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Chapter 7

VIPs: Dealing With Key Decision-Makers

All sins cast great shadows.

- Irish proverb

Even a minor error can have major implications, especially if the person who's affected by it is a big shot!

If you're like me, you know from personal experience that dealing with top officials can be a challenge. Many people are intimidated by the prospect of dealing with VIPs - by which I mean heads of corporations, government officials, visiting dignitaries, or key contacts within your own organization or one in which you hope to do business. But you can't let fear guide the relationship or you'll soon find that that "minor error" you were concerned about has turned into a series of major problems!

Not to worry, though. In this chapter, you'll learn how to handle encounters with people of high rank or status, maintain your poise, and come out looking great. Here's where you'll find advice on interacting with important officers, using your own words to best advantage, and establishing a good relationship with your boss. Once you've taken a look at the advice that follows, you may not completely rid yourself of all of those "butterflies in the stomach" that sometimes precede a meeting with an important decision-maker, but you should be able to approach these encounters with renewed confidence and composure.

Tip #74

When in doubt, ask questions.

When you're unsure about how to interact with an important decision-maker, your best bet is usually to ask nonthreatening questions in order to determine the best way to move forward. Rather than freezing up or trying to prove how smart you are, ask respectful, intelligent questions and see what happens next.

For example:

Tip #75

Use the communication method your contact favors.

Looking for a good way to score points with the boss or anyone else whose opinion and respect you value? Mirror his or her favorite communication format!

Choose the way you are going to communicate with decision-makers and higher-ups based on the way they communicate with you. By doing so, you will be operating on their wavelength. For example, if your manager communicates with you via e-mail or fax the majority of the time, your responses to the person should be sent electronically or by fax. If your manager stops in to visit you when he or she has an update (or your client prefers to meet with you rather than talking about a topic via phone), emulate this behavior. Finally, if the person seems to communicate mostly by voice mail, make a habit of leaving voice-mail messages for him or her. The person you're connecting with will know that you're "on the right wavelength" the moment the message comes through.

Tip # 76

Know how to turn a "no" today into a "yes" tomorrow.

No!

We're not interested!

We've decided to go with another person.

When was the last time you or your idea was rejected? Did you take it personally?

The next time you hear a "no" from a sales prospect, rather than consider the response to be a "dead end," interpret it as "Not now... I'm too busy... Let's try this another time."

Make a point of ending the conversation by getting the person who responded to you negatively to answer something affirmatively. You can do this by asking one or more of the following questions:

Will you contact me if I may be of assistance to you in any way?

May I contact you in (X weeks/months) to learn how comfortable you are with your decision?

May I contact you (next month/next quarter/ next year at this time) to rebid this project?

Also, be sure to follow-up in writing within 24 - 48 hours to express your sincere interest in developing a working relationship with this person.

Whatever you do, be sure to be politely persistent. You never know; your competitor may just turn down the job, or make an error large enough to have the decision-maker realize that you should have been the person selected in the first place. Stay on the radar screen!

Tip #77

Remember, you are your words!

One reliable rule for success when dealing with VIPs: Stay away from wishy-washy words when you're giving a presentation or making a speech. Stand behind what you say. As a rule, these folks hate double-talk and weasel language. They've been burned too many times not to.

I remember when I first learned this rule. Years ago, I was asked to give a presentation to a sales team. I gave what seemed to be a pretty sharp speech on the best ways to improve their face-to-face encounters with potential customers.

As I was leaving the room, I spotted the regional manager who had hired me. After thanking him for the opportunity to take part in the session, I said, "Please know that I am open to any suggestions from you about the best ways to improve." He took me up on my offer! He pulled me aside and told me, gently but firmly, that he hadn't hired me to tell his team what I "thought." I had been hired to make professional recommendations, and as such, should have been using words such as, "I recommend" or "I suggest," rather than, "It seems to me" or "I think."

From that day forward, the words "I think" have been removed from my vocabulary as a presenter and public speaker!

Tip #78

Learn how to get enough time with your boss.

Time is a valuable commodity, and it's frustrating when you can't get enough of it with your boss. Chances are that, even when you have a copy of his or her master schedule, someone else will interrupt a free moment you may be able to grab.

Unless yours is a quick question that can be answered in one or two minutes, it is better not to try to simply catch your boss in a free moment. Instead, jot your manager a note or send an e-mail asking when he or she can schedule 20 to 30 minutes of time to meet with you. By seeing your request in writing, your manager will recognize that the issue is probably important. You may even want to specify a certain date and time if you know your boss's master schedule.

Tip #79

Know what to do when a new boss comes on board.

You have the perfect boss, and you couldn't be happier with your job. Suddenly you learn that she has been promoted and a new manager is about to start. This means you now have to start from scratch in building up a good working relationship. This is likely to take some work, as the new boss has been hired from outside the company.

Along with a new boss comes a new department culture. Things change - like it or not. So rather than resisting the introduction of a new element into your department, welcome it. Accept the fact that the way some things are done presently will change over time and that it's possible it can be for the good of both the department and the company as a whole.

You are certain to gain the respect and support of your new boss if you respect and support him. Make it clear that you are there to assist him. Rather than offering unsolicited advice, wait to be asked before giving your perspective on matters. Give your new boss time to implement changes and to see how the changes work. Make yourself a valuable member of his team - work with him, not against him!

Key point summary

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