Becoming a Person of Interest
By Andrew Sobel
Your clients are pressed for time. Everyone wants to get on their agenda. There is competition, in a sense, to build a relationship with them. In response, you need an attraction strategy. You need to become a person of interest, someone that senior executives are drawn to spend time with.
This is not about charisma or personal flair, but rather about authenticity and value—about being an interesting person to spend time with, someone that clients feel stimulates their thinking, someone from whom they learn and get ideas!
So, what kind of person is this? First all of, you have to become a Deep Generalist. This is someone who has a well-developed core expertise—be that in an industry, function, or other niche—and who layers on top of that broad business knowledge and acumen. This enables you to have discussions with your client about their business issues—whether they’re talking about operations, organization, or strategy—and to always put your specific solutions in the context of the overall enterprise.
This broader knowledge includes an understanding of four domains: First, your client as a person and as a professional. Second, your client’s strategy and organization. Third, your client’s industry. And fourth, the general business environment. Think of being fluent in your core expertise and conversational—at a minimum—on the broader business issues.
Secondly, a person of interest has interesting experiences that they are able to share and make relevant to others. You may think—“But my experiences aren’t very exciting. I’ve lived in the same place, and worked with the same types of clients for years.” Don’t sell yourself short! One of my clients told me the following story: A client of his asked if he would have lunch with a young, well-known Silicon Valley CEO. My client, a partner in a large accounting firm, said “Of course I will—but I’m not really sure what I can offer this person.” The client was surprised, and said, “Oh, but you have a lot of knowledge you can share with him. You’ve seen companies go through all sorts of different phases of evolution and crisis points. You’ve witnessed effective and ineffective leadership, and can share your observations about what makes for a good leader. You have a lot to offer.”
A third aspect of being a person of interest is being seen as someone who knows other interesting people. You can manifest this by offering to make relevant introductions to your clients, based on your and/or your firm’s network of contacts. Even just talking about interesting people you know—and again, being able to convey their wisdom or the things you’ve learned from them—can be valuable for clients.
Also, try and read more widely. Being well read provides many benefits for you: It helps you be a more interesting conversationalist, it gives you ideas for your client engagements, and it puts you in the position to recommend an interesting book or article to a client. The average American only reads a couple of books each year (and many read no books). If you can read or even skim a dozen books a year you’ll be leagues ahead of your competition. I find the digital book explosion to be a boon for my reading capacity. I download the same book onto multiple devices, such as my iPhone and Laptop, and whether I’m in the doctor’s office or waiting to board a plane, I can always knock off another five pages of the book I’m reading.
Finally, you have to be more than just a business person. One of my own clients said to me, “You have to have interests to be interesting to others.” Whether it’s travel, reading, gardening, or a sport, indulge your interests. Of course, you don’t do these things just because they can enhance your client relationships—although that will be one of the positive side effects.
So think about what you can do, in the next year, to add business breadth to your expert depth and become a more effective Deep Generalist. Work to include interesting, intelligent, and ambitious people in your network. Think about your work experiences, and what you can draw out of them that would benefit current clients. Read widely and be eclectic in your choice of books and articles.