Strategic Relationships with David Nour
Who do we need? Who do we know? How do we connect the dots? That is what Strategic Relationships are all about. Listen in as David and Karla discuss the power in building relationships.
A thinker, senior leadership/board advisor, global speaker, and best-selling author, David Nour is internationally recognized as the leading expert on strategic business relationships. The author of ten books, including best-sellers CO-CREATE (St. Martins Press) and RELATIONSHIP ECONOMICS (Wiley), as well as the upcoming CURVE BENDERS, Nour serves as a trusted advisor to global clients and coaches, corporate leaders and rising entrepreneurs. He is an adjunct professor at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University and Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management, was named to the Global Gurus Top 30 Leadership Professionals list and is honored to be one of Marshall Goldsmiths 100 Global Coaches. A Forbes Leadership contributor on the Future of Work, Nour’s unique insights have been featured in a variety of prominent publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fast Company, Huffington Post Business, Entrepreneur, and Knowledge@Wharton. Todd Palmer is the President of Extraordinary Advisors.
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Read Along as Karla and David discuss Strategic Relationships
Karla Nelson: And welcome to the People Catalyst Podcast, David Nour.
David Nour: Hi there.
Karla Nelson: Hello, sir. How are you today?
David Nour: I am great. So good to be with you and this fabulous podcast, which seems really aligned between our respective worlds.
Karla Nelson: I know. I love it. The strategic relationships, right?
David Nour: It’s, as you often talk about, it is everything, right? It is the glue that keeps us focused, keeps us productive, keeps us moving forward, and hopefully gets us through and beyond this current virus storm.
Karla Nelson: Oh, no kidding. Oh, my goodness. So, the crazy thing is I’ve been doing Zoom meetings and all this stuff for a very long time, but you’re kind of shoved into this area of relationships that are online.
David Nour: And, as you and I talked about, it just went from being a luxury to an absolute necessity, right?
Karla Nelson: Yeah.
David Nour: So, I’ve got teenagers who are home and now, they’re doing remote learning. And I think I had 22 meetings, face meetings, this week that have all been turned into virtual Facetimes and Zoom and GoToMeeting and WebEx. So…
Karla Nelson: All sorts of stuff, right?
David Nour: Right. Absolutely.
Karla Nelson: Yep. And so, share with us a little bit, David, in regard to your strategic relationships and how do you kind of break that down? Because, of course, in business and life, relationships are everything, is kind of our mantra here at Catalyst. But share with us your specific background.
David Nour: Absolutely. So, as you may know, I’m actually originally from Iran. I came to the U S in 1981 with a suitcase, a hundred bucks. Karla, I didn’t know anybody and didn’t speak a word of English. I wrote in my first book, Relationship Economics, that I didn’t certainly get it then, but I distinctly recall, I think I was five or six years old, walking through bazaars of Iran with my dad on our Friday errands, and beyond the list Mom gave him of the things she wanted to make that day or projects he had to do around the house, Dad also had a mental relationship list and it was people he wanted to make sure we saw while we were out and about, running our errands.
So fast forward a whole bunch of years and after leaving my world in technology and then consulting and private equity. And then, when I decided to go on my own, I went on a listening tour and Karla, I went and asked 35 people that I liked, I respected, and I trusted and I said, “What do you believe I do exceptionally well?” And they said, you network, in their words, better than anybody we’ve ever met. If you can help other people figure this out, you’ll succeed. So, I started to… My whole life has been B to B. So, the whole time I’m thinking, what can I offer? What can I help my large enterprise relationships think about and do more or less of?
So as I started to take this idea, and it’s crazy to believe this is year 18 of the business, as I started to take this idea to the market, we combined this soft, nebulous thing, relationships, that everybody understands is important, with economics, which is a little more black or white, little more quantifiable, a little more strategic, a little more, hopefully, more intentional and that’s what I do.
So, I help, as you and I know, we’ve talked about, relationships don’t really make sense by themselves. Nobody builds relationships because they’re bored, so I help my clients apply relationships and the idea, the concepts in Relationship Economics, to solving some very specific challenges, driving profitable growth, creating and sustaining a culture of innovation, making real change last. Those are examples of what P&L leaders, I still see, struggle with.
Karla Nelson: Yes. So, can you walk us through those three aspects that you just mentioned, which was profitable growth, creating a culture of innovation, and then creating those lasting changes?
