The CADRE Blog

Convenient, proactive and A+ customer service? A mother’s dream!

by Derek Coburn

By Melanie Coburn

We are a city family, and we enjoy the many benefits of city life. But when it comes to purchasing baby supplies (diapers, wipes, etc.) being a city family means that we do not have the space in our home to use some of the more affordable, bulk ordering companies out there. Many suburban and rural readers go the bulk route, and that is great…for them.

For us, several factors make THE best place to order supplies: a shared shopping cart with four other amazing sites (,, and, an incredibly easy reordering process (“Re-Order My Stuff”) and FREE 2-day delivery (which almost always = overnight delivery) with any order over $49! These alone would make using a no-brainer. They could stop there and I’d be happy. But they don’t.

I recently “registered” for some items for baby #2, two of which were (supposedly) a matching organic onesie and hat. To my disappointment, I opened a gift to see a faded onesie that in no way resembled the color of the hat. I called Customer Service at to inquire about a return. After a couple quick questions, they immediately credited my account for the amount of the two items, and asked me to donate them to a charity or church in their name. They didn’t ask for any documentation, or hassle me with printing a label, attaching it to a package and mailing it to them. Instead, they made it incredibly easy for me, while supporting the local community with a donation that will make another mother happy.

I’ll share another story that displays proactivity at its finest! About a month ago, I received an email from alerting me to a recall on a Crib Tent product I had ordered from them the year prior. They took the initiative to alert their customers and give them specific directions on how to get a credit/refund from them (which they actually aren’t required to do). Not only did they immediately credit my account after a quick phone call. They also made it easy on me by asking me to “destroy” the product vs. mailing it back. Again – convenient AND proactive!

I’ve never heard of retailers going above and beyond like this (except for Zappos), so I now go out of my way to tell friends, family and colleagues about these remarkable experiences. What are you doing to make it EASY for your customers to keep coming back? How are you being PROACTIVE with them?

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7 Useful Tips For How To Create A Really Great Corporate Event

by Derek Coburn

By Rohit Bhargava


Someone recently asked me to guess how many events I had spoken at in the last 3 years. I honestly can’t remember … and I’m not saying that to try and impress you. The fact is, in the last three years, I have participated in easily more than a hundred corporate events of all types. Some are internal seminars, while others are larger scale annual events or conferences. I’ve been invited to speak at everything from workshops for the military to networking events for young professionals. The topics for these events, also, have varied from the future of healthcare to how technology is bringing change to Africa to how to be more creative.

The reason I am telling you any of this is because the idea of how to create an amazing event, no matter what industry or audience, is a topic I have spent A LOT of time thinking about. Today, I am proud to announce a partnership with an event called the Corporate Social Media Summit – where I will be taking over as Chairman of the summit. The event is coming up in just two weeks in New York – and routinely features an amazing list of corporate speakers and great content. This will also be  chance for me to work together with the conference team to collect some feedback and talk about how we might improve the event in future years.


The week before that event, I am also co-hosting a unique launch event with a networking group based in DC called Cadre. The event will be the “official launch” for Likeonomics and feature a short TED-style talk by me, following by a unique panel discussion featuring 3 of the real people who I wrote about in Likeonomics. It is a chance to go inside the writing of the book, put a real face on some of the success stories in the book and also meet an amazing group of people in a great venue (the Arena Stage in downtown DC).


Both of these events, separated by only a week, offer the perfect chance for me to share some of the lessons that I’ve learned about what creating a really useful and engaging corporate event really takes. So here are my top seven tips for how to really create an amazingingly useful and engaging corporate event:

