There we sat, comfortably private in adjoining massive hotel foyer arm chairs, participants in a business conference. My companion: A client senior executive, someone I see one or two times a year at similar meetings or in her home city. I’d invited her to sit for a few minutes to share some perspective of her priorities and our performance for her organization.
As we settled into our chairs, we made some small talk about how pretty the day was, how glad we were to be out of the cold back home (winter still being ‘on’), and how well the conference was going.
Then, she (being the extraordinarily capable executive she is) beat me to the opening question, like a baseball pitcher making a great pick-off move to first base. She sharply turned her gaze from the outside sunshine to me and asked, “So, what’s new?”
She caught me “learning the wrong way,” as the baseball people say. My mind went blank, for an instant. Lots of ways to answer.
But, I, being the extraordinarily capable consultant I am, “dove for the bag” and generated an answer, focusing on “shiny objects,” attention-attracting ideas or insights rehearsed in the days before the Conference.
She liked some of them and, after we’d talked about those for a bit, she (again) shifted the conversation, “Who are you seeing that’s doing this (her business) well… and what are they doing?”
However wide our clients’ perspectives, they seek our view as business travelers, moving along paths and speaking with people different from themselves. I shared, she followed with questions, and I switched the conversation to discuss to her priorities.
She touched on some things, hinted at others, then suddenly switched me again: “How’s your business?”
We can, like travelers down the centuries, appear at our clients’ and prospects’ sides ready to regale them with whatever stories seem most top of mind in the moment, as if all huddled ‘round the flickering late evening fire, mugs of mead in hand, darkness pressing.
Better, ‘though, to think ahead, to “stop winging it,” as colleague Leo Pusateri puts it – anticipate their questions and PLAN responses. These three questions – “What’s new?”, “Who is doing this well?”, and “How’s your business?” – are standards. We should anticipate them every time.
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