David Nour: Happy to. So, number one, profitable growth. I’ve never believed growth at any cost. So, before this, I worked for a private equity firm where we bought and sold a whole bunch of companies and before that, you’re going to love this, in the 2000 internet kind of blow up, I was president of a company and the painful lesson I learned in that period was, you cannot buy something for two dollars and sell it for a dollar and make it up on volume. It’s just not going to work.
Karla Nelson: Yeah, the math just doesn’t make sense.
David Nour: Just doesn’t add up, right? So what I believe in is, and what we’ve proven, is that, if you think about it, the right relationships can actually accelerate your ability to get things done.
Karla Nelson: Yes.
David Nour: So, sociologists tell us that an average individual can proactively manage about 100 to 150 relationships. So, a million dollar question for most people I ask is, which ones and how do you know? And if you… I learned years ago in engineering school that you can’t possibly improve something you don’t measure.
Karla Nelson: Yeah.
David Nour: So, we all know relationships are important. I’ve read a whole bunch of books on relationships. Very few people really understand their significance. So, we’ve built, for example, a relationship heat map. We’ve built a relationship scorecard. You and I have walked into our enterprise clients and we ask them, tell me about your relationships and everybody, inevitably, we have fantastic relationships. My very next question, how do you know? Well, they buy from us. Well, maybe you’re holding them hostage, I don’t know. So, getting more intentional, again, strategic and quantifiable in the relationships you choose to invest in, we’ve proven, can actually drive a more profitable growth in your business.
Karla Nelson: Oh, I love that, yeah.
David Nour: Does that make sense?
Karla Nelson: Absolutely. That completely makes sense. So, share with us a little bit about that innovation and the lasting change who you are associated with and I love that you’re connecting the relational aspect to those things, right?
David Nour: Absolutely. So, on the building and sustaining a culture of innovation, most people, when you talk about innovation, they think of an innovative product or a service. I actually work with my clients on creating an innovative business model and more broadly, a portfolio of business model innovations, right? So, if your business so far has been selling a product, what if you leased that product? What if you rented that product? What if you, what would have to happen for you to deploy that product but also offer to not just sell the product but service it.
So, if you think of any of those scenarios, you’d have to build out a business model that typically functions a little different than how you may do it today. To do that, you need the right talent, you need the right skills, you need the right capabilities. You need to be asking the right questions. We’ve again, proven I can accelerate all of that through your portfolio of relationships. So, we work so very similar to your world. We work with clients on… and you and I’ve seen ideation. A lot of people can come up with great ideas. It’s how do we bridge that to implementation?
Karla Nelson: Oh, my gosh. Literally, those are the two steps that we focus on. Ideation, what are we going to do? Implementation, how are we going to get it done?
David Nour: Great.
Karla Nelson: Right? You have to have goals and the crazy part about it is [inaudible 00:08:42] 10 years of marketing research about how people adopt new ideas, but it’s the same group of individuals, but just done differently, right? You’re trying to figure out what to do versus actually getting it done.
David Nour: Absolutely. So, what I infuse in that process is, again, where are your, who are your most valuable, most relevant relationships that can accelerate your ability to do that? So, again, there are some fantastic innovation firms like yours out there that bring the process. Other people bring the tools and resources. My wheelhouse, our work, is exclusively focused on the right relationships.
So, the third bucket is really driving lasting change. One of the challenges with change is, when we’re all really honest with ourselves, very few of us actually like or appreciate or do well with change. We’re creatures of habit, right? I like doing the same thing.
Karla Nelson: Oh, yeah. Human nature is human nature, right?
David Nour: Absolutely, and often, charismatic leaders start an initiative and because of their sheer willingness and drive and tenacity, they kind of move the organization a direction. The problem is when that leader retires or leaves the company and people tend to revert back and I’ve got hundreds of examples I can give you. Alan Mulally was invited to run Ford by Bill Ford and during the last economic recession, ’08 timeframe, he absolutely turned that company around. Unfortunately, as it happens, he retires, right? And now, Ford is back in doing some really, really bad things and they’re in deep trouble. So, how do you make change last beyond a charismatic leader or any initiative of the week and really make that, make the long-tail results…
Karla Nelson: Oh, I like that long-tail.
David Nour: Yeah, results of that change permeate through the organization. Again, we’ve proven your relationships are the glue. That’s how you’re going to knowledge transfer. That’s how you’re going to really, not just introduce but sustain great practices and great practitioners in the process.
