Most, if not all of us, have been building relationships all of our lives. We have built relationships with our family members, school friends, coworkers, neighbors… the list goes on. These types of relationships usually came naturally, right? But what happens when you find yourself in a sales role responsible for generating new business? Do those relationships come as naturally? For a lot of us, the answer might be “yes” but for others, it might take a bit more effort. Whether you are a pro or new to the sales environment, to have a thriving business you need to build, strengthen, and maintain strong relationships. Business to Business (B2B) sales typically depend upon supply chain relationships, while Business to Consumer (B2C) typically rely on business relationships between companies and consumers. While relationships may differ from B2B versus B2C, the mechanics around building, strengthening, and maintaining relationships remain the same. Let’s explore a few techniques for building business relationships.
First and foremost, to build relationships, you need to get your name out there. Back when I started dating, a wise person told me that If I wanted to meet someone I needed to stop waiting for them to come knock on my door. Granted, for some, waiting for a knock on the door might work, however, in a world where even deliveries can be left at the door with little to no interaction, this tactic will take a while. Business relationships are no different. If you are trying to build a thriving business, you need to get out of the office and network. Below are a few ways in which you can effectively network:
The idea of networking is to introduce yourself to those who may or may not know you or what you are selling. Therefore, when you attend networking events, be prepared by bringing a friendly attitude and your business cards.
Introducing yourself and your business. Do you arrive late to networking events? Are you the person who arrives early and immediately sets down avoiding all eye contact? Do you leave as soon as the event is over without talking to anyone? If so, then you are not networking. According to the dictionary, the definition of networking is “the action or process of interacting with others with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” Most networking events start with a 30-minute social hour before and after the event. This is your opportunity to meet people. Start by arriving early and introducing yourself to others and talk about what you do. It starts with a smile, a simple handshake or fist bump, and a “Hi, how are you?” Ask people questions such as “Where are you attending the event from?”, “Where do you work?”, “What do you do?”. Be prepared to answer similar questions. When you are talking about yourself and your business, keep it short – you should be able to describe who you are and what you do in less than 90 seconds. Remember, you don’t have a lot of time at these events and the idea is to mingle and meet lots of people. If you find it a struggle to meet people and introduce yourself at networking events, below are few tips to make introducing yourself a little less challenging.
Volunteer as a Greeter. If you are nervous about introducing yourself, you might consider volunteering to be a greeter at the event. As a greeter, you typically get the opportunity to say hi to everyone who walks through the door. As you are meeting guests, given there is not a long line, this is your opportunity to introduce yourself and ask a few questions.
Bring a Friend. If you don’t feel comfortable being a greeter or going to the event alone, bring a friend or business partner. If possible, bring one or more of your social friends/business partners as they will often get the conversation started.
Listen and look for connection points. When you meet people, it is not only important to ask questions, it’s equally as important to listen to the answers. As you listen, you might find a few areas in which you can connect to each other. This is also your opportunity to ask for their contact information so that you can follow up on the conversation later. I was the secretary for my Sunday school for over 10 years. As people walked into the class, my responsibility was to invite them in and to check them off as being present. If the line was not very long, I also made it a point to ask the attendees how their week was going and if they had any fun plans for the upcoming week. What I was really doing was looking for a connection point so that when I greeted them each week, we would have something to talk about. They would no longer be just a name on a list. Just by being intentional, during those 10 years I have made a lot of long-lasting friendships.
So, what now? The networking event is over, you met a lot of people. You had an immediate connection with some of them. The next step is to continue to build upon the relationship. Below are a few methods by which you can accomplish this.
Connect on social media platforms. Connect on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. When you connect on social media you will further develop connection points. Additionally, you will both be exposed to each other’s network of contacts. While at the networking event you both most likely met a lot of people, therefore when you ask to connect on LinkedIn be sure to include a message reminding them where you met and provide a few details about the conversation you had.
Meet face-to-face. While connecting on social media is a great place to start, face-to-face meetings will allow you the opportunity to build stronger business relationships. Meeting face-to-face allows for more natural interactions and allows for a better opportunity to read the room, as it is much easier to read body language and facial expressions in-person versus online. While virtual meetings help to navigate the socially distanced world, there are times when the message is not clearly understood due to broadband glitches and poor-quality microphones and/or cameras. In-person meetings allow for more concise communication and understanding between participants. In a world where everyone’s schedule is tight if you find it challenging, remember that those in-person meetings don’t have to be long. An in-person meeting can be as simple as a 15-minute cup of coffee at the local coffee shop.
By now, you’ve put a lot of energy into building and strengthening the relationship. Now it is time to deepen and maintain the relationship. This can be accomplished in many ways, below are a few techniques.
Keep in touch. To ensure that your relationships keep thriving, make it a point to regularly check in with your key contacts. This can be as simple as sending a quick email to say hello. When checking in, remember it is not all about you, therefore, ask them about their professional life and any accomplishments since your last connection. Review their social media and congratulate them on
any accomplishments they might have shared. Other ways to catch up include but are not limited to:
Offer value. Another way to keep the relationship moving forward is to give as much as you are receiving by offering value. This can be as simple as sharing one of their LinkedIn posts. Another way to build value is by sharing articles with them that are relevant to their business. Finally, you can share value by asking them about any business challenges they have encountered and offering your assistance.
Ask for feedback. We can also deepen our business relationships by asking for feedback. Most of the time when we ask for feedback, it is usually amongst our friends and peers. While familiar feedback is important, asking for feedback from your key contacts can bring a different perspective. Additionally, asking your business contacts for feedback shows them that you value them and their input.
Be patient. Building business relationships doesn’t happen overnight. It may take years of talking and planning with someone before you end up working together or even providing referrals to each other. In my final note about building relationships, I’ll leave you with a story about how one of my business relationships paid off, and saved me from having to tell my boss that he would be spending the night at the airport. I started in the corporate world as an administrative assistant. Over time, I learned the importance of building relationships with vendor partners when making travel arrangements. On one such occasion, I booked travel for one of our partners to go to New York. I booked the flight and then realized on the day of the trip that I had not booked the hotel. To make matters even more challenging, this was pre cell phone era, and I was nowhere near a landline phone. Therefore, I found the nearest what I call “Superman” phone booth and proceeded to call about hotel rooms. Upon calling the hotel, I had learned that not only were they booked solid, but there was a convention in the area and most hotels were also booked. That partner had traveled back and forth to New York on several occasions and always stayed at the same hotel. Because of this, I had built relationships with several of the staff members. Eventually, I was able to speak to one of the managers that I had a relationship with. Because of the close professional relationship that I had built with that person, I was able to secure a room before the plane landed, and my boss had a bed to lay his head on that night.
In conclusion, good business is built off of good relationships. Networking and building relationships may not have an immediate pay-off, but odds are, knowing people in the right industry will benefit you at some point, like it benefited me to know the manager of my boss’ favorite hotel in New York. This also means that you will be able to help and benefit others from time to time, as well. Business relationships are a two-way street. If you haven’t recently, check in on those connections you’ve made in the business world and see how you can help them.
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