  1. Give people time to breathe. The most common mistake I see at event after event is overscheduling. Avoid that mistake by leaving in enough buffer between sessions, time for people to interact, and ask your speakers to deliver shorter/punchier presentations and talks.
  2. Hit the right balance of inspiration and practicality. There are not many speakers who can deliver both practical advice, and inspire a large group simultaneously. That is ok, though, as long as you think about speakers less in terms of their content (which is always important) and more in terms of the emotional state they will leave the audience with. The best events have both kinds of speakers.
  3. Be VERY careful about letting sponsors speak. This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally the quality of a talk is inversely proportional to how much a speaker’s organization has paid to sponsor your event. In other words, sponsors as speakers usually suck. But the real reason so many events allow this is because they haven’t really thought through how to offer REAL value to sponsors, so they let them speak instead. Take the time to understand what your sponsors really care about, and then offer them more value without the speaking slot.
  4. Reconsider the temptation for multiple tracks. As your event grows in size, often organizers create different tracks for different topics. There is a reason that TED events don’t do this. The real problem with splitting your audience is that people at the event no longer have a shared experience. There are plenty of events where multi-tracks work very well (particularly when you have very distinct audience segments with different needs), but think carefully about whether you really need to do this.
  5. Put your attendees on stage. I recently spoke at an event where an organization included “employee keynotes” as part of their program. At an event last year, any attendee was invited to submit an idea for a 7-minute “pecha kucha” style presentation. Efforts like these help shine a spotlight on attendees of an event, and dramatically increase the engagement from your audience because you are giving them to chance to share their point of view.
  6. Give people a useful framework for networking. Offering a “happy hour” at the close of a conference where you dump 100 people in a room is nice, but often the really valuable networking connections are really tough to make in that environment. Could you let people group together by interest, or use some sort of “smart badge” technology to let people more easily connect? The easier you make it for people to create real valuable connections, the more likely they are to get real value from the event.
  7. Make recapping the event easier. One of the facts of life about any corporate event is that not everyone gets to go. That means that almost everyone attending your event will need to produce some sort of recap of it for the rest of their team members who are back at home. For the last several years, I have produced a “top ten lessons” blog post for the Corporate Social Media Summit. It has been a great way of summarizing some lessons that anyone can take and repurpose for their own necessary job of recapping the conference to their own team members.

Any other tips that you have learned over the years that have helped in creating a really successful corporate event?  I’d love to hear them here!

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Want to be more likable? Stop being so nice!

by Derek Coburn

Cadre’s next Un-Networking event is on June 6 and will feature bestselling author Rohit Bhargava, discussing his new book, Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action, released earlier this week.

Likeonomics is about why some people and companies are more believable than others and why likeability is the real secret to being more trusted, getting more customers, making more money – and perhaps even changing your life. I’ve had the privilege of reading this book and it is as good, if not better, than Bhargava’s first bestseller, Personality Not Included. I highly recommend it. You can get it wherever you buy books, including Amazon.

One of my favorite takeaways from Likeonomics is the idea that being nice doesn’t necessarily correlate with being more likable. (Great news for someone like me, who errs on the side of being brutally honest.) I’m not suggesting we should all become big jerks, nor am I suggesting that being a nice person is a bad idea. What I am suggesting is that by swapping out being agreeable with being straightforward and blunt, we will appear more authentic and increase the likelihood that others will like and trust us.

Bhargava shares a great story about Steve Jobs to prove his point. “Jobs, despite his well-known ego and arrogance, had a talent for telling the truth which people loved. A few months before he passed away, Nike CEO Mark Parker was asked by an interviewer about the best piece of advice he had ever been given. He recalled calling Jobs shortly after becoming CEO and asking him for any advice. “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” He wasn’t joking. It was that type of honesty and clarity of vision that attracted people to Jobs. It made him likeable, in his own way.”

Another situation in which being upfront with someone instead of being nice could be the better choice involves our interactions with potential clients who have decided not to work with us. For whatever reason, there are people out there who would rather “be nice” and string us along instead of being upfront and telling us they’re not interested. Just cut to the chase! The more time that passes, the more hopeful the person becomes, and the more let down they will be when they finally hear the bad news. In my opinion, dealing with a little bit of awkwardness in the short term is much better than the possibility of building animosity or resentment.

So if you are not interested in using my services, please be honest and let me have it. We can shake hands and move on. I will be much more inclined to like and respect you since you didn’t string me along, waste my time (and yours), and create false hope for no reason.

Do you agree?

This is just one of many great stories from Likeonomics. Again, I strongly recommend the book and encourage you to visit the Likeonomics website to view some great bonus content. Bhargava is also offering consulting and webinars to organizations that buy in bulk.

I hope to see you on June 6 at the Likeonomics Launch event. Early Bird registration ends tomorrow and don’t forget to use the code CADREHOOKUP to save some $$.


