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The Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Usually when someone hears the words “12-step program,” they’re quick to judge it as something to get out of a rut. But what if you turned that perspective on its axis? What if you saw a program – particularly one with 12 steps – as something to advance you to a new level of life, thought and, well, relationships?

Below are 12 key steps to take when looking to grow strong, trust-based business relationships. Easy? Yes. Simple? Well, see for yourself.

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Rarely will you see someone fail in business who has thoroughly followed these simple suggestions. Those who do fail are typically people who are incapable of being honest – with their colleagues, their customers and their partners.

Other problems may temporarily deflect you, but the ability to be rigorously honest will prove immeasurably beneficial in all your business relationships.

Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Step 1. Accept that you have no power over people, that all your attempts at control have failed. Trying to get other people to do what you want them to do is doomed to failure, no matter how good your intentions, how right your cause, or how much benefit it would bring the other.

People just wanna be free. Go with it.

Step 2. Recognize that by yourself, you can’t succeed. Your success will inevitably be tied up in the success of other people. Not only are you not driving the bus, you are just another passenger.

Step 3. Resolve that you’re going to stop trying to drive the bus, that you’ll start doing things to help other people, that you’ll focus on getting the group to succeed. When things don’t go your way, remember “your way” is what got you into this mess. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Step 4. Make a list of all the stupid, controlling, selfish things you do to others. Be specific about whom you do them to, and what harm it does to them. Stop at ten people.

Now add to the list a few good things you do. You are, after all, worthwhile.

Step 5. Go share your list with someone you trust. Listen to what they have to say about it and learn from what they have to say. Don’t waste time arguing with them.

Step 6. Get yourself ready to stop behaving in those old ways. Think about it for a while. Make a list of the new things you’ll do. Envision yourself responding in new ways; rehearse new “lines.”

Hint: your list should probably include listening. Also, listening.

Step 7. Pick a time of your own choosing to begin the change. It could be right now, it could be next week, but not next summer. Write that date in your calendar. When it comes, step out of your old ways and start working the new.

Step 8. Think about the customers, co-workers, peers and partners you might have tried to control and what you did to them. Think of what you might have done better and plan to do better next time.

Step 9. Go back to the customers, co-workers and partners you’ve tried to control, and tell them you realize what you have done. Acknowledge your responsibility in those situations, and tell them specifically how you plan to behave differently in future.

Hint: Don’t do this if it causes upset or harm to the other person. And don’t confuse this with trying to get them to forgive you – see Step 1, above.

Step 10. At each day’s end, do a mental run-through of how you did in your new approach. Note where you fell short and what you could have done better.

Then let it go and get a good night’s sleep.

Step 11. Create a little mantra for yourself, to remind you that your job is to help others, not yourself. Get out of the instance, secure in the idea that better relationships will float all transaction boats.

Step 12. Having recognized how to apply these principles to your business affairs, give it a shot at home and in the rest of your life.  You saw that one coming, right?

Is Your Lead Generation System Causing You to Lose Clients?

Much sales literature talks about sales in terms of processes. A key process element is lead screening, or lead qualification. And that process is often described in terms of efficiency.

As one CRM article put it:

“…the process of lead qualification has been codified into the 8-4-2-1 Rule…for every eight leads that pass preliminary qualification, four will lead to sales presentations, which will produce two quotes and finally one sale.

“In other words, the sales funnel narrows sharply even once you’ve done your preliminary qualification. Obviously, considering the increasing cost, the further you move into the process, the better it is to narrow the funnel early on. If you can reduce that 8-4-2-1 to a 4-2-2-1, you’ve saved half the cost of lead handling.”

Think about that. The focus is on how to do sales cheaply, efficiently, and at least cost. This may seem an obvious and good goal until you consider what it leaves out: the impact on the 7 out of 8 who are screened out.

By focusing on sales through the twin lenses of process and efficiency, we run the twin risks of damaging client relationships and of poisoning the marketplace well. And as online social media continue to explode, that risk only increases.

How Lead Qualification Can Hurt Relationships

Imagine somewhere it’s important to make good relationships. Maybe your child is entering a new elementary school. Maybe, if you’re single, you’re entering into the dating world in a new community. If you’ve switched companies, you’re getting acclimated to your new co-workers.

In those cases, we know the importance of treating everyone decently. We have our likes and dislikes, but we don’t let them affect our etiquette. It’s a small community, and we know the value of getting along. And so we behave in polite, decent, ways.

Not so in the world of sales. The screening process drives focus on one question: can I or can I not sell to this person?

If the answer is no, we want to stop wasting time on them. If the answer is yes, we want to move as quickly as possible so as to achieve our end result—the sale.

