Building Value-Added Connections In Today’s World

Adam Klein Bennett Thrasher

In an ever-changing world, one thing that remains constant is the power and importance of relationships. On today’s episode, we speak with Adam Klein, Chief Growth Officer with Bennett Thrasher, a full-service, CPA advisory business advisory firm based in Atlanta, Georgia, about his perspective on the ins and outs of building value-added connections. We kick off our conversation with an overview of what has changed since the pandemic and what has stayed the same. This introduces us to today’s theme: relationships as the core of business-building. Adam gives us his predictions for the future of communication, encourages us to embrace flexibility, and be strategic about when to meet online, and make the additional effort to see someone in person. He introduces us to the practice of reframing selling as helping and seeking to understand people in order to add value. We talk about developing soft skills, why people do business with people they like, how to adjust our networking expectations for a post-COVID world, and why there is no shortcut to building fruitful relationships.

Key Points From This Episode

  • What the pandemic has not changed: relationships at the core of business development.
  • What has changed: bringing internal and external communication into the digital space.
  • How the pandemic has highlighted the importance of relationships.
  • Why building rapport supports business.
  • A prediction for Zoom going forward: a new dynamic for what is considered face-to-face.
  • Bridging the gap when you have different needs to the person you are meeting with.
  • The benefit of arranging an initial meeting digitally before engaging in person.
  • How Zoom has created greater ease of making new connections.
  • Ways we should adjust our networking expectations in a post-COVID world.
  • Reframing selling as helping.
  • Seeking to understand people in order to add value.
  • The value of developing soft skills: people do business with people they like.
  • Why there is no shortcut to building relationships.
  • Adam’s advice: don’t overcomplicate it, enjoy the process, and treat people well.


[0:00:04.5] AD: Welcome to Branch Out, a connection builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[0:00:20.7] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. I’m excited to be joined today by Adam Klein, director with Aprio, a full-service, CPA-led business advisory firm based in Atlanta Georgia. Adam and I discuss what it looks like to network and build meaningful connections in today’s post-pandemic world. I hope you all enjoy.

[0:00:43.6] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network, we are on LinkedIn, search for Connection Builders.


[0:00:51.4] AD: Adam, welcome to the Branch Out podcast, excited to have you here today.

[0:00:54.7] AK: Alex, I’m excited to be here, I’m a big fan of the podcast.

[0:00:57.5] AD: Talk into the listeners for a minute. Adam and I were chatting before we came on to record here and we were talking about, call it, “new normal” The transition back post COVID and what relationship building and networking and really being effective at a core skillset as a professional is going to look like in this post-pandemic, post-COVID world.

For our topic today, we really want to start our discussion is, I want to turn to you Adam and say, we’ve been a year and a half almost into this and a lot has changed. When you look at it, where do you see some of the biggest changes and then maybe, what do you also see that hasn’t changed that’s fundamentally still the same.

[0:01:38.7] AK: Yeah, I think that’s a great question Alex. What hasn’t changed is relationships, right? People build rapport and relationships with one another and that’s at the end of the day, that’s what business development and selling is. It’s about relationships and it’s about people and that hasn’t changed.

I think what has changed is obviously, over the last year and a half, how we’ve done business and how we’ve interacted with one another and how we engage with both internally in our own organizations and externally with clients and prospects and I think my opinion, what we’re going to see is, some of that change is going to stick, you hear people say all the time, Zoom is not going away, right? Interacting with people via video is – that cat is out of the bag, the train has left the station, right?

That’s going to become a new part of our normal communication mode. Other things are going to go back to what we consider the normal, you’re seeing it already, right? People are getting back out at networking events and they’re traveling to see one another and they’re getting on planes and things are going to go back to the old normal and we’re going to stick to some of this new normal as well.

[0:02:49.9] AD: I like that you led there with what hasn’t changed is relationship building and this is something that for me, became evidently clear through the pandemic and through lockdown in particular. Now obviously, we’re coming out of the other side of this but when I look back, when the pandemic first hit, when COVID was really in the thick of things, the relationship building element was probably even more critical, right? Having, knowing someone, knowing who to talk to, actually having a human connection with someone and people liking you.

That became really clear who had that and who didn’t, where you had a network and where you had strength to lean into. That has never really changed but what but what has changed is the way we go about that contact, that communication, right? The idea that building a relationship is fundamental, that that is a critical element. To me, it was maybe even shown that it’s more important throughout this entire process, is that a fair way to look at it?

[0:03:45.3] AK: I think you just nailed it on the head. It’s more important and I think we’ve seen that over the past year and a half, right? When we – because of Zoom and other technologies, I’m not the first to say it, right? We’ve all, we’ve gone into one another’s homes, we’ve seen each other’s pigs and pets and the good and the bad and the ugly, right?

I think that’s become a very positive part of all of this in a sense, that’s some of the silver lining from the relationship building standpoint is, we’ve gotten to know people in a deeper way, we’ve gotten to know them in a more personal way. I think those of us who have been in selling business development, relationship building roles throughout our careers, I think most of us would say that we’ve always recognized the value and the strength in doing that, right?

It’s the classic and you don’t walk into – let’s go pre COVID, right? You don’t just walk in to someone’s office who maybe you’re calling on and just the proverbial, you just don’t throw up all over them, you don’t – let me tell you about the benefits and features of my product or my service and you build rapport, you ask questions, you say, “I noticed you went to such and such school” or “I’ve noticed you’re a fan of such and such team” and now, we just – I think we’ve all begun doing it on a grander scale and we’ve seen that it’s more normal to do that.

I think that I’ve heard a lot of people use the term, there’s more humanity and more empathy today and I think that’s an incredibly important asset if you would, that’s come out of the – our changing work role than the pandemic is that humanity and getting to know people on a deeper level.

[0:05:26.5] AD: Let’s talk on the humanity of the empathy and I would agree with that very much, right? I look at empathy as it’s being able to respect someone else’s challenges and perspective, right? Understand where someone’s coming from, look at someone and trying to really understand what it might be like to be in their shoes and knowing that the last year has shown us, again, inside people’s personal life.

It’s also put us where we all kind of faced a different but similar challenge, right? We had a very shared struggle over the last year in many ways. I think that has been really positive, it’s helped a lot of people see that we’re all human, right? We’re all human at the end of the day. That is a fundamental element, again, of relationship building, of truly, it’s not talking about what I can do for your “why” what I have is greater.

It’s saying, “Hey, how are you, I want to get to know you and oh, we have something in common. By the way, can I talk to you about this?” Right? How it’s building a true connection with them where you get to know someone and understand their challenges and then demonstrating where you add value.

[0:06:33.7] AK: I think again, you honed in on a really important point there, right? It sounds trite, we heard it, all of us throughout our careers. People do business they like doing business with, people they like, they respect and they trust, right? That’s always been the case, that’s never going to change and I think what many of us have learned through the pandemic is that that’s only even more important now, right?

I think about it, if in the mix of the pandemic, you were talking to a colleague or a client or a prospect let’s say and you didn’t at least take the time to say, “How are you, how was your family, are you all healthy, are you safe?” I think that would have really turned people off, right? They would have been like “Wow, you don’t even care anything about me to ask about it, am I just healthy, right?”

I think it’s particularly for, not to paint with two broad a brush stroke, here but maybe some service professionals who are historically a bit more direct to the point, analytical and they want to get right to the meat of the matter and building rapport and building that relationship has maybe sometimes been a challenge for them.

I think for many of those people, this has really been a helpful exercise in learning how to focus on that in their – in the relationships and in their engagement with people.

[0:08:03.7] AD: I would completely agree with you on that and you know, again, it’s demonstrated us the – not only the value and the need of that but it’s given us a lot of opportunities to connect in different ways, in a more personal way many times that allows for those different thoughts to occur, to really be, “Oh, okay, we can connect this way, we can talk about something that’s not purely work, or to the meat of things.” I think that’s definitely a major benefit but again, it’s also highlighted the importance of that and that hasn’t changed, it’s not – I don’t believe it’s going to change. I think that is the way that ultimately, the world goes around is relationships with people is a fundamental aspect.

Now, I want to go back to something that you have said, talked about. Okay, what hasn’t changed is the importance of relationships and building relationships and it’s highlighted that but what has and I think you use the cats out of the bag or train has left the station which is such a great way of pointing out that Zoom is here, video conferencing, video communication, right?

We’re sitting here today, we are 1,100 miles away and about five states between us right now having a conversation over video, right? That’s something that would have – it was certainly possible before COVID last year but it was something that very few of us had any experience in or any level of comfort around. That’s here today. Do you think that goes anywhere, where do you think that plays, what are your general thoughts about that going forward?

[0:09:32.3] AK: Yeah, a great question, it’s certainly not going away, right? We all know it’s only becoming more prevalent and I think, I was having a conversation with a bunch of my peers in the industry about a month ago. We were talking about this really exact question and one of the questions that one of my colleagues throw out was, “Well, what do you do and you’re the person who wants to meet in person, you want to meet face to face but the person you want to meet with wants to meet via video or vice versa?”

Let’s just say your client or your prospect wants to meet with you face to face, but maybe you don’t feel comfortable doing that for any number of reasons. Maybe you don’t want to make the trip or what do you do then because now we have this other alternative method which is – well, I hear it all the time, “Adam, why do you need to jump on a plane to come see me. Let’s just set up a Zoom call, we see each other like we would in person” we just happen to be, as you said, a thousand miles away from one another.

There is – I think there’s going to be this new dynamic that we’re always going to have to consider that that there’s going to be different options for what people say is face to face. Some people are going to consider in person, you and I sitting across a desk from one another as face to face.

Other people I think would just as confidently say, “Hey, if I could see you on video, we are face to face” and I’m a career business development and sales guy, so I’ve given a lot of thought to this issue over the last year and a half quite frankly. Particularly as things are beginning to – I don’t want to say “return to normal.” It’s become a bit trite, right? As things are normalizing, let’s say or getting back to a little bit of what we used to know as normal and I have traveled a bit, I have gotten to meet people in person.

I thought of that a lot in terms of what is business travel going to look like, what is meeting people at a networking event going to look like, what is sharing meals with people going to look like? I think now it’s just like there used to be before my time but most of all, not entirely before my time but you just had a phone call or you had a letter to write someone and then we had email and then we had chat and then we had text, right?

This is another tool in the arsenal if you will, and I think there’s going to be some leveling out, right? A lot of people we hear it all the time, the Zoom fatigue, I think that’s going to level out some but it’s certainly not going away by any means.

[0:11:56.7] AD: I 100% agree with you. The analogy of email or our phone are two great examples of that, right? This is a modern form of communication that was available before but not widely adopted and COVID cause, not only the wide adoption of video communication but also massive investment in the infrastructure and the tools to make it doable. We all have a – I mean, if you didn’t have a webcam before, you certainly do today, right?

I do agree, it doesn’t go away, I also do agree that we very quickly learn there are limitations to it. It does work in so many great ways and has a lot of great benefits but it’s not the same. I know people that were very creative during COVID that would do things like lunch together where you both order lunch and you sit over Zoom and talk, very creative and I think it works.

I did a few of those with other people and it was enjoyable but I’ll tell you, I really would rather be sitting at the table with you and having lunch together, right? There is a human element that I think some people are certainly are missing that but you brought out up a really good point. Everyone’s going to feel a little bit different about this, everyone’s going to have a much different view on what this looks like and your role as a relationship builder as someone who is –

Whether your full-time function is business development or your function is as a service provider and you want to build a network, build relationships and ultimately find ways to generate opportunities for you and your firm, it comes down to building that relationship, which comes down to doing what is comfortable and what the person on the other side of the table wants to do, right?

How do you deal with that? Have you dealt with any weird navigating through some of that situation right now?


[0:13:43.5] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, A connection builder’s podcast.


[0:13:53.6] AK: It’s a great question and I think it’s an important question we all have to think about because it’s only going to become more prevalent and I’ll tell you, I was talking to the managing partner of a large accounting firm recently, who said to me, “Adam, I am more productive, I’m more efficient when I do most of my meetings on Zoom versus having people coming to see me in the office, meet them out for meals or drinks” and he said, “It’s not that I’m never going to do that again but I’m going to be far more selective when I do it and if it’s something that can be accomplished via video call or even a phone call, I’m going to think about that more so now than I used to” and I think that comes down to, Alex, what you mention is we have to be flexible and we have to stand in the shoes of the people we’re trying to engage with and interact with.

Recognize that again, that proverbial different stokes for different folks, right? It’s going to be different people are comfortable with different things and how you utilize the methods of the tools that are most comfortable, most appropriate, that person you’re trying to interact with. You brought the great example, I did the same thing, I did a few of these virtual lunch dates if you would and I was like, “It’s just not” –

It’s better than nothing, might I be the first one to tell you that. It’s not the same, me, sitting at my desk eating a sandwich and you sitting at your desk eating a sandwich and it’s just not the same natural give and take and rapport that you find there. I think it really is, it’s forcing all of us, this grand experiment we’ve been through to be more adaptable and be more open minded about how we interact with people.

[0:15:39.9] AD: I couldn’t agree more. Let me toss out an idea and this is going to kind of talk off the top of my mind for a minute, I love your reaction to this. I believe and one of the things I’ve really embraced post-COVID or since video conferencing has been introduced is, I don’t believe I will have an introduction face to face meeting again. I say that, this goes back to defending your time. This goes back to and this doesn’t – Building a relationship is critically important but so is my time.

I have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone and we all have too much to do and the number one challenge I hear from people about what gets in the way of building a network and building relationships is “I don’t have time, I haven’t made, I can’t find the time for it.”

Well, I step back now and say, well, what if I could be significantly more efficient with my time, especially when it comes to intros and that – what I call the dance, right? This kind of this early part of the relationship where you’re getting to know someone, you want to ask a couple of questions, it’s a basic intro.

Then, after I have that, maybe my second meeting is going, having a coffee with them or going and having lunch with them because I know we have some common ground and we have something to chat about. I’ve de-risked for myself the amount of time I’m going to commit to a fresh relationship, right? Because I look at the number of times pre-COVID, I would go and have a coffee with someone and by the time you drive there, you have the coffee, you drive back, find parking, everything that goes into it, you lose two hours, maybe two and a half hours and it was something that could have been a 15-minute phone call, right?

That now looks a lot different. Do you see that and even traveling, right? If you want to do a business development trip and you’re going to fly or even drive into a different city where you want to meet a handful of people, couldn’t you do a 30 minute catch up with each of them on Zoom beforehand and figure out the three or four people you click with and then go have meals with all of them? Instead of trying to hit 10 people in one sitting in one day or – right?

[0:17:36.7] AK: Again, you’re spot on. I think it’s such an astute observation and I think about in my own world, what that looked like over the last year and a half because I had those – like you, I had those situations where normally it would have been, “Hey, let’s meet at Starbucks, you know, let’s have – someone suggested I get to know you, thought we’d get along well” and then it’s two hours whereas now I could say, “Yeah, let’s do that, let’s do that for 30 minutes over Zoom” right?

I was saying to some colleagues recently, I love the idea of scoping out opportunities or building new relationships, you put in that intro, over something like Zoom, right? When it comes time to if you’re closing a deal or you really want to have a more meaningful conversation, yeah, that’s what I want to do in person, right? That’s what –

They may both have their place, right? I think again, you talk about, we all have that same 24 hours, and protecting our time and I think there have again been some valuable lessons we’ve taken from the last 18 months that have reinforced that for us and you brought up another great example. I was literally again, making this comment to a colleague recently. The idea of, “Well, I’m going to fly across the country to have a meeting”, one meeting with one person and then I’m coming back to wherever I live.

I think those days are long gone, not that it’s never going to happen again, right? I think people are going to say, “If I’m going somewhere then I’m going to go and have a lot of meetings” or I’m going really going to be sure that I’m making that time very valuable and really protecting my time that way.

I think like anything else, it’s again, it’s another tool and it’s how we talk about Zoom or video, how we use it and I think likewise, we have to be, we can’t rely on it though. We can’t completely say, “Hey, you know what? I don’t ever need” I hear some people say, “I don’t ever need to go visit people in person again, I don’t ever need to be in a live networking event again.” I think we both know that’s not very – probably an accurate assessment either.

[0:19:38.4] AD: Well, and going back to literally we talked about earlier, everyone’s different, everyone’s going to approach things a little bit differently and if you want it yourself, take the hardline stance that “All I’m going to do is virtual no matter what forever.”

Then you’re only going to interact and build relationships with people that think the exact same way and are okay with being in a 100% peer virtual relationship process, right? At the end of the day, not everyone’s going to be like –

I do think a vast majority, especially when you get into higher value-added service, building a relationship with someone, working closer with someone, helping someone complete a transaction, all the things that professionals do on a day-to-day basis that does require building a relationship but typically has some level of in-person involved.

Maybe not to the same extent that it was before and they’re certainly different ways to look at that today but I do believe that you have to be flexible about that. One thing I want to turn to that I actually think is an important element for people to recognize, the introduction of virtual, and the ability and the adoption of virtual. Actually, I think can make it easier to get a meeting with someone that maybe you otherwise couldn’t get a meeting with.

Whether that be a prospect or someone that you’re trying to – that’s tough to get time with or that I’m newer in building my network or I’m trying to expand my relationships and I’m trying to get that kind of initial outreach to get things started with people, I believe it is so much easier today to find that 15, 30-minute Zoom meeting with someone because again, it goes back to, for that other person, they don’t have to give up the two-hour potential to go have coffee with you. Do you see that, have you seen anything like that in your world?

[0:21:19.1] AK: Yeah, again, 100%. I think astute professionals are recognizing that, and I think many of us have seen it that we have gotten meetings with folks over the last year and a half maybe that we never would have before or certainly more stream, in a more streamlined way than we had previously because it is not, it’s not as big a to do, right?

I mean, it’s hey, most people can take 15, 30 minutes out of their day, out of their busy schedule while they’re sitting at their desk to get on a zoom call versus “Yeah, again, I’m going to come meet you for a meal” or you’re going to come to my office and again, not – I don’t want in any way, for the audience to be intimating the in-person is not important because I think it vitally is.

I’m a big advocate of it. Certainly again, I think we have to leverage the tools and the technologies we have and be smart about our time and the people we’re working with, their time and figure out a way, the best way to get done looking what we’re trying to accomplish and hey, if it’s going to – again, I was talking about the example with someone recently.

If I can get with someone, let’s say next week for 30 minutes over Zoom versus having to wait three months to do an hour in person, I’m taking the 30 minutes over Zoom and then hopefully, that then leads to the next step when it’s appropriate for us to be in person.

[0:22:41.4] AD: 100% agree. What I think this all comes back to, you know I’ve talked about this a little bit before that this is adapting to the new environment, the new tools, the new set of circumstances and leaning in to what the new reality is and using all the tools at your disposal to focus on the one thing that hasn’t changed which is the importance of building relationships, right?

The importance of that process and focusing on building true connection with the other person that you’re interacting with. It’s again, this is all about using different tools, different mediums to make that happen.

Let’s shift gears here for a minute and let’s talk on what are the expectations that professionals should have in going back to networking and really what I’m asking from you and just from your experience, you spend a lot of time networking. You put a career around this and building relationships is something that you and I have talked about multiple times before and the importance of it and I know you have some deep experience here.

What are the expectations, if I am a younger professional, I’m starting out, I am starting to build my career, I am starting to build my relationships or even if I am a more experienced professional, I just haven’t really built all that strong of a network at this point, what type of expectation should I have going into this and just understanding your experience plus knowing some of the differences in COVID world now and in general, what can I expect from that?

[0:24:07.2] AK: Yeah, well as you know, as I told you I’m a big fan of your podcast. I’d listen to just about every episode, I have taken in what a lot of the other guest had shared and any listener of yours who is listening other episodes will hear me probably reiterate some of the same things but look, relationship building, a group of bunch of things here together. Whether you want to call it selling, business development, relationship building, networking, these are human be based skills.

These are about human to human, it is a long game, right? It’s a long tail game, this is not about short-term results. This is about genuinely connecting with others trying to find areas as a commonality and where you can be of help to people. I say it all the time, look you know, particular in my world as you know I work for a large national accounting and advisory firm. The word sell is a nasty four letter word, so a lot of people here in my organization or in my industry as a whole.

I tell people all the time, “You know what? Then don’t ever use the word. Don’t ever use the word sell, just say help” right? Again, it’s a common phrase you hear in the sales world but selling is helping, right? That really is what it comes down to and just think of yourself as trying to help people. Don’t try to sell someone something they don’t need, look at how you can help other people in other organizations. With that backdrop, I think when people look at networking and relationship building, they should first look at it as it’s not a chance to go sell something, right?

It is not I’m going and looking for my next client, right? It is, “No, I’m going out there, I’m building a brand, I’m building a reputation, I am building a network” right? I’m putting myself out there and I think if folks whether they’re new into their careers and they are starting out or they are more seasoned in their career and they are just continuing to do this so they are looking to improve it, think about it from the perspective of, “I want to go out there.”

I think what Stephen Covey and his famous Seven Habits book said, seek first to understand before you understood or sorry, I am probably messing that up a little bit but I tell people all the time even coming from a very talkative person like myself to be more interested in what other people have to say than what you want to share. Go listen, go be inquisitive and interested and because it is all about it at the end of the day. It’s about relationship building.

It is about genuine connections to other people and again, to take it back to the first part of our conversation, I think you know the pandemic over the last 18 months and we’ve all been through this grand common experiment has reinforced that. That our relationships at work are – they’re personal, right? They’re personal just like the personal relationships we keep outside of work.


[0:27:05.5] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.


[0:27:05.5] AD: I love everything you said there, the humanity based, the human to human side of things and everyone knows that I think, I think intuitively and it is certainly something that’s commonly talked about. The part though that I think many of us get hooked up on and where I see the challenges with the clients that I’ve worked with around this is it’s understanding that at the end of the day, it’s about finding someone, building a relationship with them, asking questions, learning more about them, understanding where they’re coming from and really helping them talk through and explain a challenge that they might have or a place that you can then step in and add some level of expertise.

Be able to really come in and say, “Hey, I see that and I think we might have a solution that can help you with that.” It is not about walking in and saying, “Look what I can do for you” because the second you start with “Look at what I can do for you” people don’t want to hear that, right? Anyone listening, think about that. You’ve been in a meeting, you’ve been somewhere where someone walks up and starts telling you about what they can do for you and the interest level goes out immediately, right?

You are totally disconnected at that point. Instead, you walk in there not thinking about telling everyone what you can do for them or telling someone how you can help them. You walk in thinking, “I wonder what’s going on with them. I wonder what challenges they’re having. I wonder what keeps them up at night” you know, even now talking like shifting a little bit to kind of centers of influence networking, centers of influence relationship building.

Where you’re maybe not talking specifically about the problems they have but the problems that their clients have, you start asking them, “Well, what kind of clients do you work with? What do you do for them? How do you add value to them?” These questions that gets someone else talking and what you’re doing in that process is you are building a relationship with them. You’re building a rapport with them, you are building trust with them. Everyone enjoys talking about themselves and what they do.

It is something that I think you can see people light up with when you give them an opportunity to talk and to share their thoughts but at the same time, you’re learning and you’re understanding and you are uncovering ways to add value. Is that a good way to look at it?

[0:29:21.9] AK: Absolutely. Absolutely, it is Alex, right? You know, even the best traditional sales people in the world don’t like being sold to, right? No one, it is why and unfortunately you have the stereotypes about the used car salesman and the insurance salesman, right? No one likes someone throwing their product at them, throwing their service at them, right? I think people particularly don’t like that when you’re in any sort of what I would call traditional networking environment.

What we all know as the glad-hander, the guy or gal who is walking through the networking event whose goal is how many business cards can I hand out and how many can I collect and you know, no one even the hardiest of professional sales people, no one like that type of environment and I think again to the point you made, it’s about being interested in other people. It is about wanting to know what is going on in their world, their business, their world, their personal world, right?

It is about having that natural curiosity, the inquisitiveness and I think look, sometimes speaking across the what I’ll call the professional service spectrum broadly as a whole, whether we’re talking private equity, accounting, consulting, law, these tend to be analytical-type professions where sometimes, as I hear they’re the soft skills. That soft stuff gets poo-pooed on a little bit, right? I don’t have to worry about that but I think at the end of the day, what we all know is that stuff not only is it really important, it’s what really matters, right?

We hear it all the time, I can give countless examples from my own career from peers of mine and mentors of mine, who we hear clients who went with someone more expensive because they like them better. You know people, the clients who stuck with a partner who had mistakes or made mistakes or caused the problem because they knew they were genuinely good people and they cared about them, right? It’s at the end of the day, you know I said it earlier in a conversation but I think that bears repeating, people do business with people they like, right?

That hasn’t changed, that’s not going to change in my humble opinion and I think again, the past 18 months have really reinforced that and I think we all got to keep that in mind that it’s essential. You know, maybe I have to give an example if I could Alex. You know, I think back and I may have even shared this with you when we talked offline prior to this conversation. I just joined the firm, my firm about eight years and I have been with the firm maybe six months and I was asked to attend a networking event and take some of the younger people at the firm with me and it was over the holidays.

We went to this – it was some sort of chamber type event and it was a nice event. It was a very fun event, cocktails and food and yada-yada-yada. We came back from that event and we sat down with one of my partners and the question I got asked with a small group, I was like, “Oh, how was the event? Was it successful and did you enjoy it?” and one of the younger people immediately was like, “Oh, it was just a huge waste of time. It was terrible” and I was sort of shocked and I said, “Why do you say that?”

He’s like, “I didn’t sell anything” and I was a bit dumbfounded quite frankly but I was like, “Well, did you expect to? Did you go to a Christmas cocktail event expecting you’d walk home with a new client?” but what I realized was you know, that was some people’s expectations. You know, there were folks out there who believe that not only would they but the goal they had of going to an event like that was to literally come home with new business and so we weren’t having this really good conversation afterwards that was about much like what you and I have talked about here.

That’s not why you go to these events, that shouldn’t be the goal why you’re out there and hey, if by some random stroke of luck you happen to meet someone that go, “Oh my goodness, an accountant. Just who I was hoping to meet today and I have an audit waiting for you” then you’re one of the luckiest accountants in the world and good for you but that’s not the objective you go and look at that and I think that’s something people have to learn.

[0:33:53.1] AD: I love the story. I love that this comes back to having the right expectations going in and I think that understanding that at the end of the day, let’s call it how it is. We’re selling a professional service part and I don’t like using the word selling. It is something that I generally try to stay away from because you’re right, especially in the professional service industry has a negative connotation but let’s just call it what it is for a minute.

I am selling what amounts to a highly complex product that has no truly clear defined deliverable that is perfectly known at the time I start, right? I can buy and I’ll think back to my days in investment banking, I can buy a quality of earnings from five different firms and I can promise you that they are going to come up with five different numbers, hopefully they’re all roughly the same but they are going to come up with their own adjustments and their own ways of looking things.

The reports are going to look different, some are going to be five pages, some are going to be 50 pages, the analysis that they do are all going to look different. There may be some common there, they are all going to drive at EBITDA, they’re all going to look at maybe a CapEx analysis, right? These things are going to happen but at the end of the day, they’re all going to look slightly different, right? What that means is that if I am a buyer in this situation, I don’t have a way of truly apples to apples comparing firm one and firm two and being able to very clearly say, “Well, here is what firm one will look like. Here is what firm two will look like. Let me pick the best based on the absolute best price per value.”

That doesn’t exists in the world of professional services, it just simply doesn’t. It’s way too intangible of a product and we also know that what the scope starts with isn’t what the scope ends with. There is so many different variables that come into that, right? What this all really drives to is understanding that when you are in a process of building a relationship with someone, it comes down to trust and liking the person and then believing and saying, “You know, Adam, I don’t 100% know what the final product that we’re looking for. We need an audit”

“I know we need an audit but there is going to be all sorts of things that we’re going to uncover in that process. I like you, I trust you. You’re quote is within an acceptable range. I want to work with you because I just trust that you Adam, are giving, are doing the right thing for me and what I need” and that all comes down to that trust and it is not this clinical check the box process that maybe we make in some of our other purchase decisions when it comes to these types of things.

It is so much and you said it earlier, you said know, like and trust, right? I know that’s a framework that you use a lot and that people have to know you. They have to like you but they really have to trust you if they’re going to do business with you, right? You said this again, people do business with people they enjoy right? This all comes down to building that relationship and if that’s what’s important, it takes a long time. There is no shortcut, you can’t build relationships overnight.

You have to stick at it and you have to realize that you’re just helping people along the way and some are going to come back and benefit you, some are not and you don’t know where but the only thing you can do is continue to help, continue to give, continue to serve and do that again and again and again over the long term and if you have the expectation of knowing that I’m just going to continue to help. I am going to continue to serve.

I am going to continue to look for ways to add value. That’s going to get you way farther than walking and expecting the sale and you’ll end up getting more sales in the long run by starting with the right expectations and the right mentality early on. Is that – I know you and I talked about this not only on this podcast here but in previous calls multiple times and I know you and I see things a lot alike around this, where do you see challenges with this?

Where do you – maybe do you see any places where people get caught up thinking the wrong way around it?

[0:37:42.8] AK: Yeah, well I’ll first say amen brother, right? I don’t know if I am supposed to say that on this interview or not but I mean spot on, that is we are in professional services is the ultimate wherever you fall again in that special services spectrum, it’s the ultimate people business, right? We’re not buying a tangible product. We are not buying a hard good. We are buying knowledge and skill and expertise from people and we better like them, we better trust them, we better believe what they’re selling us is what we’re going to get, right?

That’s why we’re in the ultimate people business in professional services and you reiterated it. It’s I think no different in this world than in most occupations but you have to take the long view, right? You have to know that you continue to – you and I talked a little bit about having those positive habits and having those positive skillsets, right? You have to continue to do those things day-in day-out, make that a part of who you are in your operating model and trust that in the end you’re going to see the results from that because if you get hung up on, “Well, I went to three networking events” or “I called on X number of prospects and I didn’t get anything out of it and therefore, everything that I have done to this point is worthless” that’s a bad way to go.

That’s a bad way to go down, right? You have to understand you are building this one way to get those positive results down the road.

[0:39:16.8] AD: It all comes down to habits. It all comes down to the mindset. It all comes down to the way that you think about it and in this, I am going to give a summary of our conversation today and winding us down. This is a great point for us to full circle everything back. We said from the very beginning here, we’ve reflected on COVID and some of the changes that it’s brought into our world and what hasn’t changed is relationships.

Everything that we’ve just been talking about in the last 10 minutes here has been fully around the importance of that relationship and that has never changed. The mindset around that is really important, to recognize that, to see that relationships are the core. We’re in the ultimate people business as a professional service provider and relationships drive all of that.

Now, what has changed through COVID and it is we have – we’ve learned the importance of that in many more ways and we’ve been now introduced to this idea of video conferencing, video communicating and recognize that the cat is out of the bag there. The train has left the station, things aren’t going back. We are going to have that medium as a way to communicate, in some ways it’s really great. Everyone is different, everyone feels a little bit differently about it.

It allows for a lot of flexibility. It allows people to defend their time and still have a more efficient and effective approach to communicating and connecting with people. It doesn’t mean it’s the only way. It doesn’t mean that it’s the sole way that is effective in relationship building but it does mean that it’s a resource and a tool that’s here for you and if you want to be successful in building relationships, it really comes down to using the tools at your disposal and understanding the person you’re trying to build a relationship with and understanding what’s effective and efficient for them.

What are they open to, what are they comfortable with? That requires you to be dynamic in what you’re willing to do. Don’t be stuck in one way or the other and recognize that things have changed. We’re not going to forget how to use Zoom. We’re not going to forget how to use our cameras. I think there is far too much adoption at this and we’ve spent far too long living this way at this point. Now, that led us into this conversation about this human based skills and human to human and understanding that all of this is really relationship building and it is a long term gain.

You have to recognize that you have to first find people, they have to know, like and trust you, right? You have to build that relationship and find commonality with someone to truly build that trust and rapport over a long time and recognizing that driving all of that is the right mindset and a mindset of wanting to be helpful, a mindset of wanting to do good for others and to say, “What can I do for you? Where can I be helpful?” and really understanding people.

Being interested in what someone has to say and you’d said being naturally curious and being inquisitive and just genuinely learning from other people. That is the best way to build trust and rapport to someone and that’s what’s going to get you opportunities in the long run and again, this all circling us back, this is about just thinking about this the right way, understanding that relationships are the core of it and having the right expectations that I’m going to go out and work on being as helpful as I can, learning about people, being inquisitive, being curious and just asking questions.

If I do that enough, if I truly do that enough, overtime I’m going to uncover value. I’m going to uncover some way that I can uniquely add value and then people are going to be more than happy to work with me because they’re going to know, like and trust me and they’re going to believe in me that I can help solve their challenges. Adam, anything to add to the summary there? Anything I missed in kind of recapping today or any other key points you want to highlight?

[0:42:51.9] AK: No, you got it. I mean, you got it, you summarized it really well Alex. I think maybe the last thought is I’ve been thinking through our dialogue here, maybe the last thought I’d share from my perspective with the audience is building relationships, being a business developer, selling that ugly word, it’s fun. Have fun with it, enjoy it. Do it for the right reasons, right? I mean, I tell people all the time, don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t – not that our world is easy, right?

I mean anyone selling anything or building relationships they wanted is not easy but it can be fairly simple, right? I tell folks enjoy the process and treat it – there is the golden rule, right? Treat other people the way you want to be treated yourself and I have heard you talk about that a lot in your prior episodes about just do the right thing by people as well as you can and it will pay you dividends you’re looking for at the end of the day.

When we’re talking about, whether we’re talking three months from now, six months from now, a year from now, whether if you’re in person with someone or via video, build that rapport the right way. Be interested in people, care about them and all the other good stuff will come with it.

[0:44:08.6] AD: Adam, that’s such a great way for us to end today and the call to action is going to be directly tied to that. I am going to challenge all of our listeners here, in the next week find 30 minutes to sit down and write down three ways that you can be helpful to your existing network. Three ways that you can reach out to someone you know and be helpful, whether that is just calling up a client or a prospect and just saying, “Hey, I’d love to grab lunch and just catch up” and go into that lunch asking questions or is there an introduction you can make or can you send along a resource to someone.

Look for ways to be helpful with zero expectation, absolutely zero expectation of getting something in return out of it. The whole goal is to just find three ways to be helpful into your network and with that, Adam, how can our listeners get in touch with you?

[0:44:54.5] AK: The easiest way to find me I guess like most of us is on LinkedIn, Adam Klein with Aprio or direct email, which is not as good as LinkedIn but it’s just [email protected]. I would welcome the opportunity to connect with and chat with any of your listeners and I hope a little bit of what I shared was helpful and insightful for folks.

[0:45:16.0] AD: Adam, we really appreciate you being on here today. I appreciate all of the thoughts you shared and there is some great content here and I appreciate you being on here and looking forward to having another conversation again soon.

[0:45:26.5] AK: Likewise, Alex, thanks so much for having me.


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