How to Build Peer Relationships with Your Clients (Part 2)

A top CEO headhunter told me once about a candidate for a senior job that he had all but turned down  just by spying him in the reception area of his Manhattan offices. He said, “The candidate had only been there for a few minutes, and he was sitting quietly on the couch. That told me right away that he probably didn’t have the C-Suite mindset—the confidence needed to operate at the level the job required. CEO candidates don’t sit and wait—they stand. That way, when you walk in to pick them up and take them back to your office, they are not in an inferior or supplicant position. Most of them do this without even thinking about it. When I walk out and they are standing, the relationship starts on a peer level.” Trivial? Not at all. Clients look at these subtle behavioral clues and make judgments very rapidly. Here are some of the behaviors you need to manifest if you want to establish senior-level, peer client relationships:

A willingness to challenge your client. I call this “selfless independence” in my book Clients for Life. A division president at a major bank once told me, “I divide all the advisors I use into two groups: Those who simply do what I say, and those who will push back and sometimes say ‘No.’ A few of these latter individuals are my trusted advisors. The others are really suppliers.”  Remember, if you’re concerned about coming across as too challenging, try turning your statements into questions. Instead of “I don’t think your team is collaborating very well” try “How do you feel about the collaboration within your team?” You’ll create more buy-in that way.

An attitude that establishes equality. If you keep thanking your client, over and over again, for “taking so much of their valuable time to meet with you,” what does that convey? Better would be, “I’m delighted we were able to meet today. Thank you.”

Confident body language. In an interview for one of my books, a CEO told me, “If you walk into a client’s office with your head held high, there’s always the chance that you’ll get knocked down a notch. That’s a small risk. But if you go in on your knees, no client will ever, ever lift you up.” If you are anxious or nervous when you meet with a senior client, or if your body language betrays anything less than a belief that you belong in the room with that executive, it’s unlikely you’ll be viewed as a peer.

Showing courage. Do you fold your tent at the slightest provocation, or do you hold your ground? What if a prospect is acting bored and unengaged, and basically sending the message that they have no interest whatsoever in talking to you. You might ask, “I’m curious, why did you accept this the invitation to meet up? Did you have a particular issue in mind for our discussion?” Or, “We’ve got another 20 minutes scheduled for our meeting this morning. How can I be helpful to you during this time?” If a prospect tells you, “We have no need for what you do. There’s not a lot to talk about right now” you might respond with “You’d be surprised how many of my best clients today told me that when we first met. Do you mind if I ask you a question…?”

What other behaviors have you found help you establish peer relationships with senior clients? 

(My next post will be my third and final one on building peer relationships with clients)

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