On Making Friends Across the Organization


Managing Director at PIE, John Nord has worked with top-tier IT consultants, strategy consultants, and the Big Four. I spoke to him recently about his success in selling across an organization. A native of Minnesota and a big Gophers fan, John grew up in an agricultural community. It didn’t surprise me that in seeking to characterize his efforts, he referred to it as “farming.” I love this term because it connotes stewardship and sustainability.

John’s Four Rules of Farming

Delivery Sells

The quality of the work comes first, says John. Whereas other clients might be impressed by the logos in your deck describing work you have done with numerous big clients, inside an organization the only thing that matters is the quality of your work. Set clear expectations with clients, over-deliver, produce results. Everything flows from that.

Be Proactive

As much as delivery sells, it is not enough. Successful farmers need to pick up the phone and make new friends. John sets goals for himself on the number of new people he can meet in a client organization. Walk into his office and you see large lists on his walls, tracking the people he has met. He tries to hold these relationships loosely in his hands. They are not prospects to be pitched so much as a living ecosystem in which his practice thrives as he develops relationships.

Include Your Current Relationship

John never cold calls into a different department or division without first speaking with his main relationship. He argues that expert services work is fundamentally built on trust. To reach out across the organization without first making your primary relationships aware of your efforts is to communicate that you are not to be trusted. He tries to enlist their help, asking what is the best way to connect with a functional equivalent in another department. Would they rather make an introduction or have John just reach out cold and reference his work with them?

Share Your Story

John never thinks of making new friends as selling. He finds that executives are interested in what you are doing elsewhere in the organization. They know that borrowing brilliance is key to their success in the company and want to hear about innovation. They know that their success in the organization means paying attention to what is working elsewhere and importing it into their practices. John always speaks with an honest sense of sharing: Here is what we are doing with one practice that works well. What are you all doing?

Bonus Tip

John describes live events as “target-rich environments.” If you are invited to help with a client’s conference, make sure to meet the other subject matter experts who are coming from different parts of the company. Over a glass of wine after events, it will be natural to ask them what they do and, in turn, for them to want to know what you do. Bring business cards and follow by setting a call.