Karla Nelson: Oh, I love that. Okay. So how did you get into this work, David?
David Nour: Oh, my gosh. You and your listeners are going to get a chuckle out of this one. So, my background is sales and marketing and again, consulting. That’s what I’d done for a whole bunch of years. August 2004, a friend here in Atlanta where I live, was the deputy CIO at one of the big banks. He says, would love to have you come and just tell your story and talk about networking to our church. Karla, I am thinking church, six, eight people, so I put a deck together the night before, 10 slides, and I show up and there’s 250 people sitting in an auditorium and what runs through my mind is, bleep, what am I going to say?
Karla Nelson: Well, you can’t deny who you are, David. It finds you, it finds you.
David Nour: Right? What am I going to say? What am I going to say that they’re not going to laugh and walk out. What am I going to say that they haven’t heard before about networking? So, I spoke for 45 minutes and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, so I stayed for 90 minutes afterwards and people were like, is there a book? Is there a seminar? How do we learn more? And I’m like, I don’t do this. I’m a consultant. I’m a sales and marketing and biz dev and consultant. So that one speech led to 30, year one, 50, year two, 70, year three, 104, year four.
Karla Nelson: Wow.
David Nour: I had gone to Emory for the executive MBA program, so I reached out to them and I said, you’ve got the facility, you’ve got a website, can I do a workshop down there and we’ll split whatever we make.
So, we did our first workshop there and people from Sony and Goldman Sachs and KPMG and Chick-Fila showed up and I’m like, surely you guys already do this. They’re like, no, we don’t. I’m like, surely this is part of your new hire training and management development program. No, it isn’t. So, that became… KPMG was one of my first clients. That partner leaves, goes to Deloitte, brings me there. Deloitte is one of the auditors at Siemens. They take me there. Siemens is a sponsor at Disney, they take me there. One client, over the years, has hired me in three different jobs. And, like I said, I’ve been blessed to write 10 books from that first speech, August 2004.
Karla Nelson: Yeah, because they said, hey, do you have a book?
David Nour: Right, and as you and I talked about, I’m not writing Harry Potter, right? I’m never going to get wealthy writing books. The books just become a great way to capture and disseminate your ideas.
Karla Nelson: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And so, even before… Okay, so you were a consultant and then, obviously, it kind of escalated, but what was your aha moment that you were like this is who I am and this is… you know.
David Nour: Sure. So, I believe my journey has been a really interesting blend of both nature and nurture. So as I mentioned, born in the Middle East, if you’ve traveled, if you’ve worked in the Middle East or Asia or South America or almost like rest of the non-Western world, builds relationships first from which they do business. And I learned that at a very young age.
Unfortunately, as Americans or even Westerners, we’re so focused on the pipeline or that project plan or whatever the transaction is that only when that goes well, we’ll ask the person, how are you doing? And, as we say in the South, how’s your Mama and them? We don’t really care about their family. We don’t ask about the family because we’re so focused on the business part. Hence, the disconnect, when we go into places and they don’t look, sound or behave like us.
So, that was the nature part. The nurture really was throughout my career. I distinctly remember in the early 1990s, I worked for a company called Silicon Graphics and SGI was a big technology company and I was down in Orlando and I had Disney as one of my accounts and I quickly figured out that I was not going to make any money sitting in my office, so I would commute 60 miles each way and I got myself a badge and a car pass and an office down on the Disney property and, I’m dating myself. Back then, companies used to have a directory that would feel like a phone book.
Karla Nelson: That’s right. I actually remember those, David.
David Nour: There you go.
Karla Nelson: I’m dating myself as well.
David Nour: Right. And we could have a ball about this, but do you remember our phones were in a little brick briefcase we used to carry around?
Karla Nelson: It was like what you put your computer in today.
David Nour: Yes, or they were installed in our cars with the little squiggly antenna on the back.
Karla Nelson: That’s so true.
David Nour: Right? Oh, sad.
Karla Nelson: Yeah, and it didn’t seem like that long ago.
David Nour: It was, it was. Okay? So, I would commute each way 60 miles down to Disney. I got myself a badge, a pass and an office down there. I got an employee directory and I literally started to tear the directory apart and, on a wall, back then we only had one size and one color of Post-it notes.
Karla Nelson: Oh, and what color was that?
David Nour: Yellow. Yellow was the only color we had. Are you kidding? Yellow is the only color.
