How does knowledge affect business relationships? It’s a matter Ross Dawson has written a whole book about. In this post I’d like to share my thoughts on knowledge in business relationships and related matters like advising (internal) clients, or even friends for that matter.
What do you bring to the table in your (business) relationships?
- Knowledge. By this I mean your personal set of experiences. Not just your education, because your peers share much the same background.
- Time – which may seem in short supply so you’d rather spend it on activities that add value than on stuff that really isn’t that important but “management say they want it so go do it”.
- Social skills (if I’m being presumptuous please let me know).
It makes sense to invest your time in building a good relationship with your (potential) clients and allies. Apart from your subject matter expertise (SME), focus on extending the knowledge you have about your client:
- Listen carefully to what’s being said.
- Listen even more carefully to what’s not being said.
- Ask away.
- Keep asking.
- Be open about the way you work (from the start), and
- ask for structural feedback to help finetune your actions. When you plan your activities for a client, include a continuous feedback loop from and to your client. If that’s not possible, plan regular feedback moments.
Focusing on the interaction, on the knowledge you and your client need from each other and produce as a result of your conversations, steers you away from ‘just’ delivering your service or product.
What does this advisory role demand from you?
The interaction with your clients demands that you take the conscious decision and then muster the patience to get genuinely involved. Getting involved also means sharing knowledge, and that may lead to the following situation:
- If you’re a veteran in your branche, you may have grown used to skipping steps. It’s been so long since you wondered why you do what you do in this specific way. But to the non-expert there is no “obviously”. There is no obvious reason for doing anything. Or for doing it in this way. So add all the steps your client needs.
- Having someone ask you questions and giving you feedback may well point you toward things you had overseen! Listening to your clients’ questions may well teach you a lot about yourself as well as about your client. Once you’ve learned anything you need to review what you thought you knew. Improve, tweak. Review. Learn, and unlearn! Knowledge building will guide you and your client by showing you should stop doing one thing and start doing the other.
How does knowledge power your business relationships?
By getting involved and being open about your methods you will:
- learn a lot about your client. You’ll understand better than anyone else what makes them tick. What worries them. What stumps them.
- build trust. Your client gets a genuine sense of what you know, how you think, who you are as a professional and as a person.
- get feedback from your client about details in their particular situation that might affect the results of your efforts.
- have a chance to review your own business
- improve your own skills as an advisor
- accumulate heaps of richly detailed cases you can use as examples with other clients.
There’s just one thing to watch out for. And that is getting too comfortable knowing what you know about your clients. Knowledge needs to be fed regularly if you’re to reap its fruits. Neglect your knowledge and it will lose its connection with reality. Your reality. And your clients’ reality. If you find that your attitude stands in the way of really listening to your clients – if it prevents you from being a good advisor, tell yourself to stop being a [fill in appropriate noun here].
And two (this point occurred to me thanks to this picture): remember to harvest the fruits of your labor. The point of knowledge is not having it – but using it.
- Jarche.com, Personal knowledge management in 2013.
- Thierry de Baillon’s blog about knowledge, learning, social business, and generally stuff I like.
- My earlier post about creativity (innovation) in business.
How would you describe the relationship you have with your (business) connections? Leave your thoughts about knowledge, business, clients and relationships (and possibly about glue and apples) in a comment – I will reply to anything non-spammy 😉