Cultivating strong business relationships is one of the most important factors for the success of any business, especially in light of the economic headwinds of the past five years. Now, more than ever, businesses need to pay particular attention to maximizing their return on investment. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure your current clients choose to stay with you. By some estimates, the cost of keeping an existing customer is as low as one-tenth of the cost of acquiring a new one. So cultivating strong business relationships offers a cost effective way to do business. Here are seven tips that can help you do that.
1) Everyone Is Important – The #1 lesson in relationship building is that “all relationships are important.” You want to build as many positive relationships as possible, because opportunities can come from anywhere. You never know who might be a key decision maker down the road or who might be highly influential behind closed doors. Showing genuine interest in and respect for other people pays big dividends in the long run.
2) Lay The Foundation Early – Identify potential clients or partners early. Express your interest, meet with them, and learn about their goals and objectives. Listen. Then, if and when that firm moves into your market, you’re at the top of their list. Why? Because you’ve already established contact and initiated a relationship. People like to work with people they know.
3) Meet Face-To-Face – My preferred method of contact is a face-to-face meeting. Why? Because any successful relationship means many months – maybe many years – of future collaboration. In a face-to-face meeting, you can read body language and pick up on non-verbal cues you just can’t see over the telephone. Can I trust this person I’m looking to do business with? You’ll likely know the answer after that first meeting. Also, a face-to-face meeting lets you get a feel for an organization and its culture. We want to work with partners who are collaborative and willing to listen so we can both benefit from each other’s experience. This creates a win/win for everyone.
4) Stay Active – Work to maintain worthwhile relationships, even if they don’t yield business in the short-term. In some cases, contacts move on to different firms, and it’s important to keep those relationships going. For example, I’ve had business contacts I really like move to other firms outside of our market. If I feel the relationship is valuable from a personal standpoint, I’ll make sure to keep in touch. Often, these friends turn out to be excellent sources for information, advice, and industry intelligence.
5) Have Patience – If you really want to work with someone, keep at it. If there’s potential for real synergy between ourselves, our potential partner, and the owner, we’ll be persistent in our efforts. Some working relationships have taken more than three years to cultivate, but it’s well worth the time in order to get the right partner.
6) Provide Unique Value – This is extremely important. Make sure you always bring something to the table. Ask yourself why someone would want to do business with you. The answer should be that you provide unique value for them – value it’s difficult to find anywhere else. In our business, good market intelligence provides a leg up. So share it. Your existing partners will love you for it, and that same expert knowledge opens the door to new relationships.
7) Everyone Builds Relationships – Remember, anyone engaged in contact with people outside of the firm (which is everyone) has the potential to develop and maintain beneficial relationships for your business. Friends, neighbors, and former co-workers are all fertile ground for potential business opportunities. So encourage everyone in your organization to build relationships.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of rules for keeping and maintaining business relationships, your organization will be much better off if you apply them. The common theme running through each of these rules is communication. Communication is the key to business development. It plays a role in everything we do as a firm. If you don’t have a business development person who is a good communicator, you don’t have a business development person at all. Business is about more than just transactions. It’s about personal bonds and intimate connections. If you commit to strengthening those bonds and connections, both you and your firm will benefit immeasurably.
Ben Lilly is Senior Vice President and Director of Embassy Programs for H&A Architects & Engineers. Having traveled to over 25 different countries, he is committed to the mission of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Overseas Building Operations – to build safe and secure platforms of diplomacy around the globe.