sacrificial way, not in a doormat way, not at all. It is understanding that the golden rule of business and sales is that all things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like and trust. There’s no faster, more powerful or more effective way to elicit those feelings toward you from others than by genuinely, authentically moving from that “I” focus or “me” focus to that “other” focus. As Sam, one of the mentors in the story, told Joe, “Making your win all about the other person’s win.” That’s influence.
All of those stuff is coming out of the book, The Go-Giver. I highly encourage all our readers to read the book. Once you get to the concept, you understand what a Go-Giver is all about, and the steps to do in your selling process or personal life, it changes a lot. One of the things you speak about is the deep mental connection with the one key question that would set you apart.
This is where you first meet someone. It could be in any networking media, any kind of business, networking-type of meeting, wherever you’re at, you happen to be meeting someone. My suggestion is from the get-go, or from the give and go, rather than focus on you and your business, focus on that person and their business. The first couple of questions are what I call feel-good questions. They are questions that are not sales-y in nature, intrusive, invasive but fun for another person to answer. “How did you get started in the so and so business?” The next one might be, “What do you enjoy most about what you do?” After a few minutes and you have the rapport established, it’s time to ask what I call the one key question that will set you apart from everyone else this person has ever met. The question is this, “How can I know if someone I’m speaking with is a good customer for you?” or it might be, “How can I know someone I’m speaking with is a good potential client for you?” If it’s someone who is not necessarily in sales per se, and so a prospect would not be a value to them in that regard, you keep the same principle. It would be, “How can I know if someone I’m speaking with would be a good connection or contact for you? How can I know if someone I’m speaking with is someone you would like to meet?”
This is a valuable question because there are so many networking events happening. People go to those networking events and sometimes don’t take enough out of it. Sometimes it’s all about how they start conversation with that person they reached. Let’s close with the four rapid-fire questions. Number one, a book that changed your life?
Consulting the Wise by Rabbi Zelig PliskinEmpathy is not only the most important business skill, it’s the most important life skill. Click To Tweet
A piece of advice you got, that you’ll never forget?
“Burg, if you want to make a lot of money in sales, do not have making money as your target. Your target is serving others. When you hit the target, you’ll get a reward. That reward will come in the form of money, but never forget that money is simply the reward for hitting the target. It’s not the target itself, your target is serving others.”
Number three, anything you wish you could go back and do differently?
There are people who say, “I wouldn’t do anything differently.” I would do tons of stuff differently. The first thing is that I would go back to young Bob Burg who was 21 years old. I’d say, “Young Bob Burg, stop talking and listen more. You don’t know half of what you think you know. The other half that you’re positive you do know, it simply isn’t so.”
Number four, what is still in your bucket list to achieve?
I’m one of those few people who necessarily have a bucket list. The things that I’ve wanted to do, I’ve been fortunate to get to do. I’m 61 years old, loving what I do and can’t think of anything else.
Thank you so much, Bob, for joining us. I know your time is valuable. We’ll forever be grateful for sharing your time with us. Thank you.
- The Go-Giver
- Endless Referrals
- John David Mann
- Ptex Group
- The Speed of Trust
- Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive
- MackayMitchell Envelope Company
- How To Win Friends And Influence People
- Consulting the Wise
About Bob Burg
Bob Burg is a sought-after speaker at company leadership and sales conferences sharing the platform with everyone from today’s business leaders and broadcast personalities to even a former U.S. President.
Bob is the author of a number of books on sales, marketing and influence, with total book sales of well over a million copies. His book, The Go-Giver, coauthored with John David Mann, itself has sold over 850,000 copies and it has been translated into 28 languages.
His and John’s newest parable in the Go-Giver Series is The Go-Giver Influencer.
Bob is an advocate, supporter and defender of the Free Enterprise system, believing that the amount of money one makes is directly proportional to how many people they serve. He is also an unapologetic animal fanatic, and is a past member of the Board of Directors of Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch in his town of Jupiter, Florida.