6 laws to connect with leaders

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By Andrew Sobel and Olivier Jacob

There are invisible but powerful laws that determine the success or failure of customer relationships. Just as an airplane must follow the laws of physics to fly, your strategies and behaviors must align with the Laws of Relationships if you want to sell effectively and build long-term customer relationships. 

If you follow these Relationship Laws, your network will grow quickly. Prospects will become enthusiastic buyers. Customers will see you as a trusted partner rather than a cost to be managed. And you'll find the people around you happy to help you succeed. When you ignore the laws, however, it's like trying to swim against the tide. Relationship building will seem like very hard work - and even fruitless.  

Let's look at six of the Relationship Laws that, if used correctly, can help you dramatically improve your effectiveness with prospects and customers.  

The forgotten ingredients of sales 

A senior account manager I know was leaving a meeting with his client, the CEO, one day. The CEO's assistant stopped him and took him aside. In a low voice, she told him, "My boss confessed that he sees these PowerPoint slides as the 'price' he has to pay to have a good conversation with you." Her revelation underscored the fact that we focus too much on presenting, pitching, cajoling and impressing. We sometimes knock out our clients with analysis and reams of paper.  

What most leaders really want is to have a vibrant conversation that helps improve their understanding of the problem being discussed and possible solutions. The first law addresses this underlying need: Powerful relationships are based on great conversations, not on one person showing the other everything they know. To use this law to your advantage, you must stop defining your customer interaction as a sale, a presentation of your credentials, or an operational update on progress. Instead, reframe every meeting by asking the question, "How can I create a great conversation?" 

How would you rate the quality of your customer conversations right now? For example, are your conversations helping your prospects : 

  • To improve their understanding of the challenges? 
  • Learn the impact of important trends on their business? 
  • To better understand how they can capture growth opportunities? 
  • To become energetic and enthusiastic about working with you and your company?  
  • To reach out and want to know more? 

Follow the First Law and master your need to impress others. Improve your conversations and you will strengthen your relationships dramatically. 

The best way to meet CEOs 

One of my clients was promoted to a very senior position in a large top 100 US company. She had been the deputy in her field, and was now at the top. She told me that the day her promotion was announced in the newspaper, she received dozens of calls from vendors wanting to do business with her. "Do you know what I told them all?" she said. "I asked them, very politely, 'Where were you five years ago?'" 

Many professionals ask me, "How can I build more relationships with CEOs and other leaders?" THE best answer is the third law of relationships: Follow the person, not the position. Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, ambitious people, even if they don't have a very important job right now. Follow them through their career.  

The truly great people - those at the top of their careers in whatever field - have brought their advisors with them over the years. While it's not impossible to break into someone's inner circle after they've achieved great success, it's not an easy task either.  

Use the third law and your job will become much easier. Start by making a list of people you know who are not yet at the top of their success or position. Choose passionate, motivated, talented people. Do you know their agenda? How can you help them accomplish their goals? Stay in touch as they progress from job to job.  

The power of curiosity 

How do you get a prospect's attention? It's simple: you arouse their curiosity - their desire to know more. But it has to be a substantial curiosity, not a manipulated one.  

I once found myself on the other side of the world, with five minutes to convince a skeptical CEO that his company should hire me. At that moment, Law Eighteen became my best friend. It's very simple but powerful: Make them curious. With only five minutes to spare, I had to throw the traditional sales process out the window (i.e., "ask good questions," "establish your credibility," "understand their needs") and instead create a strong desire on the part of the CEO to engage with me - to learn more.  

When you create curiosity you create a gravitational pull towards you that is irresistible. Curiosity helps you get more of everything: more inquiries, more sales, more success in getting appointments with senior clients. AND yes, it works in your professional life too. If you're good at generating curiosity, it can get you more dates if you're single and more responses for your party! 

You create curiosity by showing just a little bit of the shine of the gold you offer to your customers. Say the unexpected. Surprise the other person with your candid answer to a difficult question. Shake up their thoughts by showing them an aspect of their problem they hadn't considered.  

You attract others when you tell them what they need to know, not everything you know. Keep questions brief. Suggest things. Don't give a prospect a ten-minute speech when they ask you to describe your company. Develop contrarian or unusual perspectives. Be seen as someone who has refreshing points of view.  

Also, ask provocative questions that no one else is asking. When everyone else is telling your customer how to do something, you should ask them why they want to do it. With my CEO prospect, I took the first two minutes to mention several important risks his people had not considered, and an opportunity I thought they were missing. This made the CEO sit up straight. The meeting stretched to 15 minutes, and I got the sale.  

How to make sure 

One of my clients in the energy supply industry had been locked out of a major account for years. He was selling what many describe as a "commodity" - that is, a uniform product you can get from many suppliers at a set market price.  

