Just the other day I was called up, out of the blue, by a previous client of mine, asking if we could work together again. I was really pleased that his impression of how we collaborated the first time was really positive. This had me reflect on my most successful client relationships and what the secret of their success was.
This contemplation was further enhanced by some conversations I’d had while on holiday in Dubai just a couple of weeks ago. Chatting to the founder of a very successful digital agency, and his wife, we got onto the topic of business development. “What’s so nice about Dubai in our sector is building business on relationships” they said, “knowing that going in with a hard sell won’t work. One needs to establish a rapport with the person, get to understand how you could help them and jointly find a solution.” they continued.
This was the first time I’d had the fundamentals expressed so simply and yet they represented what my natural approach is.
As a teenager, about to start boarding school I was given some pertinent advice from an older distant relative, “To stay out of trouble, keep your mouth shut and your ears open.” This became my standard behaviour for so many years. My friends – and peers – trusted me and I was able to observe so much without being stuck in the middle.
Later on I think this developed into a very keen ear for ‘what is being said and what is being communicated?’ as the two aren’t necessarily the same, reading between the lines is critical too!
In advising my clients I strive to listen to why they say and try to analyse what’s being left out. What is their vulnerability, what are they unsure of and how can I interpret that as where they may need help? I ask and gently probe and that’s where the magic happens.
When looking at investment opportunities as I also do, for start-up / high growth companies, one of the key questions we ask is whether the entrepreneur/management team are world-class. We look at how they engage us in conversation to find out how they sell their product and themselves. Again it is about the people.
Building a long term relationship as an advisor requires a relationship of trust and openness. Entrepreneurs that most impress us are those who spot an opportunity and enjoy talking about it rather than preaching about it. We love evangelist but are turned off by arrogance – we know our investors will be too. If there isn’t a rapport with us we are very weary of the ability to build a rapport with potential investors and, more importantly, with their future clients.
Person-centric business to me is built on listening, being open and forging a relationship which is often about a partnership – an equal give and take. There are of course certain tricks and must-have’s to make this more tangible but that’s for another post to look at.