Saturday, 19 July 2008

Pat Schuler Interview: Real Relationships

“My clients typically increase their revenue by a minimum of 37%…”

“…There are very few universal principles, but boundaries are one of the universals…”

“…one of the most powerful things or skills that a person can learn if what they want is peace of heart and peace of mind…”

When it comes to approaching relationships, there are few people I respect more than Pat Schuler, President of the Gemini Resources Group. I have had the distinct pleasure of having Pat as a close personal friend since 2004. Since then, I have learnt many valuable lessons from this remarkable lady. Thus, it was easy to make the topic of this interview the area she has made the greatest impact on in my personal life: relationships. As a successful business coach, Pat revives flagging careers and drives successful ones to greater heights on a daily basis.

Pat, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Let's hop straight into it, shall we. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you honed your skills in the areas of relationship management.

I am a sales trainer and business development consultant. I've been doing this for 10 years. My clients typically increase their revenue by a minimum of 37% after working with me.


Please tell us a little more about what you do with your clients.

It's a combination of hard skills - learning how to ask questions appropriately; learning how to qualify - figuring out if someone is genuinely a client or if they are wasting your time; and how to ask for the business in a way that isn't pushy or manipulative or annoying. Those are the hard skills. Then there are the soft skills, which is basically how to get your head put on straight.

If you are small business owner or professional, your job is to add on clients. Small business owners don't have the luxury of delegating that task. So, you have somebody who is interested and you want to talk to them but when you are thinking about asking them whether they want to work with you, you're remembering every bad experience you've had as a buyer. I call that a bad sales person.

You'd do anything to avoid being that sales person from hell. You don't want that person to think you are pushy, manipulative or slimy, but you have not been taught how to do that. You are extremely effective at doing what you do. You spent decades learning how to do that. But how much experience and training have you actually asking for the business in a way that's compelling and natural.

Do clients generally need more soft skills?

They are usually inextricably intertwined. I can teach you the questions to ask, and specifically how to ask them, but when it comes time to ask them, if you have all this garbage going around in your head "I am too pushy, or I might be making them upset" if you have all of that stuff going in your head, you can know what to do, and still not have the courage and confidence to take that step when it's appropriate.

One of the big things that people get out of our work together is confidence. They know exactly how to ask for that relationship, and whether or not to ask for that relationship with that specific person, and we give them the skill sets to do that in a way that's in integrity.


How do you evaluate what kind of relationship to ask for, and how do you ask for it?

If you are a business owner or an independent professional or an independent sales representative, one of the most important things for you to know is what kind of person is most likely to value what you have to offer.

So, am I right in saying that, it has a lot to do with what you want to get out of the relationship?

It has to do with what you bring to the party. It has to do with knowing what problems you solve for that prospective client. Frankly, if you don't solve a problem, it doesn't matter how good you are, how expensive or cheap it is. Does that make sense?

Yes, what you're saying is, you better have a benefit for the person you are communicating with?

It needs to be solution-based.

So it helps if the other party knows he has a problem?

It's to help him see he has a problem, or that he doesn't! If he doesn't have a problem, one of the most effective things you can do is to see that to, and move on. When you want to know what relationship to ask for, you need to know what problems you solve, and you have a handful of questions and if the answers are right, then this person is a fit.

Is there a special way to ask these questions?

Yes. And it's a half-day workshop! There is a very specific way that is most effective. And by effective we mean, there is no chance that you are mistaken as the salesperson from hell. The salesperson from hell is the pushy manipulative person who doesn't listen, makes you feel unimportant etc. You don't want to be that person. You want to be the person who solves a problem. People spend money to have their problems solved.


So, coming back to the relationships in general. Do these same principles apply to every relationship or is it restricted to a business setting?

No. Think about when you are dating. You meet for coffee. You ask someone "What kind of movies do you like? What kind of music?" and after awhile "How do you feel about religion? How do you feel about politics?" "How do you feel about kids?" (laughs)

Those are your qualifying questions. I don't normally set my friends up, but I suggested that two friends meet. One of her first questions to him was "How old are you?" because she wants a family. And she didn't want to risk getting serious about somebody who didn't want a second family, another family, a late family. So that was her qualifying question. And because he was 18 years older than her, it qualified him out.

So, I'm seeing some differences here as compared to the business context. In that context, you seem to be focussed finding a problem you can solve whereas here there is a slight shift towards someone meeting your own conditions?

The qualifying process is the same. The qualifying questions are the same. But you are solving a different problem. If you are trying to figure out if you want to date somebody, the problem you are trying to solve is "I want a person in my life."


So, to generalise, there's a process where you define what you are trying to achieve first, and then you build the qualifying process around that?

Right. Think about it. We all do it. You meet someone at a party, or a friend's friend at dinner. And, after the first ten words out of the other person's mouth, there's a part of your brain which says oh my gosh, I have nothing in common with this person. They are not even on the same planet. There is no point in even asking questions. Have you ever done that? We all do that. That's a qualifying process you've gone through. Is it effective? Maybe not. Maybe it is.

How do you know if your qualifying process is an effective one?

How does it work for you? Qualifying and selling are all about "does it work?" If you're selling swamp land, you only need it to work long enough to grab the money and get out of town. You don't care about repeat business, referrals, or staying friends, even if you stop dating. But a good qualifying process gives you the opportunity to discover things that aren't obvious on the surface.

Great. So you've asked the qualifying questions. You back out if they don't fit.

Yes, you do it very graciously, but this is the key, and it is one of the things that gets a lot of small business people, and in relationships! I go out with this guy, he likes the wrong movies, the wrong music, but he buys me dinner. Next thing you know, you're in a relationship for three months, and you're not happy. Business people make the same mistake.


So what I'm hearing is, it's very important to know how to say no.

It's very important to know how to say no graciously and to accept that you can't be responsible for the other person's feelings. If you think about it, if you're going around being a jerk, saying "I'm not going to date you because I don't like your teeth or your ears." That may be the reason you're not doing it, but that's kind of mean, because frankly, the other person cannot do anything. Or they may choose not to do anything. You may decide not to date somebody who wears glasses. That's your choice.

What advice would you give as to the graciously part?

"This doesn't feel like a good match."

"This doesn't feel like a good fit."

"It feels like moving forward would be a mistake."

That might provoke a variety of responses ranging from ok to "you can't do that to me" and everything in between.

Yes, and the same thing happens in business. In fact, one of the things my clients discover is that when they start saying this doesn't feel like a good fit, is the response "Aren't you going to try to close me?" Well, no. So, you can't accept responsibility for the maturity or lack of maturity of the other person. You need to be prepared to deal with a variety of responses and that's maturity on your part. If you're in business, that's professionalism.

Okay. Let's go down the other path. What if you do decide to close? What if you decide it's a good fit?

Well, let's take it back to the dating thing. You know that you want somebody who likes reggae music, or Celtic music. And you know that somebody who likes Country Western, is not a keeper! So you found this person who likes Celtic music, likes Italian food, which is one of your things. What's in it for them? Okay. Why should they agree to a date?

And this is where you sell yourself?

It's not selling yourself. It's saying what are you looking for in a date. What are you looking for in somebody to spend time with?

The only way to find out if they would agree to a date is to ask them. Before you start selling yourself, you could be selling the wrong thing! You could be saying you're dependable. I'll be there on time. I'll take you to the ballet. What if this person rides a motorcycle and jumps through flaming hoops? You took off with a benefit that doesn't fit. Ask, "Tell me Wanda, what is important to you? What are you looking for?"

Does this always work? Say, in an interview process?

Absolutely. It works like a charm. If you think about interviewing, people make the mistake that they're supposed to sit there and let the interviewer pounce them with questions.

You mean that's now how it works?

That's not a successful interview. The most successful interviews consist of a dialogue between the interviewer and the applicant. Give and take, where both of you are asking questions. Both of you are qualifying.

Once the other person tells you what's important, whether in business or a personal conversation, then you know whether it is a match. The other person says, "Yes, I do like Celtic music, but what I really love is German opera. And my idea of a fun weekend is rock climbing."

Now, if you like rock climbing, you get to say "Wow! I'm really excited! I have been having trouble finding someone who really likes German opera. I have this event this Saturday. Would you like to go?" That's your close! But if you are like me, and German opera is your personal concept of hell. You get to choose whether to say "Well, it's not my top five things, but we have Celtic music in common. Would you like to go to the pub to listen to some of that?" You're qualifying them in. You are at a decision point. You could go a number of ways, but let's say that you can go two ways.

You know you're not going to be happy at German opera, but you're candid. "German opera doesn't do a lot for me, but we have Celtic music in common. Would you like to go to Murphy's pub on Saturday, have a beer, and listen to Celtic music?" At that point, you have qualified them in. You are prepared to take the next step.


Could you explain what “qualifying them in” means?

You can qualify them in or qualify them out. If you are qualifying them out, you say, " I could never get serious about somebody who likes German opera. I don't want to spend time with somebody who likes German opera."

Then you say, "You know, thank you for telling me about the German opera. It sounds like you and I are not going to be a real good fit. Thanks for the coffee, I enjoyed our time this morning, and I'll see you around." So you've qualified them out. They are no longer even somebody that you are going to consider. Qualifying them in doesn't mean you want to get married tomorrow, but it mean you are willing to explore, to take the next step.

The same thing happens in business. I have a client who sells software. And many times in this qualification process, they will get to the place where the client wants them to do extensive customisation. Now, when the company was young, they said yes.

Now that the company is more mature, they recognise that that is not good business for them. What they do then is ask a question, Kaye. "How important is the customisation to the client?" They ask the client "How important is this customisation to you?" And if the client says it is really important, the client qualifies themselves out. They take themselves out of the running. They are no longer a good match for this business.

Do you still keep them on for other things or aspects of the relationship?

It depends. If there are problems that you can solve, and it benefits you as well, you can keep them on. You simply have to set the boundaries in place. You have to know what is important to you and what you are prepared to do.

For instance, if you are selling a product that costs $300,000, and you can do the customisation, but what you've found over time is that clients who want customisation are never really happy with your product. So, you've learnt that it actually costs you money in the long run to agree to customisation. So, it's very tempting, as a business person, just as it is, if you don't have a date for Saturday night, it's tempting to sell and compromise, but it is not in your best interests.

When you are able to know what's in your best interests and ask for that or refuse to take a step that doesn't support your best interests, we call that putting a boundary in place. And most of us haven't been taught how to do that, Kaye. It gets us into trouble in relationships. It gets us into trouble in our families, and it gets us into all kinds of trouble as business people.


Can you give us a brief rundown on boundaries?

Let's start with an example. If you ever accepted an invitation that you didn't really want to accept. Somebody says, "Would you like to help me move?" and you don't know how to say no. It's the worst thing you can imagine, it's the last thingyou want to do, and you still find yourself saying "Oh, okay." That means you didn't have a boundary.

A boundary is your ability to take care of yourself. It's that simple. It's a skill that most of us aren't taught. Not to be sexist, but women especially are not taught, and certain cultures are not taught about boundaries.

So, say you were asked to help somebody move and you really didn't want to. There are a number of ways that you could put a boundary in place. All of these are done with a smile. "Thanks for asking. I'm honoured that you ask, but I won't be able to help." And you move on to the next topic. "What colours are you going to paint your new place?" "When do you get to move?" Do you see what I just did? You aren't making a bunch of excuses. You aren't saying my cat's sick, or my Uncle Louie's in town. You're just saying you won't be able to help. Thanks for asking.

Now, that's a concept that's fairly foreign to a lot of people.


How do you deal with someone who just has problems saying that? What's your advice?

In my experience, the reason most people have difficulty saying "I won't be able to help." is that they are afraid of consequences. They might be afraid that they'll hurt the other person's feelings. They might be afraid they'll disappoint the other person. They might be afraid that the other person might be angry or upset. So, ask yourself, when did you become responsible for how other people feel? How much of that can you control?

I had to learn how to do this from the ground up because I always did things that were making me unhappy because somebody else asked and I didn't want them to be upset with me. I had the illusion that by saying "yes" when I really wanted to say "no", that people would like me more. Does that make sense?


A lot of times we give up our boundaries in an effort to secure liking or loving. It's an effort at control but what happens is that much of the time we are actually liked and respected more if we do have boundaries.

And you'd give the same advice to leaders?

Absolutely. There are very few universal principles, but boundaries are one of the universals. What my clients and I have both found, is that if your boundaries are really strong, your friends, your co-workers, the people who work for you learn that when you say "yes", you really mean it. That is because it's something that you want to do, because it is important to you, and not from obligation or duty.

So think about if you ask a friend to help you move. And they say yes, but you know that they really don't want to. You know that they're doing it out of obligation. How do you feel the whole time they're helping you? Think about how you would feel if instead that person had said, "Kaye, I would really love to help you move. It would really please me to be able to support you that way."

You get a gift at that point. When someone has good boundaries and they give you their support, that gift is a living thing. It is full of life energy. How much life energy is there when that gift is done with resentment or obligation? You're right when you say it can't be easy to learn this, but it is one of the most powerful things or skills that a person can learn if what they want is peace of heart and peace of mind.

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