Viewpost is a secure business-to-business network that enables companies to manage invoices, bills and payments electronically.
Early in my career at Bank of America, I was given the task of helping businesses manage their money – of finding businesses that were in need of loans and underwriting them – then monitoring and managing those relationships and the credit exposure. I was 21 and right out of college and incredibly enthusiastic and excited about the fact that I could do a $10- or $20-million loan with a couple of signatures. I was gung-ho to go out and do that.
I can remember sitting down with a well-known business in town, and the business owner had a bit of a parental way about them. They basically sat me down and said, "Young man, I can see that you’re capable and smart and enthusiastic and you want to learn, so let me teach you something ... "
And they grilled me on what I actually knew about their business and their need, and it was pretty humbling. Because it became immediately clear that I really didn’t know very much. That, whatever I knew, it was very superficial; there was no substance to it. It wasn’t done to embarrass me. They were, honestly, just kind. It became clear to me that I wasn’t [delivering] value.
My enthusiasm led me to try to sell a product rather than understand a need and a perspective. I was trying to help people understand why the thing that I was selling – that I assumed they would want – was so attractive. I needed to understand the needs that they had – and to find the intersection point between that need and the service or product I was delivering.
And they grilled me on what I actually knew about their business and their need, and it was pretty humbling.
I was lucky enough to have this person who didn’t have to help me understand that. I can remember leaving and thinking, "That was super-embarrassing but what a powerful and obvious and unforgettable lesson."
The real lesson is that in every relationship – business, interpersonal, in every sales cycle and opportunity – you will be most effective if you can find the intersection point between the [other] party’s interests and needs and your own. Anything other than that intersection point isn’t permanent. It’s fleeting and it’s based on one person having more leverage than the other, and it’s easily disintermediated.
It really became a lesson in making sure that you do the homework and understand the perspectives that influence the decisions of the people that you work with and do business with – and to incorporate that understanding into how you communicate with them and in what you offer them.
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Photo caption: Max Eliscu / Credit: Courtesy of Max Eliscu