My client was told that there was absolutely no way he would get a piece of the account business - that the company was already well served. He refused to accept this, and continued to call them. During this time he continued to provide them with a series of suggestions on how to more effectively use my client's product and improve their productivity. He shared private market information. He learned the key priorities of the executives he called, and helped each of them in a small way.  

After a year, the account executive said, "We're going to give you an order. We didn't plan this. But for a year you've treated us like a customer even though you haven't made a dime from our relationship. You give us better service than our existing suppliers. You earned that." It then became one of my client's biggest relationships.  

This story illustrates a powerful relationship-building strategy: act as if the future relationship you desire is already in place. Give a potential prospect the same attention and love you would give an existing customer.  

In Power Relations we call the law fifteen: Treat a prospect as a customer, and there's a good chance they will become one. 

By the way, do you want to have a great relationship with a friend or family member? Use this law. Pretend that you already have that loving relationship you desire. You will be generous, kind and patient, and you will take the other person with you.  

The power of powerful questions 

The winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, Naguib Mafouz, put it this way: "You can tell if a man is intelligent by his answers. You can tell if a man is wise by his questions." Answers are important. But if you want to create the right conversations that build powerful relationships, you must become skilled at asking intellectually stimulating questions.  

Consider asking questions that: 

  1. Access emotions, not just analytical thinking ("What are you most excited about in what you are doing right now in your business?" vs. "What are your top three priorities?") 
  1. Get the other person's opinion ("What do you think?") 
  1. Engage the other person in the solution ("What options are you considering? What do you think is the best solution?") 
  1. Focus the conversation on the right topics ("What was the most important thing we discussed this morning?", "What would be the most valuable use of our time?") 
  1. Discover the other person's key priority agenda ("what are the most important things you will be evaluated on this year?") 
  1. Access the other person's highest goals and aspirations ("Why do you want to do this?" or "What are the business goals that drive this?") 
  1. Challenging ("Do you think 10% is enough? We've had other clients get well over 20%...") 
  1. Help establish your own credibility ("Many of my clients are facing two major issues right now... What was your reaction?") 
  1. Explore who the other person is and how they became who they are ("I'm curious, how did you get started?") 

Are you a profit or a cost to your customers? 

Think about it: If your plumber calls you and suggests that you have lunch together to discuss the latest joint welding techniques, you'll probably decline. And, as much as you'd like to, if another plumber offered to do an important job for much less, you might well accept.  

But what if your doctor called? "I have your test results, and you should come in and discuss them. I have some important suggestions for you about your diet and lifestyle." I think your answer would be "When can you see me?" 

The twenty-two law of relationships sums it up in terms of your work with your clients: Become a part of your client's growth and profits, and they can't get enough of you . The flip side of this law is that if clients see you as a cost to be managed, they will cut you out at any time.  

When there is a downturn, or when clients are under financial pressure, they focus on reducing discretionary spending. But they won't cut an investment that has proven to help grow revenue or increase profits. And you should be such an investment.  

When working with clients, you need to clearly demonstrate that your work supports their growth and profits. A client can replace an "expert for hire" at any time - perhaps with a cheaper expert. But a vendor who is seen as supporting the client's most critical programs is not easily replaced. Its cost is put into perspective by a much larger set of benefits. 

This law doesn't just apply to customer relationships. For example, if your boss sees you as directly helping him or her achieve the most important priorities for the year, then you will be considered indispensable. 

To be seen as a part of the growth and profits, you need to show how your products and services help your customer achieve their top goals. A good start is a simple question, "How will you be evaluated at the end of the year?" Then you ask a second question that is related, "How do your individual goals support the overall company strategy and key priorities for this year?" 

Tap into these laws of relationships. Align yourself with them, and you'll find that selling and building relationships are much easier. It's the difference between trying to fight the current and going with it.  

You are an expert operating in professional services and you do not feel comfortable prospecting for new clients.

In this book, with a preface by Bertrand Dumazy, CEO of the Edenred group, you will find numerous illustrations and practical information sheets drawn from the concrete experience of specialists who have successfully developed their prospect portfolio.

You will also learn how to make yourself happy by developing new contacts at all levels in organizations.

How to target key contacts in your prospects? How to approach them? Through which channel? How do you stand out? What creative solutions should you use? How to interest your interlocutors in your subjects ? Which marketing to set up on the web ?

Here you will find answers to all these key questions to develop your business or practice as well as methodological elements for immediate implementation.

Price kindle format: 9,99€
Price paperback: 19,50

Number of pages: 188
Author: Olivier Jacob
Preface: Bertrand Dumazy