First, to attract great advisors, become a great connector. Today there are so many different ways to connect with people that your first real decision is to decide who you would like to have on your team. This sounds easier than it is to accomplish. I always train my teams to start a relationship with a question, not an answer. I learned this from several of my best mentors but it’s all about what you can bring to the other person. If you lead with a humble attitude and a clear understanding of what you want, you will be surprised at who pitches in to help when you ask. You should always be open to making an introduction to others in your network.
Second, do your homework. When you ask for a favor you should know who you asking. Before you pick up the phone or send a formal introduction, do your homework. Take the time to research the person to determine why they should take your call and what you may be able to give back to them. When I first started working with Berkshire Hathaway, I researched Ralph Schey, the CEO of Scott & Fetzer, a subsidiary of Berkshire. I called several friends and told them I was looking for either an introduction to him or a better understanding of who he was. As I began my research, I uncovered several interesting facts that I thought might help me get Ralph on the phone. After reading several biographies of Ralph, I found that I had several direct connections to Ralph. There were three that stood out: He graduated from Harvard, he had a military background, and finally, he owned Kirby Vacuum. I had friends in both the military and at Harvard that would have been happy to introduce me. But I had worked for Kirby. I was one of their top sales professionals in the early 80s and knew that company inside and out. I chose to approach Ralph through a mutual friend at Kirby.
Third, earn the right to an introduction. I approached Ralph Schey only after I went out and met with my friends at Kirby. After uncovering several unique challenges facing them at Kirby, I helped them create a unique solution to their problem. This served as a way of earning credibility. With that credibility, they felt comfortable introducing me to Ralph. Without the earlier success at solving their problem, it might have been awkward pursuing a meeting. With the success and the time spent working with one of his companies, I knew quite a bit about the corporate culture and the unique challenges facing his companies. The lesson here; don’t be in too much of a hurry to build a better connection. The more visible the person is, the more time you might need to invest to begin a relationship.
So how do you build a stronger relationship from the very start of your partnership? A critical element of success is knowing the right person to help your client. You should be able to call on any number of people who can help your client achieve their goals. To do this you must have a strong understanding of what expertise other people have and what roles they are comfortable playing in partnership with you. Over my career I’ve made it a practice to ask every person I talk with a question which allows me to effectively categorize their expertise and what they do best. The question can vary depending on their experience and strengths but I make sure I understand what they are great at. I make a note of that expertise and follow-up on a regular basis to keep up with their careers and lives.
People are always surprised what I remember about them. It helps to take an active interest in their lives.
Now that you know how to get that introduction, how do you become an advisor to those with whom you connect? It’s not just hocus-pocus. It’s a learnable skill. Next week I’ll begin to share with you the steps required to become a trusted advisor to your network and deepen your connections with clients.