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Getting doors to open for you

Change Makers

Getting doors to open for you


Editor’s note: Through his organisation, Ducere, and its faculty of global leaders, Mat Jacobson works with an impressive group of people including presidents, prime ministers, Nobel Prize winners, Harvard professors and the CEOs of some of the world’s largest corporations. Having just returned from the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, where he had the opportunity to discuss his philanthropic vision with many of the world’s top movers and shakers, Mat must know something about how to get your foot in the door with some of the hardest nuts to crack. We asked him to provide his insights on how you can get doors opening for you and your business.


We all know that the bad news is, it’s not easy to get your foot in the door. But then again, who said work was meant to be easy? However, the good news is there are lots of ways to get the right doors opening for you: be creative, be interesting, be ethical and above all, stand out from your competitors!

You might sell more VWs but lead with the Maserati

Unlike Apple, we can’t all expect to have customers sleeping outside our store to get their hands on the latest product, but that’s not to say you can’t create real excitement around your brand.

When I started in e-learning in the mid 90s there were no iPads or smartphones, and Wi-Fi was a thing of the future. Instead we had to make do with PDAs. (Do you remember the Palm Pilot?)

Our team had developed a groundbreaking application to provide company compliance training completely on PDAs. We contacted the HR professionals of top-listed blue chip organisations requesting time to demonstrate this incredible innovation in mobile training.

The result? Everyone wanted to see it. There was a slight problem, though. Nobody really wanted to buy it. The typical response was: ‘Fantastic, but what we really need is more standard e-learning, can you do that?’

This taught me a great marketing lesson. Of course we could do the same training on desktops, but if we had led with, ‘We want to show you our e-learning courses’, the response would have been a polite yawn, followed by the old auto-response, ‘Can you send something in the mail?’

As it was, we sold lots of standard e-learning programs and very few mobile training programs, but it was the standout innovation that opened the door and got us those initial meetings.

Go big or go home

I used to think that to get started we needed to set small conservative targets, looking for small customer investments just to get our foot in the door. It turns out that’s just plain boring to most people.

In fact, I learned the more audacious and bold your target is, the more interest and excitement you will get. If you want to raise money for a business, believe it or not, it’s actually easier to seek $5 million than $100,000. It may seem counter-intuitive but people genuinely get excited about being part of something really big.

So don’t be afraid to set your goals sky-high and people will be scrambling to be a part of it.

Get help by helping others

When networking, it’s no real surprise that most people aren’t all that altruistic about helping your business, especially if there’s no obvious benefit to them or their own business.

Instead of relying on the kindness of others, which may or may not pay off, seek to build real and trusted relationships. Try starting out by thinking, ‘How can my network help them?’ Offer to help them straight away and see where that takes you.

If you give meaningful connections, you will get great connections and insight in return. If not, don’t be afraid to ditch them, it’s likely they’re just using you and you’ll go on to find better peers to network with.

Be prepared to give away to get more

Opening doors is quite possibly one of the greatest challenges to most marketing professionals, so don’t be afraid to think creatively with how you achieve your goals.

Take the time to identify a person who is regarded as the most connected in the country for the field you operate in. If you’re a business owner reach out to them and consider if it’s worth offering them equity in your business, in return for introducing you to the right decision makers in your industry.

If you’re a professional employee, don’t be afraid to reach out to that expert to be your mentor – the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. Be aware, you will probably have less to offer them in terms of connections, which means they are less likely to help in a big way, but a monthly lunch meeting at a nice restaurant (on you, of course), or something similar, shows them your appreciation.

The long haul

There are dozens of short-term strategies to build your chances of success. However, ultimately I have found that the long-term strategy of being ethical, transparent and genuinely interested in others is what works best.

There’s no doubt that people prefer to work with other people they admire and like.

I had a networking relationship with a greatly respected businessman for 15 years before we did any work together. Now he is one of my biggest supporters, but in all likelihood he wouldn’t have helped me without knowing, over many years, my true business ethics.


Mat Jacobson

Mat Jacobson is the founder of Ducere, a global education company delivering the world’s most innovative business courses online. He is also the founder of the Ducere Foundation, working with African governments to improve the quality of education in third world countries.

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