A case of the shitz at The Ritz

by Derek Coburn


After attending the always amazing NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) Gala at The Ritz-Carlton recently, 20+ cadre members and I headed to the bar to take in the third period of the Caps/Rangers hockey game. Many of us are huge fans and were excited to extend the night watching our favorite team.

The game went into overtime and during intermission, we started to notice a brown liquid dripping from the ceiling close to where we were gathered. We initially laughed about it as the staff placed a bucket under the leakage. However, the situation got much worse. As the drip turned into a steady flow, they replaced the bucket with a large trash can and a foul odor ensued. The liquid was what we thought it was: a septic tank had burst.

Despite this unpleasantness, overtime was about to begin, we all had full glasses and really didn’t want to go anywhere. Fortunately, the staff at The Ritz responded quickly. The bartenders let us know that drinks were on the house, and several other employees got involved. The manager had her team bring in flowers from the lobby and light candles to help offset the stench. It took about 30 minutes, but they fixed the problem and during this time they provided complimentary drinks for 20+ people while constantly engaging us.

As I watched the large number of employees respond to the situation, it occurred to me that there was no way they could have been prepared for this. Surely, The Ritz did not cover this scenario in any training session. However, The Ritz is known for great customer service and delivering great customer service depends on having great people who can respond effectively to ANY situation on the fly.

Let’s face it: s#%+ happens (ba-da-bum!), and it’s all about how you respond to it. The Ritz-Carlton, on this night, did an amazing job! You can have the best product/service/systems in the world, but if you do not have the right people on your team, they won’t mean a thing.

This incident reminded me of why Zappos is so successful. They do not measure their employees’ effectiveness by the length of their calls, and they do not use scripts. They simply tell their employees to do whatever is necessary to solve their customers’ problems. As with The Ritz-Carlton, the top priority is making their customers happy, no matter what arises. Kudos to The Ritz in Washington, DC for doing what The Ritz-Carlton is known for and truly delivering on its brand promise.

Have you had an interesting experience in which a business either succeeded or failed when a completely random situation presented itself? Was there a time when your company saved the day after making an unintentional mess? I’d love to hear your story!


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Do you offer to help…or help to offer?

by Derek Coburn

I have come across a number of professionals recently who complain that their efforts to help others have not been “paying off” – that, despite their willingness to help, those on the receiving end do not seem appreciative.

Upon learning more, it appears their idea of “help” is to give a prospective client free advice or a referral, for example, in the hopes that said prospect will hire them as a result. This is not help. It’s a sales strategy.

I’m not saying that giving free advice for the purpose of business development is a bad idea. It can be effective when done properly. If your real goal is to generate business, you should set clear expectations upfront. Let the potential client know that you will help them address part of their problem, and discuss how your help might be mutually beneficial, rather than making any assumptions. My good friend Ian Altman of Grow My Revenue touches on this here.

My point is that there is an important difference between offering to help as a business strategy and helping out of pure altruism. You truly help someone, whether by offering feedback or making a mutually beneficial connection, when you provide assistance that is intended to further that person’s professional or personal advancement (and likely someone else’s) – without expecting anything in return. A “payoff” is not the primary motivation.

Acting out of generosity should result in a more positive and/or productive outcome for the recipient than if you had not acted. People who approach helping in this way tend to attract one another, and almost always see their generosity repaid, even though this is not their intent.

When you help someone with the expectation of getting something in return, you may not see a return on your investment for a variety of reasons. The recipient might realize that your offer comes with strings attached and simply be put off. However, I believe the main reason for a lack of reciprocity in these situations is that people who expect something in return when they give are, ironically, not really open to reciprocity. They are naturally skeptical when someone offers to help them, assuming that accepting a favor will put them in debt to this person (since this is what they expect when they are “helping”).

Being in a position to truly help people is a great spot to be in, and your ability to deliver is invaluable. I just hope that anyone out there who thinks they’re helping and not getting the results they’re hoping for does not give up on helping altogether. Anytime you want to offer help, think about the true definition of this word, and make sure your approach – and your expectations – are in line with it.

What are your thoughts on this?

