How to build Peer Relationships with Your Clients (Part 3)
If a client is hiring a vendor, it's certainly important that they believe the vendor to be honest, fair, and that they subscribe to ethical and legal behaviors. They may even want that vendor to reflect important priorities for the client, such as supporting diversity or sustainability. But the client won’t be hugely concerned with having a deep understanding of the specific values of the individuals who work with that supplier. Fundamentally it’s a relatively arm’s-length relationship, and more institutional than personal. In contrast, if an executive is drawing someone into their inner circle, they are going to be looking for serious alignment of individual values and beliefs. These go well beyond the basics of integrity—they might include a client’s sense of your:
- Outlook (Optimistic? Pessimistic?)
- Risk propensity
- Action bias
- Relationship orientation
- View of human nature
- Willingness to be a contrarian or to go against the grain
- Political or religious beliefs (possibly!)
And so on.
You cannot manufacture a set of values and beliefs to match those of your client. But you can be open about what you stand for and what’s important to you. You want your clients to sense these things and be attracted to them. The chemistry and fit won’t always be there, but if you’re overly buttoned down and keep your cards too close to your chest, your clients won’t even get the chance to know you. And, you'll come across as anodyne and bland.
Finally, you have to believe you are a peer. You have to believe you belong in your top client's corner office. You must possess a strong sense of your own value and your ability to help your clients improve and grow their business. That deep belief in yourself and what what you have to offer will by itself go very far towards creating the peer relationship you desire.
To summarize: You will be treated like a peer by senior executives when you:
First, demonstrate professional acumen. This includes experience, expertise, knowledge breadth, judgment, and insight
Second, exemplify C-Suite behaviors, such as a willingness to challenge your client, confident body language, courage under fire, and a general attitude of equality.
Third, are perceived as sharing important values and beliefs with your client.