229. Special Request: Becoming a strategic advisor to your clients

11 takeaways from this 18 minute lecture:

00:00:45 Find a mentor. To develop an expertise in managing clients (or any other skill for that matters):

  • Identify the skill you want to master
  • Find someone extremely skilled in your target skill
  • Put your ego aside; flatter that person and offer to do anything and everything for them that they need
  • Spend as much time as you possibly can around them – watching and observing. Learn as much as you can from that person, no matter how menial the task
  • Become a clean slate, judge nothing negatively, and just absorb everything they say and do

Whenever that person does or says something you believe to be wrong or that doesn’t make sense to you:

  • Again, put your ego aside,
  • Assume s/he has a logical, strategic reason for doing or saying it,
  • Find out the strategies and reasons behind why they are doing it, and then
  • Mimic them

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in the panel discussion Lessons Learned in Conflict Resolution at Columbia University that informational interviewing is contacting – preferably through a mutual-recommendation – people who are doing what you want to do, getting 15 minutes of their time, and leaving the meeting with a list of other people they recommend you should contact.

Informational interviews aren’t so much about marketing yourself as they are about networking and obtaining information to help you understand how to identify your target demographic and combine your education and experience into a product and/or service that will meet their needs.

Everybody is already networked; you just have to get into the network. If you conduct 3, fifteen minute informational interviews every week, you’ll have met and built a directory of 72 relevant professionals in your target field within six months.

Recall also in Stan Christensen’s lecture Negotiation: Common Mistakes, Underhanded Techniques & How to Improve at Stanford University that:

  • Building relationships, even seemingly one-time negotiations, is a safer bet to your future than violently taking the other side for all they are worth.
  • Short-term underhanded tactics don’t lead to long-term relationships. Over the long-term, the more aggressive and hostile you are, the less people want to concede to you and work with you.
  • Effective negotiation really boils down to creative problem-solving and effective relationship management.
  • Think of communication as convincing the other person that you hear them and that they are being heard. The fact that the other person feels like they are being listened to is the most important part of persuasion.

Lastly, recall in Deepak Malhotra’s lecture 20 Tips to Better Negotiate Your Job Offer & Compensation Package at Harvard University that:

  • Negotiation isn’t only about persuading the other party. First and foremost it’s about understanding the other party.
  • When a person says ‘No’ in a negotiation, what they mean is ‘No, in the way I see the world today.’ Understanding the circumstances around why they said ‘No’ today lets you know how, and when, to get a ‘Yes’ later on.
  • At every stage in a discussion, whenever someone asks you a question or says something ambiguous or that you weren’t expecting, investigate and ask for clarification so you understand the situation. The better you understand the situation, the more wisely you can respond to it.]

00:02:40 Become a strategic adviser. The most common mistake client relationship managers make is they don’t become strategic advisors to their clients. You’re versatile and provide many different services to many different clients, so when working with a client, advise them on what you were specifically hired to help them with, but also on matters they did not ask you to advise them on. They should come to see you as more than a simple person capable of doing one specific task, but as a versatile professional that should be kept close and frequently relied upon.

For example, Merger & Acquisition (M&A) Bankers, over the course of a 6-month to year long mission, may spend a thousand hours with the CEO and other top decision-makers, getting to know them and their business problems very intimately. Once the M&A transaction has been concluded and the mission finished, a celebratory cocktail or dinner is had and all parties then part their separate ways.

Fast forward 5-years and the same CEO sets up for another M&A. Had you taken advantage of your time with the CEO and positioned yourself as a strategic advisor on issues unrelated to that M&A, you would have stayed at the table and become a permanent adviser for all their banking transactions. But because you didn’t, your relationship grew cold, decayed, and died, and now you are seen as ‘just another M&A banker.’

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my interview with Sam Fajner that “Your brand is not what YOU think your brand is, it is what THEY (your client/customer) think it is. In the age of social media, you don’t tell people what you are, they tell you what you should be.”

Lastly, recall in my interview with Olivier Hubinois that you’ve probably solved many different problems for your clients, but it isn’t until your the client realizes just how prevalent you are until their open to hiring you to solve the problems they either haven’t yet told you about, or aren’t yet aware that they have…]

00:07:00 The reasons for this are simple:

  1. Business is intertwined. The better you know your client, the better, more holistic advice you can give them
  2. By becoming your client’s trusted strategic adviser, you’ve killed your competitors
  3. You use your versatility to protect yourself in the future. Business is cyclical, and the services in high demand today will not be the services in high demand tomorrow. If you’ve positioned yourself as an M&A specialist today, and in 5-years time governmental regulations or new business practices have emerged that render your services less effective, you’ll go bankrupt if you haven’t evolved with the times.

00:09:00 Information gathering. Empathy is your ability to put yourself into your client’s shoes, and listening and asking open-ended questions is a great way to accomplish this.  

00:10:10 Creativity. Don’t look at problems and concerns in terms of what cannot be done; this is an easy excuse and shows neither creativity nor expertise. Don’t say “I can’t afford it,” say “How can we afford it?” You don’t want to get yourself and your clients in trouble, but don’t just say ‘No’ without first exploring all alternatives.

00:11:15 Client interests over yours. As a trusted strategic advisor, this takes two forms:

  1. You must be willing to give the client advice that may not be in your best interest.
  2. Your client must have access to you all the time. Work/life balance is good, but it is also a very competitive world. As a strategic advisor – especially when you are just starting out in your career – your work and clients must take priority. If you’re not there when the client needs/calls you, somebody else will be. Rather than thinking of work/life balance on a daily schedule, try to manage it on a weekly or monthly schedule: working extremely hard, but periodically taking long weekends.

00:15:00 Being up-beat is contagious. Your having a bad day or week is of no concern to your client who is paying you to solve their problems.

00:15:45 Stay informed with law and be business-oriented. To be of any value to your clients, employer, etc, you must understand the environment in which they exist, and you must understand the limitations and constraints within which they make important decisions.

Secondly, you must understand the jargon and vocabulary of the key decision-makers. The concepts behind the jargon are relatively easy to understand, but your ability to follow and contribute to the conversation and use the jargon correctly identify you as belonging to their group.

Jim Donovan is a Managing Director for Goldman Sachs and an adjunct professor for the University of Virginia School Law.