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Are you a connector, or just well-connected?

by Derek Coburn

I am constantly meeting professionals who boast about their “network” or Rolodex, and promise that they can connect me to just about anyone. They say that if I look at their LinkedIn connections and see someone who could help me, they’ll “try” to make an introduction. The funny thing is that most of these so-called connectors have a list (huge ones, in some cases) of connections they barely know. It could be someone they met at a networking function for 30 seconds, or someone who found their profile interesting and wanted to “connect.”

Anyone who makes this kind of offer (especially if you make it easy for them to recommend you) is still adding more potential value than someone who makes no offer at all – but there’s an important caveat: you have to do the work. And there is a real possibility that you will invest a lot of time scanning their contacts only to find out that they barely know the person you want to meet.

The definition of “connect,” according to Merriam-Webster, is to become joined, which gets me thinking about how people become meaningfully joined – or connected – professionally. I don’t think it matters how many people you have in your Rolodex as much as how well you actually know each of them and how you can help them. It’s not how many people you know. It’s how much you know about them. When I connect two people, I do so because I genuinely believe there will be a mutual benefit. I do this proactively (500+ times over the past 18 months), and I try to frame the introduction in a way that suggests where the connection should go.

The difference between being a connector and being someone who offers to connect is analogous to being a matchmaker vs. With, the burden is on you, and due to the lack of knowledge that has regarding whether someone is a good fit for you, this process (from what I am told) usually does not work. On the other hand, a matchmaker is selective about who they work with and takes the time to get to know you and learn more about what you’re looking for. If you make the offer to connect (like performing the function of, you’re at least in the right ballpark – as opposed to not offering at all, which is more like wandering into a singles bar when you want to meet someone who’s looking for a relationship.

In business, people who are true connectors, and not just blindly offering up their Rolodex, may not extend an open invitation. But when they make an introduction, all parties involved can see why it makes sense to connect with the other person. The connector knows what each person brings to the table, and exactly how they can benefit one another.

If you have the best of intentions when offering to make introductions, I would encourage you to take it just one step further and proactively look for ways to connect people. You can add a lot of value and be a hero in the minds of these individuals when you do this authentically.

What are your thoughts?

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WWW – World Wide Widgets

by Derek Coburn

WWW – World Wide Widgets

Guest post by: Dr. Alan Glazier- Shady Grove Eye and Vision Care-

Have you had a “million dollar idea” – a novel business, software or new or improved product of some sort? Some of us are still waiting for that “moment of clarity,” that idea for a “widget” that shifts the existing paradigm, solves the world’s ills, makes us rich and immortalizes us as a genius innovator. Others have had many ideas that either fell by the wayside or couldn’t be executed for any number of reasons.

A huge gap exists between innovating and executing the business vehicle that will take your widget worldwide. The first thing you must do is innovate around your idea. Sit down with a piece of paper and conjure up every variation of your “widget” that you can fathom. Think about the “widget” in all shapes, sizes and possible alternative applications. Think about the business the same way. This step is crucial to protecting your widget when the time comes to write a patent, and can be invaluable in creating your plan for a novel business concept, as it will help you come up with ways to anticipate how competitors might or might not try to compete, giving you an edge.

While this first step is important, it takes more than just a novel idea to get a concept to market or even to an exit. You’ll need a network of high-level contacts to help navigate the legal and business roadblocks you’ll run into while trying to get your idea to market. If you’re already running another business, you might not have the time, necessitating the delegation of business development to experienced and trustworthy professionals. You’ll need to be resourceful, have gumption, and be willing to take significant risk. You’ll need to understand markets and make moves early on that ensure your “widget” is marketable to an audience that can generate enough revenue to cover your costs of innovating and ultimately to cash in, either through sales, an acquisition or other type of profitable exit.

If you have ideas in old Word files, on scraps of paper or “poor man’s patents” (ideas on napkins) lying around, now is a great time to dust them off and get to work, because most of the help you need is available through participation in one place: CADRE.

CADRE is a network of high-level professionals in the Washington, DC area who help each other by making their expertise accessible to other CADRE members. CADRE’s founders, Derek and Melanie Coburn, describe their concept as “un-networking” – instead of having someone throw a business card across, as goes on in standard network marketing groups, in CADRE you are more likely to be asked “What can I do for you?” by members right off the bat. CADRE members must be recommended by other CADRE-ers (or invited by Derek and Melanie) and are expected to consistently find ways to contribute to the other members in the community.

