How can I build a peer relationship with senior clients?
The scene in movie The King’s Speech where the speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffry Rush) meets the future king Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is a wonderful illustration of the importance of having a peer relationship with anyone you advise. When Prince Albert tells Logue to address him as your Majesty, Logue shoots back, “I shall call you Bertie,” which is the Prince’s childhood nickname. Prince Albert is outraged–after all, he is royalty and Logue is a commoner–but he acquiesces. Logue's point is that that during therapy, they must be equals. So skip the “Oh, thank you so very, very much for meeting me, I know how valuable your time is and how busy you are!” Walk into your prospective client's office as a peer, an equal.
Here are four strategies that will help:
1. The first sale is to yourself–so you must, first of all, believe that you belong in the room. Be neither fawning nor arrogant. No matter how senior your prospect or client, treat them as an equal. You must believe that that they need you just as much as you think you need them.
2. Develop your breadth AND depth–become a "deep generalist." Top executives gravitate towards advisors who can have business conversations about their most important issues. If you want top executives to be attracted to you, you must read widely, take an interest in the industry and general business environment they compete in, and learn how to put your expertise in a broader strategic context.
3. Be seen as someone who is connected to business and thought leaders. You do this subtely, not by advertising that you are well-connected. You might suggest a valuable introduction to someone else in your or your firm's network. Or, you could reference some best practices that have been pioneered by other business leaders you have worked with.
4. Always take a long-term view of client development. If you are angling for an immediate sale or next step that will make you look good to your boss, the other person will sense it a mile away. Nothing throws off the equilibrium in a relationship more than desperation! On the other hand, if you're calm, centered, and lacking in anxiety–and focused on adding value not getting an immediate sale–the other person will relax and enjoy the conversation with you. And then you are far more likely to get the sale than if you had been pushing for it.