Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What my teenage son taught me about relationship management

Nearly every weekday around 4pm, my 15-year old son calls me here at PSMJ. I look at my ringing phone and see his name flash across my screen and the first thought that runs through my head is “what does he want?” It doesn’t take more than four or five seconds for my suspicions to be confirmed – can my friends come over to use the pool?...can you pick me up from here later?...can you get me this or that? Knowing that his weekday call is going to be about what I can do for him has conditioned me to adopt a specific posture: rather than looking forward to a pleasant exchange or hearing something interesting, I am starting to think of how I am going to tell him “no” and strategizing a defense of my position. In other words, besides this call confirming that my son is not in any overt distress – there is no upside for me – and knowing this grossly diminishes his chances of getting what he wants.

You probably deal with calls like this all the time in your professional life. But are you also initiating these calls yourself? Of all the clients and prospects you initiate contact with during the week, how many of them are thinking “What do you want from me?” The truth is, our egos make it virtually impossible to evaluate this accurately – but you can take steps to ensure that the posture of the person on the other end is not set before you even say hello.

The first thing you can do is come to the exchange with important information – not about you and your firm, but about them and their business. I have been interviewing PSMJ Circle of Excellence firms for our new book and one of the CEOs told me “we never call people to tell them how great we are – we call with information – about a project, a newsy development in their industry, an article or report that they would want to be aware of, etc.”

The second thing you can do it commit to follow up about what you tell them - “I’ll let you know if I hear anything else about this” – then you have a reason to call back.

Then when your prospects and clients see that it’s you on the phone, they’ll think “what do they have for me today?”


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