My work has brought me into contact with many politicians over the last few years. We always have a great deal to talk about, since marketing really is so much a part of what vote-getters must master. I haven’t given much thought to the debate over whether business leaders make good politicians, but I’m convinced politicians have a lesson for the business world. These people know how to run a meeting.
Take a woman who has conducted a high-profile career in New York State. Recently we had a one-hour meeting, at which we both had favors to ask. The time frame, date and discussion topics were all vetted in advance. Should I have forgotten, her handler was right there, waiting at the end of the hour, to usher her out of the cafe.
No, it’s not so simple as having a staff. The meeting was one-on-one, and I could only marvel at her efficiency. She was warm: we talked families, pregnancies, babies, everything I’d expect to enjoy during a lunch with a work colleague.
45 minutes in, she pivoted like a choreographer’s muse: “So, what can I do to help you?” It wasn’t an abrupt transition. Conversation had been heading easily into the direction of our professional interchange. But I was watching the clock, and realized her timing was perfect. She’d left enough time to really listen to my ‘ask’ and present her own.
That conveyed a powerful message. She expected to get something done. That day. And she did. Two hours after our meeting she had forwarded contact information and a few insights relevant to my business. Combined with her graciousness and her approachability, her efficiency motivated me to respond in kind.
Imagine that level of efficiency applied to your business. Politics is the economy of favors and influence. Success, on stage or behind the scenes, requires proficiency in that market. When the business is money and growth, it’s easier to think you’re in a long game and that some meetings are ‘preliminary’, i.e. undefined or zero value-adds. A politician, particularly one who’s campaigning, knows you can’t afford any meetings of that sort. . But why should it be any different for your business?
Efficiency is a tremendous value-add for a salesperson if it can meld with genuine interest in the people you work with. It’s a signal that you put a premium on your time and theirs. The tone you set underwrites your expectation of success, and that inspires confidence.
And efficiency can work both ways. I know damn well I’d better have an ‘ask’ in mind when I meet with my political friend, because she doesn’t like wasted time, hers or mine. I’m more organized and deliberate thanks to her influence.
It’s easy to be cynical about the political types, especially when lousy ones receive so much press attention. But as you seek out better relationships with your clients and more value from the meetings you schedule, it might help to act as if there’s an election riding on your keep meeting agendas dense and on schedule.