Thought Catalysts: Michelle Ray on Client Relationships

November 16, 2016 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

There are leaders and then there are followers. Generally the idea is to be the former. 

But perhaps it's worth a shot to look at this phrase the other way around. Maybe to be a leader, it's worth being a follower. 

The people who lead the way with awesome ideas and unique talents did so by acquiring knowledge and applying it in new and interesting ways. We all need to learn stuff to lead stuff. And those who do it best inspire others to act. 

They are Thought Catalysts. Here they are as told by the movers and shakers from Speakers' Spotlight


After enduring almost an hour of suffering, the convener finally called the meeting to a close. Attention spans had been stretched to the limit, the opportunity to reach consensus had failed and the client’s frustration levels soared to new heights. If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone.

The fact that many presenters fail to connect with their internal or external clients during a business meeting may not be an earth-shatteringly new revelation. However, the consequences of these unproductive, time wasting get-togethers are not always fully appreciated or understood. In addition to creating lost business opportunities, you run the risk of damaging key relationships when the skills needed to move forward, gain agreement or close a deal are lacking.

Why do so many meetings…be they board meetings, sales presentations, or client negotiations, go haywire? The reasons are not as complex as you may think. Nor are the solutions. While preparation is always critical, your ability to elevate your influence and strengthen your client relationships is dependent upon increasing your understanding of who is in the room. You will achieve greater success showcasing your own agenda when you know how to make your case from a client-centric position and adhere to the following principles.

1. It’s all about them

Clients can quickly discern whether you are care about what is important to them. If your intention is to influence, to be heard and ultimately to present your ideas in a manner that is relevant to them, it is incumbent on you to first demonstrate genuine interest in your client’s immediate challenges. While it isn’t necessary for you to be familiar with every nuance of their “world”, you are likely to have more success by shifting your awareness toward what matters to the client.

2. Do your homework

The more familiar you become with your client’s industry, current trends, challenges or constraints, the better positioned you will be to gain their attention and respect. If your client is internal, consider connecting with others who either work with or know your client. Reach out and ask them questions as you do your research. More often than not, other colleagues or stakeholders will appreciate your willingness to be proactive as part of your preparation.

 3. Speak their language

Once you have taken the above steps, mastering the art of learning how to speak the client’s language and then harnessing the discipline required to put this skill into practice will yield better results and more impactful client relationships. For example, when meeting with a key decision-maker in any professional capacity (CEO, CFO, COO, HR, Director of Sales, Project Manager, just to name a few) prepare for your meeting by thinking in terms of their priorities and objectives and speak their language.

While you may not be in a sales role per se, you are nonetheless “selling” your ideas. Your capacity to acknowledge, empathize and recognize your client’s position, as well as their professional responsibilities and “top of mind” issues will ultimately help you frame your message accordingly. By developing a client-centered mindset and turning your attention toward their world, you stand a far great chance of achieving buy-in, elevating your influence and enriching your business relationships.


Michelle Ray is an expert in organizational culture and leadership. To read more of her posts, visit her page on Speakers' Spotlight. To have Michelle speak at your next function, email Speakers' Spotlight at 

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