If you’re in the Real Estate industry, you’ll no doubt be familiar with that Key Accounts guy, the one who knows exactly what to say, when to say it, and how to say it to achieve maximum effect. Many people underestimate the value of what these individuals can offer a business. Psychologist Robert Sternberg called it ‘Practical intelligence’ – it’s the kind of intelligence that does not rely on knowing information, but rather knowing how to achieve your objective. It’s a knowledge that allows you to read a situation accurately and get what you need out of it.
Here’s a story to illustrate this kind of intelligence at work. It’s about two guys who are co-partners at an ad agency. The first, Roger is the accounts fellow- a natural smooth operator with a keen ability to read and understand people. The other guy, Lane is the CFO of the agency with no sales experience. Now, normally Roger is responsible for bringing in the business and looking after relationship with clients. However Lane knows a contact at a car company they’re trying to land as a new, very lucrative, client. He would like to try his hand at initiating the business relationship based on his prior acquaintance with the prospective client. Lane visits Roger for some advice on how to win the prospective client’s business.
Roger advises Lane “Well, it’s kind of like being on a date,”
“Flattery, I suppose,” Lane says.
“Within reason. But I find it’s best to smile and sit there like you’ve got no place to go, and just let them talk. Somewhere in the middle of the entrée, they’ll throw out something revealing. And you want to wait until dessert to pounce on it. You know, let him know you’ve got the same problem he has, whatever it is. And then you’re in a conspiracy. The basis of a friendship.” Roger says.
It’s amazing to watch a great Accounts person working their magic. Having just been at an industry conference, I observed a few of these Accounts types who know how to network by making ingratiating small talk. If they are masters of their art, the client will not for one moment feel that the encounter has been engineered. Effortlessly, they have the ability to drive a conversation that is business-oriented, while subtly soliciting personal information (being careful to avoid overt pitching). While this may sound manipulative, I like to see it as finding common ground between yourself and those with whom you’d like to form a mutually valuable relationship. At the end the day, the success of a business meeting can come down to a ‘Shmooze ‘em or lose ‘em’ scenario.
I recalled the anecdote above and realized, there’s certainly more to this skill than meets the eye. I believe that it’s more of an art than a science, but it’s an art that can be learned. And absolutely should be learned, because relationships lie at the core of every business. It’s important to realise that these relationships form the foundation of all future projects with your client, and if they aren’t started or nurtured thoughtfully may stunt the possible longevity of your engagement.
Now this skill comes naturally to some, but fortunately it is also possible to learn – like Lane was taught. Here are a few tips on getting the most out of every encounter:
- Background work- It never hurts to find out as much as possible about the person you’ll be meeting. What are their interests? Their likes and dislikes? The more you know about the individual, the more chance you’ll be able to find common ground.
- Choose the right environment- Depending on the goals you have in mind, choose a venue that could facilitate a fruitful meeting. It should offer the right level of intimacy. Remember to keep in mind how the environmental factors affect you… be sure not to set yourself up for failure. If coffee gives you the jitters, avoid the coffee shop. And if bourbon is your weakness, think twice about a double on the rocks.
- Give and take-It’s important to realise that every encounter is essentially a transaction. You need to open up and give something of worth in order to receive something valuable in return. The crux of transactional encounters is vulnerability. Try to share an interesting insight about yourself that you wouldn’t ordinarily talk about… it’s amazing how your awkward story might put the other person at ease.
The encouraging thing about this is that it doesn’t really require a first time all-or-nothing encounter to learn. The everyday encounters you have with the people in your world provide a great context to learn how to connect better on training wheels.
So you see, successful encounters are rarely a fluke. On the contrary, they are often meticulously planned and engineered to prepare a fertile ground where business goals can be fulfilled. The challenge is to set up a good foundation upon which you can tackle the cold hard proposal, ultimately setting your team up for a win.
Bodine, L. (2012) Roger Sterling of Mad Men Advises How to Close a Customer. Retrieved July 5, 2015, from http://blog.larrybodine.com/2012/04/articles/sales/roger-sterling-of-mad-men-advises-how-to-close-a-customer/