13 May You’re Always More Important Than You Think
You’re Always More Important Than You Think
We often hear from our clients that they feel a need to penetrate higher up in their client’s Web of Influence® i.e., to have better access and stronger relationships with the more senior decision makers in their client’s organizations. We agree, having observed this shortcoming / opportunity many hundreds of times in FreshEyes® Reviews and PostMortem Auditssm.
We often find that the problem is not so much with the clients, but instead with the service providers. Possibly, because a service or function is outsourced to begin with, our clients may feel it is “non-core” and less important to executives in the overall scheme of things. Often they are a reluctant to ask senior executives for the time and attention necessary to optimize the relationship and facilitate vital communication. They’re too often and too easily intimidated.
I want to share a lesson I learned early in my career at Procter & Gamble. At the age of 22, I was given responsibility for a division headquarters of a major customer that just happened to be in the territory I covered. This was one of the largest accounts in our District and was normally covered by company managers. They were buying our stuff in boxcars! I honestly felt I was in over my head — way too young and inexperienced to be handling this assignment.
As timing would have it, shortly after being assigned, it was time for the annual business review. This was always a big occasion for us at P&G, made even bigger and more significant given the size of this customer. It was not unusual to have two or even three levels of management attend and it was expected that all the senior executives of the customer would be there too. My boss insisted I call to invite the executives personally, starting at the top, and not rely on lower contacts to deliver the invitations. Gulp.
I still remember my sweaty palms as I picked up the telephone to call the customer’s Division President to invite him to the review. This was particularly nerve wracking given the fact that I’d not yet met him. At that stage, I was still pretty intimidated by the Buyer and Head Buyer.
Much to my surprise, the busy executive answered his own phone. I loved that. His response to my pretty awkward invitation was a great lesson to me – something like this; “Of course I’ll attend the review and just let me know who else you feel we need to have there, from my team. I know that we haven’t met and that you don’t think that I know who you are, but I do. You’re an important supplier to our company. I make it my business to know who you are and I expect you to make it yours to know me too. That doesn’t have anything to do with any hierarchy – we have an important corporate relationship and it serves all of our interests to make the most of it. Please stop by my office the next time you are here.” What a confident and secure manager!
This was a great lesson to me, one that I needed to learn. It was also not a surprise to me when some years later this young Division President became CEO of the then largest grocery chain in the country. He was a wise and enlightened manager of relationships and a gifted and humble teacher.
I learned from him that you’re almost always more important to others than you may think and that if you respect their time and use it to create real value, you’ll get more of it – and more success from it. Amazing too was how much more cordial my relationships further down in their organization suddenly became.
(By the way – we’re dialing back the free enterprise advocacy of the last two weeks. However, so as not to break a promise, if you’re interested in some additional facts and ideas, e-mail me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send them along under separate cover.)