02/11/2013 12:43 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

In the New Norm, Objects of Interest Are Relationship Magnets

After a recent keynote speech on relationship economics, where I shared with the audience key relationship mapping insights and their impact on revenue growth, a very senior-level person of this global client company approached me and asked if we could visit over a cup of coffee. A subordinate noticing the interaction quickly approached and introduced us. Attempting to be polite, he asked me if I had any reaction to his sales organization that was highly successful yet unwilling to be more strategic in the manner in which they built and nurtured client relationships. "They're too complacent," he said, clearly repeating a mantra, "and I can't motivate them to move beyond our capabilities to strategic relationships."

"They're not measured or compensated accurately and are afraid," I commented. Further remembering a mentor's insights about motivation, I added, "You can't motivate them anyway, since motivation is intrinsic. They are a recognized brand in these large accounts where they haven't had to build strategic relationships previously and they're not measured or invented to think more strategically about their relationships, up, down, or across the organizations."

He moved in closer and began to pepper me with questions for the next 45 minutes, stepping outside and skipping the chance to hear the next session all together. He asked for my card, took notes during our discussion, and I have since worked on two separate consulting engagements for him.

What I've learned in the last couple of years is that way too many people attempt to try way too hard in accomplishing way too much in the first interaction. Here are three, and only three things you must do:

  1. Develop rapport;
  2. Establish your credibility, ideally through the questions you ask;
  3. Determine next steps!

That's it. You're not trying to boil the ocean; let's start with boiling a cup of water. You don't have to be a rock star socializer or the "most interesting man in the world!" But in the new norm, as a marketing technique, you must quickly move to become interesting to others, particularly those in the position you can help and are willing to listen and engage your unique expertise.

So I've learned to offer rapid, contrarian, provocative, and often controversial suggestions, opinions, and reactions. Again, as a mentor has driven into me, what do you have to lose? If you can't offer some immediate value, why should the potential buyer or anyone you want to developing a lasting relationship with, personally or professionally, be interested in spending time with you?

So, how do you develop rapport, establish credibility, and create that gravity or market pull toward the next step? You have to project professionalism, authority, and credibility, virtually immediately:

  • Be proficient with daily news, using examples of recent events that others can instantly relate to; and if they haven't heard that example, you shine as well-informed.
  • Sociologists tell us that in any exchange, we give a little, the other person takes, judges, they give a little, we take, judge, give back, etc. Too aggressive, too fast in the conversation may turn some people off, so soften your approach with kinder, gentler comments such as, "Can I suggest an alternative that may at first seem contradictory?" or "Here's what I've seen work elsewhere, and you can judge whether or not it makes sense for you," or, "This may sound counterintuitive."
  • Whenever possible, learn just two or three highly relevant and timely facts about the other person. Open your eyes and ears and watch or listen to others to find out about recent strategic organizational goals, current competition, management style, personal attributes, interests, etc.
  • Don't throttle back, a tip I've learned in riding motorcycles, which means don't back down. A contrarian perspective or a controversial comment is often be met with, "How did you get that impression?" Stand firm and reply with, "I could be wrong, but here's my rationale for that position," or "I usually feel the same way you do, but here's why this might work in this case." Don't fold. In for a dime, in for a dollar.

The last thing any competent executive needs is another "yes person" from the outside, because there is already an army of them inside the organization! In the new norm, very few get engaged to work on important projects by regurgitating the company line or putting those execs on a pedestal for their brilliance! Think about why tough, smart, executives (my favorite clients) bring in outside council or listen to others for that matter: to get a fresh perspective, untainted by company politics, retirement plans, and defending the status quo culture!

I've long believed that we're products of the advice we take! And a mentor has driven into me that I'd rather risk being rejected as too radical in return for the possibility of being accepted as a unique object of interest. I've found it to be a huge time and effort savor to really understand the type of executive I'm dealing with. Are they open to outside perspectives, are they or their teams coachable, are they forward thinking and moving, and challenge us both to identify personal and professional growth opportunities, or will it be a waste of time, effort, resources and intellectual horsepower on both sides!

Ironically, the higher level and more confident executive you're with, the better a contrarian, provocative approach works. Lower level people strive to conform, but higher-level people strive for performance, execution, results and power.

In the new norm, objects of interest are relationship magnets. You want people to come up and invite you to coffee conversations, not run for the exit.