In part four of a series of PM Forum articles on ‘the seven habits of a commercial adviser’ Ben Kent and Adrian Furner discuss how relationships drive business success. [Habit 4]
What was the last big business decision you made? Even when we believe we are making logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always emotional. Understanding people in business is critical to success; business is a social activity and relationships are fundamental. Professional firms are knowledge based businesses providing advice, in this type of people-based industry the importance of relationships is enhanced. The impact of advice, and the value that it can create depends on how it is delivered, and crucially, how it is received.
Being able to understand the people, their styles and drivers is fundamental to being able to successfully navigate the complex world of business and deliver success in terms of the desired outcomes. Whether we like it or not business is mainly about managing people and politics.
So how can advisers do this? A traditional approach is to perform some form of stakeholder analysis mapping the client team that we interface with, and potentially their internal stakeholders. This is a good starting point, but client expectations have changed. Clients now expect advice built on a deeper understanding of the context in which they operate and of their desired outcomes.
Advice must often be dovetailed with that of other advisers and stakeholders, both internal and external to the client. Not only who they are and their personal objectives, but how they work: what their processes are; how they will be using the advice; and how they will interpret it.
Carry out your stakeholder analysis, mapping the client team that you interface with and their internal stakeholders as early as possible after the kick-off meeting. Keep this updated as a live document and most importantly share it with your team.
Find out about all aspects of a business situation. It is easy to think of a particular client as a collective represented by your main point of contact, rather than individuals with different views, motivations and thought processes. What does it mean not just to your clients business, but to them personally – does their promotion depend on it?
Do your research
The ‘soft’ more personal aspects of a business situation can have a significant impact. Build up profiles of each team member. There is so much information at our finger tips spending time googling individuals or using LinkedIn is time well-spent. It can be really useful to capture initial observations from meetings and keep track of any side conversations that have happened. Don’t forget to ask if anyone from your organisation has worked with members of the client team before.
If you have a good idea of the position other advisers will take in a negotiation, use this information to anticipate and resolve issues that may arise ahead of time. Be open and collaborate with the client exploring scenarios together that drive the negotiation towards the desired outcome more quickly.
Understanding people is an art not a science. Simple actions such as taking time to meet individuals off the project for coffee can often be the most effective way to find common ground and build trust. This will set you apart as a friend or partner to the client, rather than a stumbling block to the client’s desired outcomes. Take a moment to think about relationships with your own suppliers, who are you more likely to work with and why?
A ‘trusted adviser’ is not someone you meet once a quarter in a meeting room. By getting to know your clients, you are much more likely to deliver advice that meets their expectations and achieves their outcomes.