What makes you indispensable to a client? So indispensable that she treats you as a valued partner and pays you well for a sustained period of time? The obvious answer is to have clearly demonstrable expertise in areas she values. This alone will open doors and close deals for you.
It won’t ensure long-term loyalty, however.
To become truly indispensable requires a human connection that nurtures trust. Integral to this type of connection is Shared Identity, Shared Empathy and Shared Understanding.
Three Essential Elements for Connection
Shared Identity results from a mutual commitment to a mission and/or set of values. If you have a passion for aircraft then working for a client who shares that passion will help you connect with him. Likewise, if you value transparency and frequent communications then having a client who shares those values will help you connect. Other things being equal, the more values you share, the greater the connection.
A second way people connect is through Shared Empathy. If you and your client have similar interests and you experience similar emotions while discussing those interests together, it increases connection. For example, you may both get excited talking about college basketball or know what it’s like to have a family member battle cancer. Understanding what’s important in your client’s life will help you identify common ground topics that lead to connection.
Shared Understanding is the third way to connect on a personal level. Connection is increased when you ask questions of your client and carefully listen to her answers so that you understand her perspective. After you’ve taken time to understand her perspective and shared your response in a way that accounts for it, your connection will grow even stronger. The field of contract law uses the term “a meeting of the minds” that captures the idea of Shared Understanding well. Developing a Shared Understanding requires listening carefully, probing continuously to clarify ambiguity and having the patience to persevere. More complex topics take a greater amount of time to reach a Shared Understanding than simple topics do. Dealing with people who are more open and naturally more trusting will also speed up the time required to reach a Shared Understanding.
Avoid This Trap
There is an important trap to watch out for. Behavior that puts your interest ahead of your client’s interest undermines connection. Even the perception of this will be damaging. That’s why it’s wise to carefully think through the benefits and potential objections your client might have then plan how you will clearly communicate to avoid even the appearance of self-interest.
When you bring a client needed skills and steadily work to increase connection, you’ll become an indispensable trusted partner. That’s when you can ask your client if there is anyone else he knows who might benefit from hearing about your work. Doors will open for you to add new clients and begin building connection with them.
Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn.