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EPISODE 213: Business Relationships Guru David Nour Offers Two Strategies that Could Not Only Impact Your Sales Success But Your Life’s Achievements as Well
NOUR’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “You’re going to meet individuals who fundamentally change both your direction as well as your ultimate destination. We call those individuals Curve Benders. Where are they? How do we find them? More importantly, how do we become one? What I want for your listeners is to look back and say, “Did I really make a difference? Was I one of those Curve Benders that changed the trajectory of someone’s career, sales success, if not their life?”
David Nour is a leadership adviser, executive coach and the best-selling author of 10 books that have been translated into 8 languages.
His first book was called Relationship Economics, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about that.
His most recent book is called Co-Create, it came out in 2017.
We talked about how our listeners can get more value out of their business relationships.
Nour can be found on LinkedIn here.
Fred Diamond: When did you write the book “Relationship Economics” and what does that mean?
David Nour: I wrote the book in 2008, the first edition, second one I think in ’12 and I’m working on the third edition, we’ve sold about I think 50,000 copies of the books. The genesis of the idea came from, you know my personal story, I’m originally from Iran, came to the US in 1981 with a suitcase, a hundred bucks, didn’t know anybody, didn’t speak a word of English.
I wrote in the book that I didn’t get it then but I distinctly remember my dad walking us through the bazaars of Iran – I think I was 5 or 6 years old – and dad didn’t have on our Friday errands just a list of the things mom wanted or the things we needed around the house, he also had a relationship list and he wanted to make sure we specifically saw and nurtured several people. Whether it was a plumber that we needed in the house or access to a politician, dad got things done through relationships and I bring that point up because Fred, every international client, every international trip, I’ve lived abroad, worked abroad, reiterates. The rest of the world builds relationships first from which to do business.
Now I consider myself an American, unfortunately as Americans are Westerners, we’re so focused on that business part that if and only if the business part works, we’ll think about building relationships. So what I wanted to do with Relationship Economics was really combine the soft nebulous thing that we all know is important, relationships, if you think of that as the art, with a little more quantifiable, with a little more [Inaudible 02:28], with little more the science and as such, the economic value of everybody you know and what those contacts mean to you getting more things done.
Fred Diamond: Why do people hire you? What is it that triggers someone to say, “I need to bring this guy in to help my team or organization or entire company build stronger relationships?”
David Nour: You’re going to love this, the fact that in 18 years of having this business I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a call that, “Our relationships are broken, come help us” said no one ever. Unfortunately, when it comes to relationships a lot of leaders, a lot of front line contributors make a lot of assumptions. The biggest one is, “We have great relationships” and my first question is, “How do you know?” “Well, they buy from us.” Maybe because you’re holding them hostage or they have no other options, so unfortunately what I’ve found is there’s a lot of myths and misperceptions about relationships.
Let me just share two or three with you: #1 is like I said, “We have great ones.” We kind of dig a little bit deeper than that and it points to the fact that most people understand the importance of relationships, very few really think about their significance. By that, I mean this is more than just going to networking events or getting cards and giving cards. By the way, when I first started down this journey I was a student of, “Let me go find out what’s out there about this” and I’ve read a whole bunch of books. There really are two camps. One camp is the art, go to events, get cards, give cards, work a room, all that stuff and God bless people that write that stuff. It’s very retail oriented and useful but it’s very pedestrian, if you will.
Then there’s the science which actually, believe it or not, is called social network analysis. It actually has nothing to do with LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, it’s actually studying patterns in human interaction. Rob Cross is at University of Virginia and Brian Uzzi is at Kellogg in Chicago and there are some brilliant minds that talk about this topic. Unfortunately, it’s really dry and it puts most people to sleep in about 15 minutes. What I thought was, “What if we brought the two together?”
The art is critical but what if people began – and that’s the real impetus in Relationship Economics – how to become more intentional, how to become more strategic and absolutely become more quantifiable in the relationships you choose to invest in. Back to your original question, why do people call me? It’s seldom at relationship issue on the surface, it is always at relationship costs, “If our sales our stagnant.” I don’t believe everybody’s damaged, I’ll get a lot of calls from people that want upside. “We want to go into a new market, we want to launch a new product, we want to go into a new different industry.”
We’ve always said relationships cannot replace performance, execution and results, they can certainly accelerate your ability to get there. We’ve proven time to traction, we’ve proven time to acceptance, we’ve proven an opportunity to open new markets, open new doors if you become more intentional, strategic and quantifiable in those relationships. What I bring to clients are ideas that I think everybody’s thought of but very few people have ever codified, such as a relationship heat map, a relationship scorecard, a systematic discipline, repeatable, predictable process that doesn’t say that relationships are pockets of what we do as a company or a team, it is consistently what our entire team does. It’s almost like institutionalizing relationships, it’s not just Joe and Sam and Susan and Becky, it’s now the entire team that does this very well.
Fred Diamond: Let’s get into a little bit of context. Again, we’re the Sales Game Changers podcast, we have a lot of people listening on the podcast around the globe who are at the earlier stages of their career. We have a lot of leaders as well, of course and a lot of people mid-course. I remember a couple years ago we were doing an event on relationships at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, one of our sponsors and we brought a lot of young people there. We were talking about building these relationships and using them and I had the observation that one of the reasons why a lot of these young people weren’t successful with that is because they were 22, 23 years old, none of the people they had relationships with were at the customer location or even in the industry. Put some of this in context, tell us a little bit about the importance of relationships and what that really means for the Sales Game Changers listening.
David Nour: You actually bring up a great point that unfortunately this idea of relationships is not taught in our schools, it’s seldom part of anybody’s new hire training program. I lead a lot of leadership programs and in a week-long leadership program maybe it’s an afternoon. I would submit to you – and I want to reinforce for both those that are in the spring of their sales career but also those that are a little more seasoned, been at this game a little bit longer – is none of it, your products, your service, your differentiation will not matter if you don’t begin, almost like a theater act, before, during and after.
If throughout that entire campaign or that journey, if you’re not leading with the relationships, if you’re not identifying, nurturing, sustaining, leveraging – never using, but leveraging – those relationships with value add consistently, I’m trying to tell you, you’re going to get lost in the noise. Make no mistake about it, every one of our industries, there’s a ton of noise. How many different – you fill in the blank – do we know, do we have? How many different X, Y, Z company partners do I need?
What we’ve seen is beyond your products and services, the relationships you choose – and I said this earlier, it’s a choice, you choose to invest in. The level of investment you’re able to make, you’re able to make unequivocally sets you apart. It’s also really important to understand this, especially again, those who are in the spring of their career, who are just starting out. Three types of relationship builders: givers – God bless Mother Teresa, these people altruistically give, they love to give. “Let me give you a demo product, let me just give you.” They get something very euphoric from just giving, that’s fabulous, I love these people, I admire these people. The problem is most of them can’t be pure givers because Fred, I don’t know about you, I have something called a mortgage. #2 and the second type of relationship: takers. Have you ever met this type? The only time they call is when they want something.
Fred Diamond: Yeah.
David Nour: And if you’ve ever been around any kind of addiction – alcohol, drugs, whatever – we make excuses for them and in the process, we’re enabling that behavior. Relationships are behavioral, so if you keep giving into those who are takers, all they’re going to do is keep taking. I don’t know about your bank, my bank will not let me make $100 dollar deposit and get $1,000 dollars in return yet we meet people all the time, customers, prospects, colleagues who keep asking for favors where they haven’t earned the right to do so. Givers, takers, the last ones are relationship investors who fundamentally understand it’s a lot easier to have your hand out if you start by giving a hand.
Whether you’re early in your sales career or you’re a sales pro, what are you doing to create value with every interaction, with every touch? Because the reason people are not returning your calls and emails is because you or your value proposition is not a priority. We all have 168, 168 is the number of hours in a week, we all have the exact same weeks. People prioritize their time, their effort, their resources for the relationships they perceive to be of the greatest value.
Fred Diamond: I want to ask you a question on the evolution of relationships. We’ve dealt with tens of thousands of sales professionals via the Institute for Excellence in Sales and the Sales Game Changers podcast. You had people who would build great, successful sales careers in 10, 20, 30 years ago because they knew everybody in town and they brought a fruit basket during the holidays or what it might be. Now that’s changed, where people are looking for value. You used the term value add a couple of times, talk today, David about what value means and what’s critical now? One trend, of course that we know is that people can get their information on the internet and the value word comes up so frequently. Value, persistence and mindset are the three big words, but what exactly today – again we’re doing this interview in 2019, it’s going to be in perpetuity but what does ‘value’ really mean today? Again, a lot of our listeners, B to B enterprise type sales professionals.
David Nour: #1 and the evolution of it, I continue to see this. Let me prefix this comment by saying the early part of my career was technology, IBM and Silicon Graphics and BusinessObjects. I love technology, I’m a huge advocate of it, I’m on various social channels yet the technology, I believe, is giving us an opportunity to connect. Fred, we’re connected, unfortunately we’re not connecting. All your contacts on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram, I’m trying to tell you, mean very little if there’s no depth to those. Nothing is going to replace it, I’ve certainly not found it yet, maybe holograms will do that for us but I’ve yet to find anything that replaces you when I’m meeting face to face, shaking hands and engaging each other in person. #1, you have to create an authentic connection.
In that process, #2 here’s the other evolution, it is not about you. I’m saying this as respectfully as I can, they don’t care about you, your products, your services. It is all about them and if you’ve read anything about storytelling, which we believe is genuinely a new sales leadership competency, if you think about storytelling, the best stories are where there’s a hero’s journey. If that hero ever gets away from being your customer or your prospective clients, you’re going to lose. It’s not about you, you’re the guide, you’re Yoda [Laughs] so how do I help Luke Skywalker become a Jedi? The hero has a problem and Donald Miller at BrandScript, StoryBrand is really famous for this approach of the hero’s journey who’s got a problem, you the guide with a plan but again, you can’t do it by yourself. What’s the call-to-action and then what does the success look like?
The sales professionals who fundamentally understand that they’re not the hero of the journey – because if there’s two in the same story, one of us is in the wrong story – and really add value to get that client to the end result, the outcomes they’re after are the ones that are going to win. #3, the more complex our environments become, those who clarify, those who simplify, those who articulate their unique value add are the ones that are going to win because everybody talks about speeds and feeds and, “Look at all that I can do.” Less is more, if you make me spend a lot of cycles just to understand what is it that you do, you’re going to lose me at hello. We’re a huge believer of there’s enormous value in brevity, get to the point, get your value proposition, get your website, get your conversations.
If you think about a great relationship, they’re often derived from great conversations. Great conversations come from great questions so if you ask an incredible question that engages, that influences, that shapes the way they think, the outcomes they’re after and you really invest the time in the relationship to understand the results which they seek and you become an enabler of that, by definition you’re going to set yourself apart.
Fred Diamond: Where do people fail? Where do people really fall short? Is it the expectation and the time that it’s going to take? Is it not being authentic? Not providing something? It’s interesting, that point you just brought up because one of the other major trends that we constantly hear on the Sales Game Changers podcast is one of the key differentiators of great sales leaders is the ability to listen, and of course one of the key ways that you’re an effective listener is by asking great questions so I’m glad you brought that up. Where else do people fail? Where is the biggest gap between truly being good at relationships?
David Nour: Let me build on the first point you brought up, listening. In my experience, unfortunately most of us don’t listen to hear, we listen to craft what we’re going to say as soon as you stop talking. [Laughs] I’d say go back to the fundamentals of genuinely getting less busy, less distracted and more centered, more in tune with being in the moment, so much more proactive listening. #2, I genuinely believe the days of any of us walking into any door with all the answers are numbered if not gone. As a matter of fact, my dad says if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
In Co-Create I wrote about this. Instead of walking in with, “You sit there and be quiet, let me tell you about how great we are.” By the way, I’m convinced ever since we came up with PowerPoint we also came up with death by PowerPoint. “You sit there because I want to take you through 167 slides in the next 10 minutes.” Stop it, that’s not helping you [Laughs] Conversely, I still believe you need to do your due diligence but what if you walked in with, “Here’s the homework we’ve done, here’s our perception, here’s the hypothesis, here’s our understanding of where you’re going. I’m not sure I know how you’re going to get there, but here’s how we perceive we could collaborate.”
Listen to what I just said. I didn’t say, “Let me sell you all my stuff.” “Here’s how I think we could collaborate, we could add value, we could…” Right? And even if you’re completely wrong, by creating an environment where you bring that client, that prospect, that relationship into the tent and you’re giving him permission to contribute to whatever we’re building, look at what we’re doing, we’re co-creating and people start to gain a sense of ownership in whatever it is that we’re creating together. Now you’re not a vendor, you’re not a sales guy sitting over there trying to sell me something, you’re fundamentally trying to solve my challenges and help accelerate my ability to get there. I believe those that still walk in with all the answers are going to lose.
Fred Diamond: David, we’re going to take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors but before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about digital, the evolution to digital. Again, a lot of relationships, people work in their same town or state or whatever it might be. Now you know it’s a global economy, of course now there’s LinkedIn and Twitter and all these types of things where you’re dealing on a daily basis with people who you’ve never even seen and you’re trying to sell things to who you’ve never seen and you’re never going to see. Most of your communications might be via LinkedIn or Zoom, possibly or Skype. Tell us about that. Before we take a short break and listen to our sponsor, again it’s a huge question, I’m sure you speak on this topic for hours but just give us a little bit of a taste on the evolution of digital.
David Nour: I believe in technology and I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn and all these things. They’re enormous due diligence tools. I’m looking up Fred before we ever talk, before we ever meet. I want to know what are you interested about, what are you passionate about, what’s taking up a lot of your head space, if you will and can I ascertain or anticipate where you’re going, what you might be struggling with? I’m getting my ducks in a row before we ever engage. Doesn’t replace you and I meeting in person, fantastic tool to stay in touch and continue to add value.
In my experience, a lot of products and services are very event-driven. They may not need you, me or anybody else today, tomorrow or next week but something triggers in their world where they’re going to need one of us and are you top-of-mind? The way I know how to do that is stay in touch and continue to add value. It doesn’t replace the face visits, but in time where we’re all pulled in a lot of different directions, it could be great micro touches, there could be great micro relationship value adds. I still believe in that interaction. When we come back, I want to give your audience a very practical, pragmatic tool that will create a cadence on and offline to be in line in that nurturing journey of their relationships.
Fred Diamond: I have one quick question I want to ask you before we get to some of your specifics. Personal versus business. You have a limited amount of time now to talk to your prospects. They’re busy, they have gates, they have gatekeepers, they don’t take your phone calls, you can’t get into buildings anymore. We can find out things about our prospects, obviously we could find out tons of business related things on LinkedIn and we’ve spoken about that many times in the podcast, but we can also find personal things about them as well. Not to get into areas that are kind of creepy, if you will but let’s talk about the evolution of personal versus business. Most relationships have been that you’ve been dealing with people in the same town for 30 years, you known about their kids. Tell us now what it looks like from that relationship economics perspective.
David Nour: I would submit to you that we’re all products of the advice we take and a mentor drove into me years ago that you don’t have a personal life and a professional life, you have one life. Fred, again, it might be a different time and a different place but my parents still live in Iran, dad’s been going to the same butcher I think for like 50 years. He’s been going to the same baker and a lot of the Midwest and in some other small towns, people still believe in that.
I bring that up because I would submit to you that people still want to do business with people. Again, this is not a faith or religion comment but our pastor says the bigger the gap between who you really are and who you pretend to be, the more exhausting life becomes. I would submit in 2019 and beyond authenticity matters more than ever before and I want your audience to hear this. What you do for a living isn’t who you are, that’s just one facet, one part of it. People connect with other people through that which they’re passionate about.
Again, you’re exactly right, I’m not trying to teach anybody to stalk and this isn’t about creepy and big brother watching, any of that but if you find out what somebody’s passionate about, pick your cause. Leukemia or cancer or any of these things, if you don’t care, don’t do it because I would also submit that everybody has a BS radar, but if you can find a way to be a value add, if you can find a way to help them create a real impact and that which they’re passionate about, you’re going to create what I call a relationship on ramp. In that on ramp you get a chance to get to know each other.
Now, warning, wrong place to whip out a business card and talk about, “Let me tell you, I want to sell you more servers” because you’re going to get the Heisman, you’re going to get the stiff arm if you try to combine your vocation with someone else’s avocation. Use discernment, use good judgement but by getting to know them, what they’re passionate about, what they care about, the things that are causes that they believe in and genuinely getting involved in those things is amazing. I’ve met some incredible clients that I’ve met through nonprofit boards, I’ve been introduced by somebody that we do nothing in common professionally but because we’re involved with the same cause, they at some point ask, “What do you do for a living?
By the way, let me introduce you to so-and-so that I think could use you as a speaker or a coach.” Focus less on the transaction and more on how can you transform? How can you transform people’s lives, how can you transform things that are of value to them, things that they care about, things that are priorities to them.
Fred Diamond: If you’re committed to something, be committed to something, get involved.
David Nour: Have you met these people that are involved with 75 different things around town? I’m not sure you’re doing any of them well, and I wrote about this in Co-Create, I call it the Jerry McGuire business model. What if we did less but we did it deeper, we did it more impactfully, we did it more authentically, we did it with more conviction? I’ve got a very specific formula for trust: credibility + empathy. Credibility says you know more about your world than anybody else, empathy says you can be quiet long enough to understand where I’m coming from. Put them together and that’s where you earn my trust.
Fred Diamond: David, again we have sales leaders and sales professionals around the globe that come to the Sales Game Changers podcast to get some advice, to get some actionable things that they can do to take their sales career to the next level. You’ve given us some tremendous insights into relationships, again we were talking a second ago about your book, Co-Create. You mentioned before at the break that you were going to give us some specific things they could do to take their sales career to the next level.
David Nour: If you believe my premise that relationships are an investment, I would submit that we make investments in no other parts of our lives as haphazardly as we do with relationships. Here’s a very simple tip, and by the way, I eat my own cooking here. Make a one page relationship A, B and C list. No more than say, 10 in each category and these are the relationships that are the most relevant, most critical to your success where you can add the biggest value. Listen to what I said, they’re not your pipeline, these aren’t people that you’re going to sell something to transactionally this week or this quarter or blue birds that are going to drop into your lap and you’re going to close some day. Who are the 30 most relevant most valuable relationships?
Make a list. I carry my list with me, my list is up in my office door so I don’t forget who they are on a consistent basis. By the way, it’s a fluid list. I’ll talk about the relationship norms but you can keep that list fairly fluid, but who are the 30 most valuable most relevant relationships? Here’s the key. Create a cadence to touch base, to add value, to bolster, to help them achieve their outcomes on a consistent basis. You do that and again, it doesn’t all have to be professional. Sometimes it could be personal, this CEO that you really want to work with that you’ve gotten to know, their kid is trying to get in some school that you happen to be an alumni of.
Can you add any value? They want to go vacation somewhere where you’ve been several times. Can you add any value? Again, it doesn’t all have to be transactional or professionally based. If you have a list in front of you and you intentionally look for opportunities to be an asset, to add value, to connect, to engage, it’s amazing the economic value add that comes from that. Very quickly, I said that list could be fluid. There are three fundamental laws in relationships. #1 is gratitude. We all do something for somebody, at a minimum I don’t care who you are, you should say thank you.
Number two is reciprocity. Maybe not today, tomorrow, next week or next month but Fred, you’ve been nothing but kind to me, thank you, what can I do to help you? If you’re not hearing that, you’re yellow, spidey sense should go up. Last but not least is pay it forward. None of us are an island, none of us are born with this stuff. I said earlier, relationships are behavioral. If you don’t observe people you’re investing in investing in other people, don’t walk away, run because they don’t get it. That’s what I’m saying, on that list if I continue to invest and I’m not seeing those fundamental laws – gratitude, reciprocity, pay it forward – I’m always nice, I take the high road but I get a chance to de-prioritize someone and prioritize somebody else on that list.
Fred Diamond: David Nour, you’ve given us some tremendous insights today, I’m really glad we had you on the show. Again, I’ve been following your work for a number of years and you’re definitely the leader in this particular space. Before I ask you for your final tip for the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, again the book you came out with, 2017 was Co-Create. Tell us what that means in context of Relationship Economics.
David Nour: Sure, you were kind enough to ask when people call you what problems are they having, what are they hiring to solve, that very seldom relationships are broken. It’s really applications of relationships so in Relationship Economics I talked about being intentional, strategic and quantifiable in your relationships. In Co-Create I brought it full-circle to applications of relationships and innovation in both inside the organization, building a culture of sales innovation, building a culture of where people iterate which is doing the same things better, innovate which is, “Let’s do some new things” and then if you get a chance to disrupt, how do we do new things that make the old obsolete?
Relationships we found to be a phenomenal enabler of an individual – by the way, relationships are not between logos or buildings, they’re always between individuals – individuals, teams and organizations begin to think and hopefully lead very differently in the evolution of themselves, their teams, their organization. I’m really excited that with each subsequent edition of any of these books I go back and research, I go back and interview so it’s typically 30-40% new content and I’m coming out with the second edition of the Co-Create book next year. It’s all about applications of relationships to innovate, to build a culture of innovation, to build innovation capabilities and really begin to think and lead very differently.
Fred Diamond: David Nour, it’s been great to have you on the Sales Game Changers podcast, thank you for all this great information for the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe and again, congratulations on you. 10 books, 8 languages, best-sellers, speaking all around the world. How often do you speak, like 50 times a year or so?
David Nour: Yeah, I’m blessed. 50 to 60 times a year, about a dozen or so in international. Maybe it’s cultural but clients become friends and I become one of those bad pennies, you don’t want to go away [Laughs] but yes, I’ve been blessed to speak 50-60 times a year. Corporate, some associations and then a number of academic forums, I’m an adjunct faculty at a couple different places and get a great chance to work with executives in the executive education programs.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought?
David Nour: I would submit to you that – and this also leads to some of my work that I’m researching, I’m writing the next book, #11. The title is called Curve Benders and it’s the intersection of Future of Work and Strategic Relationships. As you think about in the next two decades, we’ve identified 15 forces that are going to fundamentally change the way we live, we work, we play and we serve others.
I believe to remain relevant we need to continue to learn and grow from podcasts like this, from organizations that you lead, Fred. That growth trajectory is very linear. You’re going to meet relationships, individuals who fundamentally change both that direction as well as ultimate destination. We call those individuals Curve Benders and you’ll look back and you’ll see that your career, your impact, your relationships are dramatically richer, they’re more impactful, they’re more fulfilling because of these individuals.
What I’m really curious about is who are they? Where are they? How do we find them? More importantly, how do we become one? I don’t know what sales deal you were working on 5 years ago, but I do know the first manager who took me under his wings and taught me how to engage and how to influence. What I want for your listeners is to look back and say, “Did I really make a difference? Was I one of those Curve Benders that changed the trajectory of someone’s career, sales success, if not their life?”