Achieving Status Alignment

What to do when prospects look down on you.

Since this might have happened to you as well, here's a message I received from a reader. Context: He's a consulting partner in a small boutique firm, and the team's goal is to win a couple of key clients in a space they never worked before.

I just had a first meeting with the COO of X. Since I got a warm introduction, I was expecting an interesting, back-and-forth conversation. What happened was the opposite: He was extremely cold and rejected any kind of real exchange. It felt like he took the meeting out of courtesy.

Many consultants have been through that.

The longer you've been serving a specific set of clients, the more comfortable you feel communicating with them. The conversation flows naturally and in a balanced way. One side hears the other, no matter if you're meeting in person or in a virtual setting.

But you change, and so does your target market. What happens when you decide to go after bigger clients? Or bring your offering to companies in a different segment than the one you're currently in?

Sometimes, people won't listen to you.

They will ignore your messages. They will look down on you. They will dismiss your ideas and deny any kind of exchange, even if you were introduced to them by people they trust.

There are many reasons for this to happen. Maybe you're using the wrong approach to develop the relationship. Being too self-centered, not leading with value, wasting your prospect's time.

But there's one thing that's often overlooked: status.

People will only listen to you if they think you're an equal.

Status is not a win-win game, but you will find many executives who simply can't detach from it - especially in larger and highly hierarchical companies. And there's only one way to convince those prospects that you're their equal and worth listening to: By using the right language and external cues.

  • Start by showing you understand their industry. Here's one of the few moments when you can use jargon - words and terms that only their peers know.
  • Demonstrate you've done your research by hinting at potential risks and opportunities you see for them. Mention a similar client that you recently helped, if any.
  • Establish frame control. Never engage in behavior that makes it seem as if you're chasing them. The prize is not their money, but the opportunity of working with you. Get them to qualify themselves to you.

This all takes work but, when done correctly, you get status alignment.

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