You may personally believe in relationships and in being nice, but if you walk around with a lead-qualification model in your head, you are subconsciously driven to treat your leads as primarily means to your ends, with some taking more of your precious time than others. This attitude inevitably bleeds through into your interactions.

Lead qualification as it’s usually practiced hurts relationships because it is inherently self-oriented, aimed at the seller not the buyer.

How Lead Qualification Can Poison the Well

When services firms look at the cost of sales, they often begin by focusing on the clients they’ve won and how much it cost to win them. They forget the much-higher cost of not getting all the clients they didn’t get, thus under-estimating cost of sales.

A similar blind spot affects firms looking at their lead qualification process. It’s simple to drop someone from your target list; having dropped them, they are out of sight and out of mind. Your sight, your mind, that is.

But they have memories of you. Did you simply drop them? Did you not return the last call? Did you cancel some meeting or event? Did you give the screened-out client any indication that they had been screened out?

Most firms don’t have any particular approach to screening out prospects; they simply stop doing what they were doing. Yet the same people would never drop a social relationship.

Should your child just begin ignoring a casual new acquaintance at school? If you’re dating, should you simply not call back after a first or second date? At work, do you simply turn your back on new acquaintances?

The reason we do in sales what we wouldn’t in social situations is that we assume closed social settings, but infinite lead streams. It’s just a lead, we rationalize. We’re a tiny firm, and the market is huge. There are always more leads.

But there are not. Leads are finite. Worse yet, many prospects know each other. Word of mouth doesn’t just work among customers and ex-customers, but among leads and ex-leads, too. Your reputation is greatly affected by the way you sell, and part of that is how you treat people you screen out.

The old customer service rule of thumb was that a person would tell four or five others about a good experience, but he would tell several dozen about a bad experience. In an age of YouTube and Twitter, negative stories don’t stop at a dozen—they explode to tens of thousands, and in just a matter of days.

The Only Two Screening Decisions You Have to Make

The lead screening process and underlying mindset can make us treat prospects as if we were examining them under a microscope for incipient dollar signs in our wallets. It drives self-focus and makes objects of our prospects. It dehumanizes both of us, and it pollutes our prospect base at a frightening rate. Lead screening processes done poorly equal self-destructive marketing.

Fortunately there’s a simple answer. There are just two screening decisions you must make:

  1. Are you willing to treat this prospect as a potential client?
  2. When shall you review this decision again?

As long as the answer to question one is yes, just one goal should drive your behavior. That is to determine whether and how you can help a prospect, by talking with them.

  • If you figure out how to help them, and they agree, a sale is the natural result.
  • If you figure out how to help them and they don’t agree, you have failed to communicate; that’s your fault.
  • If you decide you cannot help them, and they agree, you should thank them for the chance to explore together, and leave on good terms.
  • If you decide you cannot help them, and they don’t yet agree, you owe them the decency of an explanation that is satisfying to them.

Screening should not be a solo and self-oriented decision about timing based on what’s in it for you. It should be a consensus-based joint decision about whether to continue the dialogue, based on what’s in it for both of parties.

Done that way, a screen-out is nearly as positive as a sale because it implies a joint decision. Screened-out prospects become good marketing. After all, such joint decision-making is how we develop responsible and mature relationships with others.

This article was first published on RainToday.com

 

When the Client Cuts Your Face Time in Half

Your progress update meeting with the client is scheduled for an hour, starting at 11AM. You’re hopeful it might extend to a lunch invitation.

11AM comes and goes, and the client is still in a meeting. Word comes from the client’s AA that the meeting has to move to 2PM. At 1:30, it gets kicked to 5:30 – and it’s cut to half an hour, as the client really has to leave no later than 6PM.

What do you do?

This came up in a large workshop the other day; the setting was such that only a 1-minute answer was appropriate.  I gave the 1-minute answer – and I’ll include the longer answer here.

Involve the Client in Problem Resolution 

The quick answer is you start the meeting by saying something like, “Listen, it’s late in the day, and it sounds like yours has been hectic. Ending up in a review session may not be your idea of a good time. Would you rather reschedule?”

And then go with the client’s answer, whatever it is. If the client prefers to push on, then do so. And you’d better be willing to trim your presentation to 30 minutes, rather than trying to double-time it, or passive-aggressively running out of time.

The principle here is to make the client part of the problem resolution.

Involve the Client in Problem Definition

The longer answer is to make the client part of the problem definition – not just problem resolution. Why is it that a previously scheduled meeting slipped so drastically?  That it got cut in half?  That’s a discussion worth having on occasion.

Is it because the client doesn’t particularly care about an update, and it’s really your need for approval that’s driving the meeting? Are you able to specify real decisions that are needed from the client? Is this a box-ticking meeting to fulfill your internal processes? Are you trying to cover your behind? Do you know what the meeting was bumped for, and are you satisfied with the decision? Is this a meeting that neither one of you really wants, resulting in joint procrastination – and if so, what’s that about?

