Curious (Issue 1046)

In which are encouraged to be curious about and interested in our clients’ stories beyond the business opportunities we seek.

“She was my great, great grandmother.” I looked to where her finger pointed in a formal photographic portrait of a roughly 30-year-old woman posing with her two older brothers, taken around 1895.

My conversation partner was the owner of a home in which I had stayed for a week through a VRBO rental. The home was once the stable and living quarters for gardeners and stablemen who served the family living in the enormous house across the street including, until 14 years before, her maternal grandmother. I’d asked the question because my VRBO host had offered a general reference to a family connection to the big house and I was immediately curious – I’d wanted to hear more.

Eight months passed and, while looking at a picture I’d taken of the VRBO house, I wondered: “How did the family evolve from great, great grandmother to my host?”

Starting with what I recalled from the photograph and our conversation, I searched regional newspapers’ society page archives for columns about weddings and debutante balls and for obituaries and estate settlements. In the late 1800s, at the time the picture was taken, the family was one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in that region. Both of the brothers in the picture died in 1900, within two weeks of each other, about four years after the photographic portrait. Their sister (the great, great grandmother) was the only survivor from that generation of the family.

My VRBO host was her great, great granddaughter through three generations of women each of whom, particularly her maternal grandmother, had been big players in local society and philanthropy. The men in the family had included senior Federal government officials, bankers, and businessmen.

And there was no point to these hours of research. Really. No point. I’m not going to publish it. I’m not going to ask my VRBO host about it. It’s boring for my family. There was no point.

Except that I was curious…and the research was exhilarating – a fascinating family story of success, tragedy, wealth, politics, and power which, if you dig deeper, back to their 18th century ancestors, is even more amazing.

Everybody has stories and, when I meet potential clients, I like to say something like, “Before we jump into our business discussion, I’m curious – I’d love to hear a bit about you… your path to this company and your position. How have things evolved?”

This is less rigorous research and I love to hear the stories and listen for the influence of their past experiences on their present-day decisions and aspirations. While their answers may or may not lead directly or immediately to new business opportunities, the message I’m sending is, “I’m curious… and I’m interested…”

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at .

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