I see CADRE as particularly relevant secondary to the “social networking” world we live in. CADRE also throws fantastic events, where national business thought leaders share their secrets with members. CADRE is a real place where people help each other offline, willingly, and support each other at monthly meetings as well as through an online private social network.

I joined CADRE with the goal of connecting with people who could help forward my business interests, specifically a company I formed around a medical device I invented – my own personal “widget,” which I hope to go worldwide with. My circle of advisors now consists of several CADRE-ers including business attorneys, business consultants and “been there done that” entrepreneurs of all types who I otherwise may not have been able to connect with. The people you need to get your widget worldwide are right in your backyard, so open those files, unfold those napkins and check out CADRE at today.

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Tip of the Hat Trick

by Derek Coburn

Who needs a new hat? Photo by: Clyde Caplan,

Tip of the Hat Trick

I was at a Caps game recently, and one of the skaters recorded a hat trick. For you non-sports fans out there, this is when a player scores three goals in the same game. A longtime hockey tradition calls for “real” fans to throw their hats onto the ice from the stands. In this instance, the several-minute delay needed to get hundreds of hats off the ice culminated in a terrific display of marketing, consistent with a Ted Leonsis brand. The JumboTron posted the following message – I’m paraphrasing – “Hat Trick Special- All hats 20% in the Caps store after the game!” Talk about capitalizing on the moment, and being in the right place at the right time. Pretty remarkable!

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I Don’t See Why We Have To Meet For Lunch

by Derek Coburn

I Don’t See Why We Have To Meet For Lunch

For a long time, if someone showed even the slightest interest in my wealth management practice, Washington Financial Group (or just seemed like a potential client), I would ask them if they wanted to grab lunch so we could learn more about each other. I always thought it made sense. There was no better way to spend my time than meeting face-to-face with a potential client or strategic partner, right?

As cadre has picked up steam, we have been extremely fortunate to receive more introductions to prospective members than we could keep up with. This is obviously a great problem to have, but we literally could not keep up. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking “Cry me a river!”, but I’m not here to brag about how many referrals we’re getting. Rather, I’d like to tell you about the time management challenges we faced, and what we did about them. (This is a broad topic, so for the purpose of this blog, I’m limiting it to meeting with people who think they might be interested in your business, but don’t know much about you.)

The problem we had was that most of the folks who were referred to us, by default, wanted to meet for lunch. This has become THE way for a lot of us to learn more about a business or service, and cadre was no exception. They would say something like, “Hey, John told me about you guys and it sounds pretty cool. Want to grab lunch to tell me more about it?” That seemed reasonable enough. I had been suggesting this for years, and I’m sure most of you do (or have done) the same. The problem was there simply was not enough time in my day. And now, with all of the ways we have to communicate, I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time, or yours.

As with any business, a good portion of the referrals we received were not likely to result in our doing business together (or in the case of cadre, becoming a member). I also knew we had a great description of our model on our website, and that we had intentionally used language to help weed out our prospects. So we told anyone who was interested in joining cadre to read the details on our website prior to our call. This way they would have a good overview of our business and we could have a productive call.

Shockingly, not everyone complied. I had three or four calls a day – intended to be 15-minute discussions – that were turning into hour-long conversations because the prospective member knew nothing about our model. I was being asked the most basic questions, which our website (had they read it) already answered.

One day, I had 45-minute conversation with a person that was going great until they asked how much we charge. They thought it was too much, and the conversation ended. That was it. Something had to change! If I had required this person to review our content prior to the call, there never would have been one (which is fine when you’re meeting enough people who think what you charge is a bargain).

So that’s exactly what we did: We started telling prospective members to take 10 minutes to learn about our business, and if it resonated with them, we would set up a 15-minute phone call to answer any specific questions they had. This has worked very well. Several referrals have not bothered to get back to us, which means less time wasted for me. Those who do schedule a call are extremely interested and almost always become members.

