The power of truly understanding the person on the other side of the desk
Bob Dylan wrote a tuneful but doleful lament about a past lover called Positively Fourth St. At the end he sings, “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes.” Don’t we all want this from others? It’s that deep understanding of who we are, what we’ve been through, and all the pressures and constraints we’re under.
The feeling of not being truly understood is widespread, and no less so among your prospects and clients. That’s why Rlationship Law Nine is so important: Walk in the other person’s shoes. Here’s the problem: It’s very easy to get wrapped up in yourself and to be blind to what others have been through and how they’re feeling. When we can only walk in our own shoes, we risk being full of ourselves. We repel others rather than attract them.
To walk in your client’s shoes, think about the pressures they under. Imagine what they’re feeling right now. Empathize with them. Become the person. What circumstances could be impacting how they’re feeling? Did they just get chewed out by their boss? Are they feeling stuck in their career? Are they having difficulties with a teenage child?
Remember, when you meet with a prospect, you are asking, “Can I build trust and rapport and identify a need that my solutions address?” But the executive across the table is wondering things like “I hear so many claims–can this company really do what they say they can do?”, “How am I going to get my boss and other business leaders on board with this idea?”, and “Am I going to look weak in my organization if I do business with them?”
President Abraham Lincoln, who was famous for his unusually skilled grasp of human nature and his deep empathy, once wrote: “When I go to see a man, I spend one third of my time thinking about what I am going to say, and two-thirds of my time thinking about what he will say.”
When you are able to walk in the other person’s shoes, the empathy and understanding that naturally arises will make you seem engaging, trustworthy, and interested in their success.
Do you have loyalists or fair-weather acquaintances?
Driven by the power of social media and the desire to have a large “tribe” of followers, we have become obsessed with building ever-large networks of contacts. People boast of having thousands or even millions of “friends” through various platforms. A strong network is very important and it confers many benefits. But when push comes to shove and you really need help, you’re going to draw on a relatively small circle of relationships with people who know you, like you, trust you, and will go out of their way to help you.
Most great, historical movements began with a small core. Jesus needed only 12 disciples—not thousands of fair-weather friends—and these were enough to spread his word and eventually create over two billion adherents. The anti-slavery movements in the 19th century and the civil rights movement in the 20th century were all initially propelled by a small, inner circle of loyalists. These “critical few” individuals were loyal to a cause but also, and invariably, to a person, to a leader—a leader who was also utterly and totally loyal to them.
Ask yourself: Who will go out of their way to endorse you and introduce you to their network? Who will drop what they are doing and help you when you are in need? Who will tell others that they’ve never known someone as trustworthy and talented as you? For these things, you need a handful of great relationships—between ten and twenty.
Do you know a small group of people who will walk through a wall for you? Perhaps more importantly, are you willing to put yourself on the line for them? Have you given them your unwavering loyalty? Have you invested in making them successful?
Make sure you have loyalists, not just acquaintances. Follow Relationship Law Twenty-Three, which will push you to become deeply relevant to a handful of important individuals in your career and life: To succeed, you need a small group of people who trust you, believe in you, and are committed to you—not hundreds of superficial contacts.
The ultimate in relevance: Become part of your client’s growth and profits
Think about this: If your plumber calls you up and suggests you have lunch to discuss the latest joint-soldering techniques, you probably would decline. And, as much as you like him, if another reputable plumber offered to do a major job for significantly less, you might very well be swayed to accept.
But what if your doctor called? “I’ve got your test results back, and you ought to come by so we can discuss them. I have some important suggestions for you about your diet and lifestyle.” I think your response would be, “How soon can you see me?”
Relationship Law Twenty-Two frames this contrast for client-facing professionals: Become part of your clients’ growth and profits and they’ll never get enough of you. The flip side of this Law is that if clients view you as an expense to be managed, they’ll cut you at any time.
When there’s a downturn, or when clients are under financial pressures, they focus on cutting discretionary expenses. But they won’t cut an investment that’s proven to help grow revenues or increase profits. And you should be such an investment.
When you’re working with clients, you have to clearly show how your work is supporting their growth and profits. A client can replace a commodity “expert for hire” at any time—perhaps with a cheaper expert. But a provider who is seen as supporting a client’s most essential programs is not easily replaceable. Their cost is framed against a much larger set of benefits.
This Law doesn’t just apply to client relationships. For example, if your boss views you as directly helping her achieve her most important priorities for the year, then you’ll be considered indispensible.
To be seen as part of growth and profits, you have to show how your products and services are helping your client achieve his or her highest-level goals. A good starting point is a very simple question: How are you going to be evaluated at the end of the year? Then, you can ask a second, related question: How do your individual goals support the organization’s overall strategy and key priorities for this year?
Treat your best prospects as if they were already clients
The fourth law to help you become more relevant to your prospects is number Fifteen: Treat a prospect like a client, and there’s a good chance they’ll become one.
Think about it – here are the kinds of things you probably do for clients:
- Meet on a regular basis to deepen rapport and trust
- Bring them value-added ideas about how to improve their business.
- Show them how other clients of yours are overcoming challenges similar to what they face.
- Make introductions to other relevant people in your network.
- Invite them to events that your firm puts on.
- Organize a visit to see another client who has faced a similar challenge and used a similar solution.
- Invite them to speak at a conference or symposium.
- …and so on
One of my clients wanted to do business with a major prospect which could be valuable, marquis client. They were told, point-blank, “We’re not going to do business with you. We are already well-served.” For one year they did all the things in the list, above. Finally, they got a call–with a major contract for their services. The executive told them, “For over one year you’ve treated us as if we were already your client. You’ve given us better service than our existing suppliers. You’ve earned this.”
Are you like water and sunshine to your clients?
Connect. Become relevant. Resonate. Make an impact. Those are the steps you follow to build your most powerful relationships.
In Part One of this three-part series on the Laws of Power Relationships, I described strategies for connecting. In this post, I share four Relationship Laws that will help you become more relevant to time-starved prospects and clients and get invited back for meeting after meeting.
All of these laws are presented in my new book, Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships. To help you apply these laws to your own relationships, I have created a 90-page Power Relationships Planning Guide that you can download for free if you buy a copy of the book.
Andrew Sobel helps companies and individuals build clients for life. He is the most widely published author in the world on the topic of business relationships, and his bestselling books include Power Questions, All for One, Making Rain, and Clients for Life. His clients include many of the world's leading companies such as Citigroup, Hess, Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cognizant, Deloitte, Experian, Lloyds Banking Group, Bain & Company, and many others.
Andrew's articles and work have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, USA Today, strategy+business, and the Harvard Business Review. He spent 15 years at Gemini Consulting where he was a Senior Vice President and Country Chief Executive Officer, and for the last 15 years he has led his own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors.