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WomanOf the Month 1-05:Ronna Lichtenberg

Our WomanOf the Month, Ronna Lichtenberg, thinks it###s long past time for women to apply their "desire for connection and skill at fostering relationships" to their personal and professional lives, particularly in the art of the "pitch." An author, lecturer and president of Clear Peak, a management consulting firm, Lichtenberg notes in her most recent book that many women don###t feel comfortable with self-promotion, competition and other business realities that men adapt to more easily. Not to worry. In Pitch Like a Girl: How a Woman Can Be Herself and Still Succeed, she details ways for women to determine their business style (pink, blue or striped), assess those of their prospects, and successfully make pitches by taking advantage of skills that do come naturally. Along the way she covers an assortment of bugaboos including fear of failure, negotiating for money, prospecting, and the daddy of them all, the close.

Writes Lichtenberg, "…pitching like a girl means being sensitive to relationships. …Indeed, if you take away only one concept from this book, let it be this: The best prospects care about what you###re trying to do because the goal benefits them, too."

Lichtenberg founded her business in 1997 after a career in corporate America, including a stint as director of marketing for Prudential Securities. She is a contributing editor to O, the Oprah Magazine, and has written two other books, Work Would Be Great If It Weren###t For the People and It###s Not Business, It###s Personal.

Following is her take on networking from Pitch Like a Girl.

Slime-free networking

Networking got a bad name because too many people saw it as transactional: I###m going to use you/you###re going to use me/let###s hope I can get a better deal on this trade than you do. That approach can have kind of a "meat" market, last-call-at-a-singles-bar flavor, and fear of getting caught in that flavor is one reason many women work late at their computers instead of going to an event where they might actually meet someone who would be good to know. On the other hand, if you meet someone you might want to do business with and don###t acknowledge that###s what you want, even to yourself, you close off any possibility that something good could happen.

What to do? When you meet someone at a business function, whether it be an industry group or women###s conference, that person is a prospect, and it###s okay to think of them that way . . . it###s even expected. If you meet them somewhere else and you###re not sure if they would like to be seen as a prospect, you can do a quick qualifier and see how they respond. If you say, for example, "Oh, I sell beauty products" to someone who owns a beauty salon, and she says, "What do you think of these appetizers?" you know that she might want to be your friend but not on your call list.

Be purposeful with your best prospects

At the other end of the spectrum are great prospects, with whom it is clear from the start that you have something in mind. You have to be clear with them about what you want, too. Just after I moved from Texas to Washington, D.C., I had lunch at the Jockey Club with a man named True Davis, a former U.S. ambassador to Sweden and high-level pharmaceutical industry executive. True was a mover and a shaker, and it was a real coup that he was meeting with me. I didn###t have a job, needed one desperately, and my mother, who had gone to high school with True, had suggested I call him for help. I did, and he graciously said yes. So I ended up going to lunch at the ritziest place at which I###d ever eaten, with True, who at the time was by far the richest and most powerful man I###d ever met, a man with tons of connections. I hadn###t done any homework on True, so all I really knew was that he was an important friend of Mommy###s. And I hadn###t thought through what I wanted, so I didn###t ask him for anything.

What I got from this encounter was an excellent lunch.

What else could I have gotten? At the very least, I could have procured a few introductions and interviews that would have greatly advanced my job search. I could have said to True, "I###m interested in working on the Hill for Congressman So-and-So, whom I know you know. Would you be willing to give his office a call on my behalf?" Or, "I###d love to get an administrative position in one of those prestigious Dupont Circle associations that I know you belong to. How do you think I should approach them?" At the very most, who knows what more a specific request might have yielded? But I blew it because I hadn###t done my homework, thought through what I wanted, and developed a powerful pitch around it. Which, by the way, he would have expected me to do and respected me for trying.

Even as recently as a few years ago, I still hadn###t completely learned my lesson. Flying back to New York from a speaking engagement in Detroit, I noticed Ram Charan, legendary advisor to senior executives and boards of directors and business writer extraordinaire, sitting in the plane###s first class cabin. I was very familiar with his work, which I find amazing; to be perfectly frank, I had a big business crush on Ram -- he was, at the time, my idea of who I wanted to be professionally when I grew up.

Since I believed then, as I do now, that you should try to meet people who things you admire, I worked up my courage and seized the moment when I saw him standing alone by the luggage carousel after the plane landed. I forced myself to make an introduction, gushed like a schoolgirl over his work, and asked for a meeting. To my amazement, he agreed.

So when I got back to my office, I called his assistant, Cynthia, a lovely recognized my pink neediness and, despite her boss###s very tight schedule, managed a 15-minute meeting wedged in between Ram###s consulting sessions in New York. I arrived at the meeting, immediately offered my credentials (because by this time, at least I###d learned I have to credential myself with blues), and realized I had to make some kind of pitch. So I suggested we find some way to work together in the women###s market. Ram looked vaguely alarmed, told me that wasn###t really his sort of thing, and confessed that he had only agreed to see me because he thought I was someone else -- some business muckety-muck###s daughter. A gentleman through and through, Ram then graciously declined my idea. That was it. He did, how- ever, send me a standard issue, unsigned Christmas card that year and has continued to do so every year since, which jazzes up my office.

As much as I appreciate the holiday card, if I###d taken the time to develop a more precise pitch, I might have had a shot at working with new and powerful clients. Maybe if I###d said, for example, "I do a lot of training around relation- ship management, which would be an excellent fit with the work you###re doing on superior execution, and I think we could do X, Y, and Z together," I could have at least gotten a second conversation. Instead, I essentially burned a very high-value prospect.

The moral of these stories: Save pitching your best prospects until you have a specific purpose or goal in mind that you can clearly articulate, and until you have thoroughly done your homework, which includes thinking through the benefit of what working with you or otherwise supporting you would do for them. Keep reading -- I###ll show you how.

Not the usual suspects

At this point, your goal should be to cultivate a diverse group of potential prospects rather than being bogged down by narrow definitions of who can help. So, your prospects might include not just your boss, but your boss###s boss, his counterpart in the next department, and his executive assistant. Not just your colleagues, but your competitors as well. The speaker you admire at a conference and the senior manager you meet at a wedding or party. Anyone with shared interests is a possible prospect, even if you do not share the same immediate goals.

Consider this scenario: You###re up for a plum assignment, along with several candidates in your company, and various decision-makers meet in the comer conference room to choose who gets the nod. Your boss is in the room and you know you can count on his support. But there are several others there, too, who don###t have any reason to support you; in fact, they have reason to argue against you because they want their own person to get the job.

Those people are prospects, too.

So you need to start thinking about indirect ways to cultivate those relationships. At the most basic, you might simply engage them in an occasional conversation. Or perhaps you could provide a useful piece of intelligence now and again