Last weekend my wife and I took the kids to Chuck E. Cheese to get out of the oppressive heat and play some video games and eat some bad pizza. It’s not really my favorite place, but the kids love it. I was wearing my Guns N’ Roses shirt from the concert I went to a few days earlier and one of the guys working at the prize counter made a comment about the shirt, and we ended up talking about music and guitars for about 30 minutes. Turns out we had a lot in common in music, and we had grown up not too far from each other. It really made my experience at Chuck’s much more enjoyable and fun.
Finding that common ground is something I’ve been trying to do more and more. While I’ve always been a big believer in forging personal connections with clients, Mark Feinberg of Home Theater Advisors is the one who opened my eyes to how easy and beneficial it can be.
Mark has a unique story and has many opportunities to connect with his clients. He has an MBA from Duke, and many of our clients in NYC have their MBAs from top schools and often know people in common or can at least talk the same language. Mark worked in corporate America for 10-plus years in corporate strategy and marketing roles, again another point of similarity. He lives in Manhattan, and his kids go to school there, so often there are sports, school, or other activities in common, and his kids go to sleep-away camp (something really unique to the NYC area), so he has had common connections via the camps as well. Regardless of how he knows someone or has a connection, he makes sure to strike up the conversation around things people like to talk about and topics they may have in common.
“What do you do for a living” is pretty harmless and often leads to people they know in common and frankly, it gives Mark the opportunity to say, “Oh, my friend from my MBA program at Duke works there, do you know her?” It’s a good way to work in that he may have a similar background to the client. Or if he sees school backpacks lying around, he’ll ask about where the kids go to school or what sports they play.
For me, I will often talk to clients about music. Since that is part of what we do anyway, it isn’t at all far out of the realm of discussing. If I see a guitar around, or a piano in the room or some musical decorations in the home, then I will ask who the musician in the family is. We will often then start discussing different musicians we like, teachers we may have shared, places to shop for instruments. It is amazing what one little comment can do to open up a whole new realm of discussion and common ground.
My kids are another topic I like to talk about. Now that they are getting up to school age I have a lot more opportunity to find something to talk about with other people in my community or nearby communities regarding the school system, the classes, the teachers, or just how to deal with all of the school holidays. It’s something that every parent (working or not) can relate to.
Again, it is all about finding that common ground with clients, so you are viewed as less like a worker in their home and more like a peer. Once that happens, it makes the relationship so much easier and smoother. I’ve found that the clients with whom I’ve made a personal connection with pay faster, refer more friends, are less likely to get mad when something is not working quite right, and are just more understanding overall. It makes for a much more enjoyable working relationship. The only drawback I’ve found is that sometimes when I go for a “quick” service call, we end up talking for a long time and the service call takes far longer than I anticipated. But it is well worth it to have such strong client relationships.
What kind of topics do you discuss with your clients to find that commonality?