I was recently turned on to Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Six Pixels of Separation. Marcus was struggling to keep his pool installation business afloat in 2008, and was spending a lot of time meeting potential customers at their homes to discuss his services. He kept getting the same questions over and over, and as we experienced with cadre, many of these prospects did not end up being candidates for his business. He was spending too much time traveling to, and meeting with, people who could have been ruled out as customers in five minutes, had there been a way for their questions to be answered ahead of time.

Marcus wised up. He created a blog for his business, and many of his articles provide ready answers to frequently asked questions. When someone thought they wanted to buy a pool, he began directing them to his website, where he provides a ton of useful information. Any general questions people have are answered there, and his website serves as a great qualifier of potential customers. (Incidentally, it has since become the most visited pool website in the world!) In his excellent blog post titled “Assignment Selling,” Marcus shares how he now assigns prospective customers homework before agreeing to meet with them. During the aforementioned podcast, Marcus said that he now tells people that if he’s coming to their house, it’s to sell them a pool. He admits that this sounds audacious, but the point he makes is meritorious: Businesses with great content have rights that other businesses do not.

The next time you’re thinking about meeting a potential client and neither of you knows much about the other, I encourage you to consider the alternatives. If you have a great website, an eBook, or have authored articles, send your prospect there before having a meeting. If you don’t have the content, consider scheduling a Skype call so you can at least save yourself the travel time. Still, I hope you’ll consider the time investment of developing some strong content, so that prospective clients can easily learn more about your business without having to take up so much of your time.

I can only speak from my own experience, but making this shift has freed up a lot of my time, and made me much more productive and efficient. Do you typically suggest meeting someone in person before learning more about their business? Do you agree to meet others when they make this request of you?


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The Case for Charity AND Chocolate

by Derek Coburn

The Case for Charity AND Chocolate

As the holidays approach, we as business owners must consider how we want to show our appreciation for clients and friends. Should we do what we did last year, or should we possibly revisit what worked well many years ago?

When I first began my career in 1998, it was common to send clients a nice assortment of chocolates, nuts, cheeses, or all of the above. As far as I knew, they enjoyed receiving these tokens of appreciation (I certainly did). Then one year, I received an email from a vendor saying “… in lieu of a gift this year, we are making a donation on your behalf to the following charity.” What a cool (and socially responsible) idea! At that point, I was tripping over tins of popcorn anyway and this really stood out as remarkable. The thought of someone in need getting something critical to them instead of me getting more junk food made me feel good. So good in fact that I (you too, right?) started doing this the following year. Now we all receive more of these emails around the holidays than we can keep up with.

The first year I did this, I received responses from over 20% of my clients thanking me for doing this. Last year, I only heard from 1% of the recipients. Interestingly enough, I didn’t receive so much as a small loaf of fruitcake. This past Thanksgiving, I received numerous cards and emails with similar messaging. Then I received a box of delicious gourmet chocolate from one company. I couldn’t tell you who sent me cards or emails, but I could definitely tell you who sent the yummy candy (so could my team at the office). I think we’ve come full circle, where now you have a chance to stand out and be remarkable by sending a nice gift while everyone else is clogging up your clients’ inboxes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you should stop making valuable charitable contributions (I certainly won’t). Especially if you only have a small budget to work with, by all means continue to support the causes that are important to you. (If you need some suggestions, take a look at NFTEBack On My Feet and Code Now). You should even still let your clients know you’re doing so (although it’s likely they will not read your email).

For those of you who have the budget to make charitable donations AND send your clients a nice gift, there are plenty of great options out there. One of them is On Sale Promos, which recently sponsored our inaugural un-networking event by providing a special offer for attendees. Their CEO, Josh Frey, has set up a special cadre page at, and as a reader of this blog you will receive a 10% discount on all purchases.

Please keep in mind that my point is not that you should ditch your charitable giving in order to fatten up your clients. In fact every single one of us, if asked, would tell you they would rather have the money go to charity than chocolate. I am merely suggesting that if you want to show your best clients that you’re thinking about them, the message of a charitable donation made “in their name” may fall on deaf ears. Remember, I went from a 20+% response rate to 1% in 5 years. I believe you have an opportunity to stand out and be remarkable this holiday season by sending a small gift to show how much you value your client relationships, ideally in addition to your continued support of organizations that could use the help.


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