Two prospective mentees recently reached out to me for my counsel. As is the case with most of my executive coaching or mentoring clients, a trusted source made the introduction based on my Relationship Economics book, speaking, and advisory work. Ironically, both initial meetings left me completely turned off. I can’t be the only one who finds certain behaviors unacceptable. How did these two blow their opportunity to build a potentially strategic relationship? Let me count the ways….
- Failing to capture insights. I always take diligent notes. Notes help us capture what we’re hearing, to refer to later and act on it. Plus, it is a sign of respect that says, “I’m listening. You are important to me.” These two sat like a bump on a log while I shared some really useful advice. It reminds me of the waiter who is taking the order of a large group and doesn’t write anything down. When the orders come and the diners don’t get what they ordered, it shows a disconnect between signals sent and signals received. It wastes time and resources, not to mention repute. It’s the same with your relationships. If you don’t capture insights during an interaction, what signals are you sending? And more importantly, are you wasting an opportunity to capture, internalize, reference, and act on those insights? Relationship tip #1: Always carry something to write on and something to write with.
- Failing to focus on the here-and-now. Multiple times during our meeting, one of these execs looked at his watch. I was reminded of Bush ’41 looking at his watch during a debate with Clinton. It signals, “I do not want to be here.” I found myself compelled to ask, “is this a bad time for you or do you have to be somewhere?” “No, just my fitness tracker…” Something was signaling him; it repeatedly drew his focus away from our conversation. I’ve spent too much time in conference rooms where someone keeps looking out the window. Is the traffic really that much more exciting than our conversation? Relationship tip #2: Minimize any and all distractions.
- Failing to demonstrate credibility. In one conversation my questions about their strategy, actionable insights in one particular market segment, and international expansion were met with one bad answer after another. “Have you ever done business in the Middle East before?” “No, but we are pretty sure we will be able to establish a solid presence in the next couple of months!!” Relationships develop in stages; each interaction builds on the last. At each turn you either enhance your credibility or plant a seed of doubt. I love optimism, but if this team has only done business in the U.S., I just don’t see why they believe they can parachute into a completely different market in such a short time-frame. In a new relationship, it is dramatically better to say less but make sure it is impactful. Regardless of what you are discussing, convey your credibility, through the questions you ask as well as the responses you provide. Your interaction with others cannot be scripted. You cannot repeat what you read, or saw in a YouTube video, and expect it to be taken seriously. Every word you speak is an opportunity to enhance or dilute your credibility. Relationship tip #3: Make what you say matter.
- Failing to prepare. Always go into a relationship interaction with a few foundations in place. Due diligence: do your homework on the person you are meeting with. Anticipation: What are the questions they are likely to ask you? Have you thought about your responses? Preparation: What do you want to know from them? Since these two execs took out no documents or notes of any kind, I’m guessing they came planning to wing it. In any kind of relationship interaction, I’ve often said, many people are good at relationship creation; they struggle in relationship capitalization. Any capitalization is a series of “yeses.” What is your next “yes”? The first “yes” is will they talk to you. The next is will they meet you. The next is an introduction to someone. Each deepens their vested interest in your outcomes. Be intentional about whatever you are asking for; you cannot ask for 15 things at once, so prioritize. Relationship tip #4: Firm up your “asks” based on best possible outcomes.
- Don’t overreach. Too many people try to accomplish too much in a single interaction. They try to boil the ocean. My counsel is, start by boiling a cup of water. By that I mean, focus on the three steps essential to nurture a relationship:
- Build rapport. If you are not likable, the interaction is not going to go anywhere. People can instinctively delineate false from authentic, so don’t stretch it, or you will look ridiculous. Rapport is genuine, authentic, and naturally inquisitive.
- Be credible. The busier we all get, the less time we have for time-wasters. Convey your bona fides, show that you know your business, demonstrate your desired outcomes are viable.
- Determine next steps, if any. Respect the principle of relationship value exchange: Don’t walk in and ask for something. Plan instead, what can you deposit? How can you be an asset?
Relationship tip #5: Give others a reason to want to reciprocate before you expect them to help you.
These five relationship missteps can trip you up in any relationship interaction, be it meeting a potential customer for the first time, or meeting a potential investor, distribution channel partner, or employee. All early relationship interactions are fundamentally about vetting, from both sides of the table. It is up to each of us to create the conditions, through our behaviors, that are likely to encourage others to invest in us for potentially mutually beneficial outcomes.
- Before any initial meeting with a potential strategic relationship, prepare! Due your due diligence on individuals; anticipate what they are likely to ask and plan your answers; and prepare the questions you want to ask.
- During the meeting, stay focused, capture insights, and be sure your behavior demonstrates your credibility.
- Have appropriate next steps in mind, but be sure you offer value before you expect value from others.
David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® – the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Siemens, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics – Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact – Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at www.NourGroup.com.