Building business relationships
Stephen Holgate explains why building lasting business relationships is like dating and how the same rules apply to gaining new clients.
Building lasting relationships in business is a lot like dating; not the aimless dating you might do in your early twenties where it’s more about the journey than the end result, but the kind of dating you do when you want to find ‘the one’.
In order to secure this kind of business relationship, you need to first get a meeting with the senior decision maker, and then convince him/her to listen to you and, in due course, trust you with their business. The ideal outcome of this is that the company becomes a client of yours and continues to buy from you into the future. Much like with dating, there are certain steps you must follow in order to secure that end result.
- Meet a girl you really like the look of in a bar (i.e. Identify a prospective company/client you want to work with).
- Swap numbers and arrange to meet again for drinks/a meal (Agree to a meeting with prospect and start to ask questions to understand their business).
- Have another date and meet her friends (The prospect agrees for you to meet colleagues and have an insight meeting).
- You might then be asked to meet the parents (The prospect may ask for a more formal presentation).
- You may then feel really brave and it might be time for a meeting with her ‘father’ to ask for her hand (This in turn could be the very important pitch/proposal to the Executive Board of the company).
- You ask her to marry you and she says yes (the company accepts your proposal and signs a contract with you).
Just like when you’re dating, this process takes time in business. It requires a significant investment on your part if you want to ensure that the client trusts you and returns to you in the long-term. After all, you wouldn’t turn up on a first date and ask your date to meet you at the church after just one glass of chardonnay! At best it would be a bit embarrassing; at worst, you’d put them off for good.
Why, then do people in business expect to walk into a senior decision maker’s office and come away with a commission or a promise of guaranteed work after just one hour, when you have no previous relationship with this person and, more often than not, they might already have a trusted advisor/supplier?
A far more professional and comfortable way to do business is to develop a relationship with them first, the bedrock of which is trust.
We must recognise that there are a series of steps along this journey and the time taken to complete and gradient of the journey will vary on all occasions, the one common fact is that the time taken should be dictated by the prospective client and not you. What you must avoid at all costs is to try and ‘sell your wares/advice’ too early. So avoid pouncing, and if on the first meeting you see an opportunity, then please bite your tongue until you both feel that you have understood the prospects requirements and you have convinced them of that fact.
The time element is extremely important and for those physicists amongst us, you’ll recognise that it is far easier in terms of energy expended to avoid trying to push or pull someone up a staircase/incline if they are pushing against us. We have to move in unison, with every step being together in full understanding from both sides as to what the next steps are so as to gain full commitment.
Ultimately, the end gain is to get a ‘yes’, whether that’s to your marriage proposal or client commission - and in both cases when done properly, in the right timeframe and with the right person, we should find that actually getting the ‘yes’ is the easiest part of the process. The reasons for this are as follows:
- No pressure has been applied by way of a ‘pounce’.
- The process has been comfortable for both in terms of timelines.
- Not once has the prospect felt ‘pushed’ or ‘pulled’.
- You both feel as though you really truly understand each other and the core values and drivers inherent in the decision making process.
- You have also met and been accepted by other members of the organisation, who may have a part to play in the decision making process.
- A special trust has been developed over time which will allow the relationship to last in the future, but this will require constant reinvestment and deposits being put into the emotional bank.
Trust is imperative to creating longevity, which is what you’re striving for in these business relationships because after the initial motivation to buy, you want the client to buy again from you. To engender this trust, you need to succeed in three key areas:
- Credibility (being honest; having confidence/impact; delivering as promised).
- Competence (showing knowledge/expertise; having a strong track record; using insightful questioning).
- Compatibility (active listening; showing a genuine interest; showing vulnerability; adapting behaviour).
All the above ingredients must be constantly carried out and applied over time in a consistent manner to not only achieve trust in the relationship, but also to maintain and build on it.
Stephen Holgate is a Yorkshire based consultant at PACE Partners International.