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Lifelong Learner and Relationship Economics Expert David Nour

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In 1981, with a sign around his neck that read, "Put this kid on an Eastern Airlines flight to Atlanta," $100, and a suitcase, David Nour was beginning to think he wasn't in Iran anymore.

The son of teachers of Persian literature and history, Nour, with the advent of a new regime, was sent to the U.S. when his parents were called back to Iran after spending many years teaching in Kuwait. He didn't speak or understand a word of English. But the desire to surmount the mountain of challenges he faced was already burgeoning within Nour.

More than 25 years later, Nour is an acclaimed speaker and the founder and managing partner of The Nour Group, Inc., a management-consulting firm based in Atlanta that specializes in the art and science of relationships.

Nour is a classic American success story, but that doesn't discredit the individuality of his journey, relentless work ethic, and insatiable lust for learning. His background is rooted in selling; he parlayed his technological skill into an early job at ComputerLand, taking an inside sales job selling 286 computers whose functionality equaled that of Palm Pilots. Despite still struggling with the language barrier—"I had to put people on hold [during calls] just to figure out what they said," he recalled in a phone interview—he quickly transferred to outside sales and contributed to $20 million in revenue.

After starting his own forensic animation company and going to school at night to earn his bachelor's degree in management from Georgia State University, Nour began chasing a job at Silicon Graphics. Twenty-eight phone calls and three months later, his persistence found payoff, and the job selling large computer systems was his.

"I love new jobs, new challenges that you get to push yourself for," Nour said.

Never one to squander an extra minute, Nour took on challenge after challenge, including splitting his time between San Francisco and Atlanta as part of his job as the supply-chain national director for Kforce Consulting (then Romac & Associates) while also enrolled in an executive MBA program at Emory University. Despite an unimaginably hectic schedule, he managed to bring in $15 million in revenue in two years.

Finally, though, Nour admitted that he would be "happiest running [his] own company" and founded The Nour Group, Inc., in 2003 with the intention of promoting his "methodology of relationship economics" while "solving sales-revenue generation issues" and providing strategy-execution and talent-development services. Today, The Nour Group, Inc.'s client list includes 293 of the Fortune 500 companies and such names as Marriott, Siemens, Scientific Atlanta, International Hotels Group, KPMG, MPI, LOMA, and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Much of the knowledge Nour has acquired distills easily into practical advice for salespeople. First, he said, "I genuinely believe a big part of a successful sales professional's 'success criteria' is his or her DNA. Part of this you're born with." And secondly, there is, according to Nour, "unequivocally a science and an art to selling." Today, anyone in sales must "out-hustle and out-compete other equally competent salespeople." Nour marvels at the number of people who have sloughed off their selling principles and responsibilities and now act like "order takers" and "vendors."

Rather than acting passively, Nour encourages salespeople to attempt to understand buyers' issues and to build and nurture their trust.

"The way you sell isn't the way a customer buys," he said.

Q. What do you like to do for fun?
A. I'm passionate about my kids. I have a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Other than that, golf, read, visit secluded places, and go see my parents in Iran.
Q. What CD is in your CD player?
A. The Fray's How to Save a Life.
Q. What was the last magazine you read?
A. Fast Company, Inc., Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Fortune. I subscribe to 22 publications.
Q. What's your favorite TV show?
A. Grey's Anatomy and American Idol.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. My dad. Because I didn't grow up with him, a lot of what I remember is the really great stuff. A lot of who I am today is really because of my dad. I distinctly remember being four or five, walking through the bazaars of Iran, and Dad talking about how the way you get things done is through relationships.

What's more crucial to the selling process is "how a buyer engages with a company." This is where sellers should direct their attention.

"Really smart sales professionals are methodical in understanding who their target customers are," Nour explained.

Smart sales professionals build trust, which Nour defines as "credibility plus empathy," and work to align their selling processes with buyers' buying processes.

And this strategic knowledge of how people and relationships function is at the core of relationship economics, the methodology of which The Nour Group, Inc., is a proponent. On the company's homepage,, Nour writes the following:
What is missing [in networking] is the science—more specifically, the systematic, quantifiable transformation of an individual, a team, or an organization's most valuable relationships into performance, execution, and results. Through the Strategic Relationship PlanningTM (SRP) process, our team has developed matrices, indices, and scorecards intended to redefine ROI as a Return on Involvement, Return on Influence, Return on Integration, and Return on Image. In short, a return on relationship investments toward getting things done!
For Nour, relationships translate into capital; intangible investments transform into tangible, measurable results. It's a theoretical approach to engaging with the world that Nour puts into practice in his own life. He regularly meets with a personal advisory board—composed of former customers, bosses, and coaches and board members he has met through the charities he is involved with—that provides him with candid advice once each quarter.

"You can't buy those kinds of insights," he said. "It's amazing what a fresh set of eyes can show you."

"You're never too old or too young to either become a mentor or find a mentor," Nour insisted.

In fact, he advises anyone in any industry to identify three mentors: one within his or her company, one in the industry, and one outside of either area. Furthermore, he encourages people to read ("Just read and read about what other people are doing"), to never take a job simply for money, and to plunge into a "feet-on-the-street" approach. In other words, there's no substitute for experience.

"If you're in it for the long haul—if you're in it for the relationship and not the transaction—you have to do it right the first time, and you have to learn from those painful lessons, and you have to constantly aim at growing, both personally and professionally," said Nour, speaking from experience.

In fact, the latter objective has been Nour's personal mission since he first stepped off of the plane.

"Education," Nour declared, "is a lifelong process."
On the net:Relationship Economics

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