One of the great aspects of being a Business Relationship Manager is the time you get to spend in conversation with other people. The danger is that all you ever do is have a conversation. I’ve been with salespeople and even found myself doing it, who think they’re making good progress with a customer because they get time to talk. We need to remember that unless a conversation results in action being taken then it’s just words.
The Action Train is an example of a flow we can have in our minds as we approach a conversation. There is a focus on making progress through the steps, not rushing the other party or failing to listen, but having an intention for what you want to achieve and being deliberate about it. As it has been said, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. Going into a conversation without thinking what it is you want to get out is at best a waste of your time, at worst a waste of someone else’s time.
The Action Train
In most cases, you’ll already have a connection with the person you’re talking to. If not then you need to start with establishing the reason for them to be talking with you. The way you do that can be similar to getting an existing contact to engage with an idea.
One aspect of the BRM role is to shape the response to a particular need or problem. It is often the case that the business has an existing service which meets the need but isn’t being used. It could also be there are several other areas also trying to do something similar and you want to avoid everyone having their special solution. The aim is to connect the problem or need from the customer side, with the capability that you’re positioning.
If you’re having the conversation then it is probably because there is at least some degree of a shared belief that you’ll be able to help each other. The BRM needs to work with the business partner (customer) to help them see why this specific path is going to be suitable for them.
It is always easier to come up with reasons why you shouldn’t do something than to take action. In part, this is because if the answer is obvious you’d already be doing it. Changing the status quo is about taking a risk. There needs to be a compelling reason to change, so compelling that it looks ridiculous to not have taken action. Interestingly, as humans, we do have a bias towards action. In a difficult situation, we’d often rather do something than nothing even if it doesn’t get a better answer. We all experience this in a traffic jam, or when in a queue – we change lanes, find another route, look to hop to another queue just so we feel like we’re in control and making progress. We have taken action.
In framing the situation with the business partner you can play on this desire to take action by setting out the situation in a way that gives them an understanding of the situation they face. Focus on highlighting the significant risks and make these look painful. Then highlight the benefits of taking the approach that you’re exploring. You need to be careful not to overplay the opportunity but by being very specific about what the benefit is can help someone to see the value of doing something different.
A common mistake in framing the risks and opportunities is to speak negatively about anyone else who may be offering to solve this problem. This is more applicable in a commercial sales environment but it is something to keep in mind. Focus on the advantages of working with you and don’t worry about making comparisons to others.
Remember, the desire to do nothing is a course of action. This is a decision that someone takes and your task is to make it a very unattractive option. In terms of making the best use of your time, having a ‘no’ to a suggestion is often better than having an ‘I’ll think about it’ pause.
Having created the case for change the next stage is to add the evidence as to why that change should be done with you and the suggestion you’re bringing to the table. This is about providing evidence that the risk of working with you is less than someone else. That others have done something similar and been able to get a result.
You’ll need to have thought in advance about the evidence that will be compelling. The business partner is likely to have ideas themselves of who could solve a problem. If you’re not compelling at this stage you’ve created an opportunity in the connection and framing stages to allow someone else to succeed.
The purpose of the Action Train is not to get a final decision in a single conversation, ideal though that may be. It is about taking steps forward together and moving to the place where a final decision can be made. Knowing what you want from each conversation is key. This is the purpose you have for investing the time with this person and unless you know what that aim is you’ll not be able to evaluate your progress.
A commitment to working together to refine the ideas that you’ve come up with could be a big enough step to take at this point. It may be something else and you may need to be flexible based on what you learn through the conversation. The important thing is that there is input from both sides to what happens next.
An offer to send someone some more information costs them nothing. Most people will say “yes” to your offer and you’ll think you’ve made progress with them. The reality is that few people will say no, so the ‘yes’ doesn’t give you anything. Changing the offer to sending some information and then speaking in a week to get feedback is going to “cost” the other party something. If they’re willing to do that then you’re taking steps forward on a journey together. Action is about commitment to doing something that has a “cost” – be it time or money.
Finally, remember that you’re committing as well. If you’re not going to follow up on your offer then don’t make it. The fastest way to lose trust and confidence in someone is to fail to do what you’ve said you will do.