by Andrew Sobel, author of “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others“
It seems like we’re all just a click away from communicating with the most influential people in our industries. We can get “linked in” to potential employers across the country. We can be Facebook friends with former colleagues we haven’t spoken to in years. The degrees of separation between us and the movers and shakers have collapsed. And yet, are any of these so-called relationships real? Will any of these online connections actually go out on a limb to help you? Will they actually take an interest in your success? And ultimately, will they get you to where you want to go?
Probably not. The acquisition of hundreds of social media contacts and endless but superficial networking have replaced the cultivation of deep, meaningful relationships with clients, colleagues, and even with friends and family.
It’s not just the distraction of social media that is getting in the way. It is genuinely tougher than it’s ever been to build the trusted relationships you need to thrive in your career.
Getting in front of C-suite executives and real influencers is incredibly difficult. They could fill 24 hours of every day with meetings. Trying to connect on LinkedIn or cold emailing them won’t do the trick. Just as an airplane must respect the laws of physics in order to fly, your behaviors must align with certain laws if you want to build the critical relationships you need to succeed.
Forming such relationships comes with four major challenges:
To connect with people who are crazy-busy and have put up walls to protect their time.
To become relevant to senior executives and other influencers who won’t give you a second chance if the first conversation doesn’t light a spark.
To resonate with others on an emotional level and create a deep personal connection that brings you into their inner circle.
To make an impact and leave an indelible mark on those most important to you at work and at home.
In Power Relationships, my co-author Jerry Panas and I set out the relationship laws that determine the success or failure of your most critical professional relationships. These 26 laws provide powerful insights into how to connect at the top and build deep, trusted relationships with key influencers. To help put the laws to work, we have also written a 90-page Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide that contains dozens of summaries and application worksheets. (It’s available only at www.andrewsobel.com and it’s free for anyone who buys the book.)
Heed Power Relationships’ laws and you’ll be much better equipped to connect, become relevant, resonate, and make an impact.
When you follow these 26 relationship laws, your network will grow rapidly. Prospects will become eager buyers. You’ll be seen by clients as a trusted partner rather than an expense to be managed. And you’ll find the people around you eager to help you succeed. When you ignore the laws, however, it’s like pushing water uphill. Relationship building will seem like very hard work — even fruitless.
Below, I focus on two of the challenges — to connect and to become relevant. Mastering both of these challenges is step one to building power relationships. Without learning how to effectively connect and show your relevance, you’ll never be able to get your foot in the door to build a long-term relationship with important people.
CHALLENGE #1: Connect with the Super-Busy.
Executives are overwhelmed with demands on their time. Especially if they are at a senior level, everyone wants something from them. Connecting with prospects and clients — pulling them out of their routine and getting their attention — is a huge challenge that’s only getting tougher. Here are two of the relationship laws that can help you make the connection:
• Follow the person, not the position. (Law 3)
There’s the story of a client who was promoted into the C-suite at her Fortune-100 company after having been the deputy in her area for many years. During that time, the advisors and suppliers to her company had rarely spent time with her or invited her to their special events, preferring to focus on her boss, who controlled the budget. On the day her promotion was announced to the press, she suddenly got dozens of calls from these suppliers — all wanting to now do business with her.
And do you know what she asked them? “Where were you five years ago?” Truly important people often bring their advisors and trusted suppliers along with them over the years. While it is not impossible to break into someone’s inner circle after they have achieved great success, it’s also not an easy task.
Use Law 3 and your job will become much easier. Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people, even if they’re not in an important job right now. Follow them throughout their careers.
• Make them curious. (Law 18)
When someone is curious, they reach toward you. They’re eager to take the next step. When you evoke curiosity, you create a gravitational pull that is irresistible.
You create curiosity and reach by showing just a bit of the glitter of the gold you have to offer your client. Say the unexpected. Surprise the other person with your candid answer to a tough question. Shake up their thinking by showing them a side to their problem they had not considered.
I once found myself halfway around the world, with only five minutes to convince a skeptical CEO that his company should hire me. A 45-minute meeting had been shortened to just five minutes. So what did I do? I used Law 18. I threw out the conventional sales wisdom and evoked the CEO’s curiosity by bluntly mentioning several important risks his new initiative faced. None of his own people had raised these with him. He sat up in his chair and leaned toward me, suddenly engaged. The meeting ended up lasting 15 minutes, and I got the sale.
Power Relationships offers other laws that help you connect. They include Law 25, “Build your network before you need it,” and Law 2, “Be unafraid to ask,” which my coauthor, Jerry Panas, used to forge a lifelong, personal relationship with one of the greatest retailers of the 20th century, J.C. Penney himself.
CHALLENGE #2: Light the Spark That Makes You Relevant.
The second big challenge is showing how you are relevant to the other person. Again, here are two laws from Power Relationships that will help:
• Walk in their shoes. (Law 9)
There’s the story of an investment banker who arrives at his client’s office in the middle of a large deal. He is so oblivious to his clients’ state — they’ve been working all weekend in a small conference room — that he grabs the last remaining bacon sandwich on a tray, effectively stealing his client’s lunch. That executive became the chief financial officer of his company, and the banker was banned from doing business with them for over a decade.
Our friend the banker could have avoided 10 years in the wilderness if he had done a very simple exercise: to imagine what it’s like to walk in his client’s shoes. Being relevant isn’t always about the big, crucial, money-making ideas. Sometimes it’s about showing people that you ‘get’ their needs on the most fundamental level. You know what pressures they’re under, what they’re feeling, and yes, how hungry and tired they are. When you can walk in their shoes in small ways, you can also do it in bigger ways.”
• Become part of your clients’ growth and profits, and they’ll never get enough of you. (Law 22)
Of course, 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 you are 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 contributing to a client’s most essential programs is not easily replaceable. Their cost is framed against a much larger set of benefits.
To use an analogy, would you debate your doctor’s fee for what you perceive as lifesaving advice the same way you might ask for a discount from your plumber? Probably not!
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? Once you understand their critical priorities, you can begin to demonstrate how you can help further them.
Incidentally, another law in Power Relationships — Law 5 — leads you to understand exactly what these higher-level growth goals are. It states, simply: Know the other person’s agenda and help them accomplish it. Nothing makes you more relevant than showing how you are aligned with one or more of the other person’s personal priorities.
Relationships cannot be formed with the snap of your fingers or the click of a mouse. Building them takes time and effort. You have to provide a compelling answer to the question, Why should I spend my scarce time with you? Once you’ve tackled the challenges of connecting and showing how you’re relevant, you can move on to the other two — resonating and making an impact. But not before. Try to put the cart before the horse, and no one will ever hear you.
Andrew Sobel is the most widely published author in the world on client loyalty and the capabilities required to build trusted business relationships. His first book, the bestselling “Clients for Life“, defined an entire genre of business literature about client loyalty. In addition to “Power Questions“, his other books include “Making Rain” and the award-winning “All for One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships“.