Karla Nelson: Now we’ve got a whole stack of them, right?
David Nour: Now you’ve got a whole slew of sizes and shapes and posters. Are you kidding me? Kids today are completely spoiled. We only had one size. So I used an entire wall with these Post-it notes, and again, you’re going to chuckle, I kid you not, with strings and tape to connect the dots between the relationships I had and the relationships I needed to succeed. So, before I had gotten there, I think we’d sold 700K to two departments. Within a couple of years, we sold several million dollars to 24 departments and I quickly figured out the only way I was going to succeed was to leverage, never use, but leverage my existing relationships to connect the dots between the people I knew, which we call your relationship bank today, and the people you needed, we call those pivotal contacts, to accelerate your ability to get there.
So, that was my personal experience. And then, I spent six years at a private equity firm and in those six years we bought and sold 110 different companies and I had an incredible opportunity and a front row seat, and Karla, I saw incredible teams who had great relationships, inside and outside their organizations, take a mediocre idea to new heights and just like a family, I saw dysfunctional teams take amazing ideas off a cliff.
Karla Nelson: Yes.
David Nour: So the genesis of my work came from those types of examples where I said there’s got to be something more than a company’s product or service that sets them apart, and I began on this journey to really become a student of business relationships and really understand, why do they work, how do they work? How do we screw them up? How do we fix them? How do we fix it? How do we fix them? And those that consistently outpace their competitive peers, what are they doing differently that the rest of us should learn and do and replicate?
Karla Nelson: Pay attention to, for sure. Yeah. Because in business and life, relationships are everything.
David Nour: Right? And beyond… and I still cringe when people call it networking because I remind them that networking is one letter away from not working and most people are just completely turned off by the cheesy lines and hey, what keeps you up at night? Heartburn. You have a solution for that?
Karla Nelson: Yeah.
David Nour: So, I coach people to really see relationships like your repute, like your credibility, like your brand, as a soft asset that can absolutely set you apart from everybody else.
Karla Nelson: We just did a podcast that is probably coming out, I think, it’s this Thursday, maybe it’s next Thursday, with a gentleman that is an attorney and he focuses on the soft assets of the company and the intangibles, because that is so incredibly… there is so much value in that intangible that we really didn’t look at those assets in the same way that we’re looking at them now in regards to those relationships that we have with the individuals that are in the company and the business and what that means.
David Nour: Yes, and. One thing that I’ve observed is, unfortunately, whenever we’re faced with a challenge or an opportunity, we often think about “what should we do and how should we do it.” We seldom ask enough “who” questions. Who do we need? Who do we know? How do we connect the dots with value add? I’ve also seen, you throw enough time, effort, resources, you’ll eventually get there, right? One of the most undervalued, underrecognized, underappreciated assets of our relationships is that they can dramatically accelerate your time to results. Your time to outcomes, your time to cash, your time to traction.
Karla Nelson: Yeah, no doubt.
David Nour: If you’re savvy enough to ask what I just said, who do we need? There are no new challenges. There are no new obstacles, right? Somebody, somewhere has seen the outcome, business outcome, we’re after, so who do we need? Who do we know? How do we connect the dots?
Karla Nelson: I love that. Who do we need? Who do we know? How do we connect the dots?
David Nour: I’m going to add one more, with value add. You’ve got to connect the dots with value add because that’s when people prioritize. Everybody’s busy, right? That’s when people prioritize returning your calls and emails. That’s when they prioritize and look forward to hearing from you. That’s when they’re responsive just because they know you’re not going to call to just chit chat. You’re going to call to ask, hopefully, intelligent, engaging questions. You’re going to share, hopefully, intelligent, engaging content, value, ideas.
More importantly, beyond your product or service, you’re also a purveyor of relationships. So, Norm may not have all the answers, but he probably knows somebody who at least can accelerate our ability to get to the answers and that’s really what you want to be known for. I’ve always said, be competent, capable in your technical skills, be unmatched, unparalleled, and make sure people insist on you because of your relationship building, because of your collaboration, because of your ability to bring people in, in essence, your relationship development skills.
Karla Nelson: Love that. Oh, my gosh. David, this has been an amazing interview and I love your outcome of relationships. Profitable growth, create a culture of innovation, creating lasting change, absolutely thumbs up.
Thank you, sir.
David Nour: My pleasure. Very kind. Thanks for having me.