I have spoken to many business leaders about strategic growth during this lockdown. Too often we only call on people when we need them, and when we get what we want (or what they’re providing isn’t right for us), we drop them like a hot potato.
Common questions we’ve been exploring have included: should we wait and see? Should we continue to build business relationships? And if so, how do we do that? Is now even the right time?
You should always build business relationships. It’s an ongoing business priority, irrespective of what’s going on around us. In fact, now is a better time to forge lasting business relationships. People have more time, they are more open to potential collaborations and remember business relationships is not just about finding potential clients.
This is your opportunity to remain visible and show them you have something of value to offer, whenever the need arises.
You are building a brand and you want to be seen as someone who can be trusted yet someone who can also help even if there is no immediate financial gain or business benefit.
I’ve made a career out of connecting people, helping bridge clients with customers, customers with clients and facilitated partnership opportunities all over the world. There is no one-size fits all approach to building successful business relationships. It depends on your personality. This will affect the techniques that work for you and those that you feel most comfortable with.
Where to start
There are a few ways to navigate this but to start with when you meet a potential client, consider:
#1 Find out as much as you can about them. This could include what they do, how long they’ve been doing it for and what their interests are? If you get the chance, research them beforehand, otherwise use the meeting to ask as many questions about them as you can. This allows you to get an idea about any common interests you have that can be explored for mutual benefit.
#2 Establish the common interest and explore it. Expand on the common interest you may have with that person. It could be a common love for tennis, or where is the best place for Japanese food, or where they would love to travel to for holiday.
#3 Listen to find a natural opportunity to explore their business. Try and find a gap in your conversation where you can than jump in and find out what, where, how their business is doing and if they have any pain points. It could be anything that is a problem for their business or their personal circumstances. (Remember you are building a business relationship with the person, hence if you help them, they could help you).
#4 Don’t forget the follow-up. This is where many of us fall down. They meet with people thinking about how they can benefit. If it’s not immediately apparent, they class the meeting as a failure which means they neglect the follow-up. If you are building a long-term business relationship, it is important to follow-up. Schedule a further call or virtual coffee with the person and carry on where you left off. This should give you time to think about what you can do for them and if there are any suggestions that might come to mind.
Business relationship rules of engagement
Be authentic – be yourself. Don’t be someone you are not, it will come across as fake and a lot of the times, people can see through this. If you come across as fake, whatever you are trying to offer will not seem as professional or genuine.
Develop mutual respect – a relationship should not be forced and should always be a two-way street and not one-sided. It may start off where you will share more, or offering your time, expertise or services but overall it should balance out in that there is a mutual balance.
Help others to connect. Make meaningful connections for people to network with each other, this will strengthen your connection with the clients and strengthen your connections with your network. This is not about sending off a one line email with the close ‘over to you’.
Instead, take the time to ensure you are connecting the people with the right values and where you feel they would genuinely enjoy connecting with each other. And don’t forget, if you are looking for certain connections, it’s okay to ask your new contact. Many people are very open to help provided they feel you are not being opportunistic or just using them for who they know.
Get more personal – remember: you are trying to set yourself apart from others, and what better way than getting to know your potential client as a person who has a variety of interest just like you.
Try and find out if they have family (perhaps a child similar in age to your own), perhaps an interest in football or other sports, travel or my favourite, food! What kind of cuisine do they like to eat or what do they enjoy cooking at home? All these interests add up to a commonalty between them and you.
Plan something fun to do together – all business and no play makes it boring. Why not organise something fun? Something you both would enjoy, it could be virtual drinks where you could have a couple of people at home with a drink (of their choosing at hand) and chat about anything, dinner or theatres (if they enjoy it, and if the environment permit).
Examples can be a cook-off contest or doing a Tik Tok video. Make it fun and something the both of you would enjoy and where potentially they can get other people involved.
In times like this, it is even more important that you keep up with your connections, they could be your potential client. There is a huge advantage in that they may have slightly more time (they need not travel), and you have their full attention (because they are not looking behind you to see if there are more interesting people to talk to!) In this environment, please remember to:
- Contribute to safety by innovating your product portfolio or service so people can access it online (if you’re not already doing so).
- Provide pragmatic help to clients in financial distress
- Support the emotional needs of customers ‘trapped at home’
- Stay reachable and treat customers with care in personal interactions
- Demonstrate care for your local community and those around you. Sometimes you can help people who may never be able to help you in return. That shouldn’t stop you from reaching out and doing your bit.
- Forging lasting connections with customers, potential new clients and strategic partners.
The above is a starting point and is by no means the only steps you can take, but it is a reminder that you can’t only be seen to reach to people when you want something. Building relationships is not about a one-off transaction.
Get to know them and eventually their business. People work with partners and hire those they like. So if they have the chance to get to know you, you’ve already increased the chances that when they need something they’ll come to you first.
About the author
Lenna is the Founder of The L Factor, a business consultancy proficient in transforming commercial ambitions into robust operational infrastructures and results. Its primary focus is to leverage adaptability and entrepreneurial insight to deliver, create innovative business strategies to help organisations reach a global audience. She is also an international business/career mentor.
She has worked across several industries and operate on a consultative approach to ensure collaborative success from the ground up. In addition to leading teams and organisations to work towards enhanced performance and a shared ethos and vision; supporting them in maximising their opportunities to excel.
You can get in touch with Lenna using any of the platforms below, she’d love to hear from you.
➡️ LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennalou/
➡️ Website – https://www.thelfactorltd.com
➡️ Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
➡️ Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/thelennalou
➡️ Twitter – https://twitter.com/lennalou
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