The answers may be perfectly innocuous, or they may uncover a deeper issue – where there’s smoke, there might be fire. The point is not about the answers – it’s about having the vulnerability and courage to re-invite the client to visit the tough questions, to define the issues jointly.

Story Time: Want a Relationship Breakthrough? Role-Play Your Client.

Our Story Time series brings you real, personal examples from business life that shed light on specific ways to lead with trust. Our last story proved that good intentions won’t keep you from screwing up. Today’s story highlights the business value of taking time to see the world from another’s perspective.

A New Anthology

When it comes to trust-building, stories are a powerful tool for both learning and change. Our new book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, October 2011), contains a multitude of stories. Told by and about people we know, these stories illustrate the fundamental attitudes, truths, and principles of trustworthiness.

Today’s story is excerpted from our chapter on training for trustworthiness. It vividly demonstrates how a little role-playing—walking in your clients’ shoes—goes a long way.

From the Front Lines: Role-Playing Pays Off

The value of role-playing couldn’t be highlighted any better than the example that one of our course participants experienced in real time at one of my (Charlie’s) sessions. The exercise asked a group of business leaders to play the role of one of their most challenging clients while a colleague held a typical meet-and-greet.

One male partner chose a woman who was then a presidential appointee at one of Washington’s largest government agencies. The partner was flummoxed by two aspects of the relationship. One, a number of her direct reports were using the services of his organization, so he had to be careful of jumping the chain of command. Two, she kept asking for feedback, and what others inside and outside the organization were saying about her, a question he didn’t feel he could answer without jeopardizing the firm’s relationship.

The exercise got off to a good start, but then the ‘client’ asked over and over: ‘How are we doing?’

The other executive in the role play finally said: ‘Why do you keep asking that?’

The ‘client,’ the senior partner, answered quickly: ‘I’m just looking for information.’

A light bulb went off: she hadn’t been asking about how her staff felt about her; she was looking for information outside her own glass bubble as a senior official.

The senior partner immediately shot off an e-mail asking his client to have coffee and catch up. She answered right away with: ‘I’ll buy.’

—Charles H. Green, about Greg Pellegrino (Global Industry Leader for the Public Sector Industry, Deloitte)

Connect with Greg on LinkedIn or read his blog.

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Read more stories about trust:

My Client is a Jerk: Three Keys to Transforming Relationships Gone Bad

(Following is an abridged and partial version of my latest article just published at RainToday.com)

Have you ever had a really difficult client?

• Who won’t take the time up front to share critical information
• Who just cannot make a decision,
• Who is frozen by politics or fear or ignorance,
• Who argues, rejects, and is disrespectful.

There is a common thread to all of these cases, which—if we understand it—can help us succeed.

The common thread has nothing to do with the clients.

The common thread is us.

The Client Situation

Let’s get some perspective—about our clients, and about ourselves.

We’ve all said, if only in our heads, "My client is a jerk." Unfortunately, "my client is a jerk" is a terrible problem statement. For starters, clients don’t usually buy into it.

People successful enough to hire us typically have achieved some degree of success in life. While it’s popular lately to describe the prevalence of "a**holes" in business (see Robert I. Sutton’s book, The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t), their frequency is overestimated.
Most clients have spouses, or parents, or siblings capable of loving them. Most have a boss who has promoted them.

Truly bad behavior, more often than not, comes from decent people who are stressed out. If someone is behaving badly, it’s a good bet that they are afraid.
Identify the fear, and you can find a real problem statement.

Manage to talk about that fear with your client, and you can create a lasting bond.

Our Own Situation

What’s true of clients is equally true for us, especially in selling. We fear not getting the sale.

We’re afraid of our boss, peers, loved ones and clients judging us.

But we carry the ultimate judges around in our own heads. We allow ourselves to be hijacked by our own ideas of being "good enough.” There’s a thin line between having high standards and beating up on oneself.

If we act from fears, we will run from judgment—usually by blaming others. “This sale was doomed because I had a difficult client. If you’d had my client, you would have failed too. My client is a jerk.”

At first blame, people will commiserate with you. But when blame turns into resentment, people move away. Misery may love company, but company doesn’t return the favor.

Blaming a client never got you the sale, and it never will. But it can kill the next one.

Self-Diagnosing and Fixes

For more on diagnosing the problem (and examples of reframing it), and for three fixes for difficult clients situations, read the rest of the article at RainToday.com.

There aren’t any difficult clients. Not really. There are only relationships that aren’t working well. And nearly all of those can be fixed. But it must start with us.

As Phil McGee says, "Blame is captivity; responsibility is freedom." To get free of "difficult clients," take responsibility for fixing the relationships.