How would you characterize your business relationships? Are they with people you have known for years, meet with regularly and trust implicitly or are they mostly folks who have accepted a connection from you on some social media website?
Prior to the internet, business relationships were cultivated mostly in a face-to-face manner. You forged working relationships with people in your company. You met people you became close to at social engagement, industry functions or at church. Regardless of where your business relationships got their start, a personal connection was usually the catalyst for deciding where the relationship would go.
The Internet Has Changed Everything
In today’s world of cyber relationships, it’s entirely possible to have your greatest number of business relationships formed from people you have never personally met. Question is, are they really relationships? Have you done enough to build the ‘know, like and trust factor’ made famous by networking and referral expert, Bob Burg? With so much relationship work done on the internet, are you even sure how to cultivate a quality, trusted relationship in our new www.com world?
What Stage are Your Relationships In?
Based on my experience, here are the likely stages a supposed relationship can go through. As you read this list, think about where your business relationships are and how valuable they are to you at this stage.
So, where are your business relationships at now? Depending on the type of business you are in and your propensity for proactively seeking out business relationships, they might be exactly where you want them. The usual circumstance, however, is that they are not nearly as valuable as you would like.
Do You Have A Plan to Cultivate Quality Relationships?
Building quality business relationships depends largely on your willingness to engage others and the value you bring to each relationship. For this reason, relationship building tends to be very personal in nature. There are, however, a few guidelines you can follow to advance relationships at ground level stages to higher levels of value.
Decide who you want relationships from up front:
This doesn’t mean excluding people who don’t show up on your list. It does mean being selective about the effort you put into each connection you encounter. If you extend something of genuine value to everyone you meet and wait to see who reciprocates, this will tell you who to focus on build a higher level relationship with.
Know what you want out of a business relationship:
If you are looking for an immediate customer, you’ll have to play the numbers game. Few professionals today are interested in being sold right from the start. If your goal is to have well cultivated connections in certain field that you can rely on as future resources, this is a more desirable place to start.
Key Point: An absence of any reason for connecting will make you look very unattractive, professionally speaking.
Be clear about what you bring to the party:
Remember, any professional you are looking to start a relationship with is looking for the same value proposition from you. Be ready to share or extend an offer to build the relationship first. Take time up from to focus on who the other person is and what they want. If they seem like the kind of individual that would be an asset to your circle of connections, strive to bring value to them first. Eventually, the law of reciprocity will kick in.
Have a plan for ‘Next Steps’:
Too many times, I see people initially meeting and appearing to connect but neglecting to decide on a next step. Without this forward action, most good intentions simply die! Take the initiative to suggest a suitable next step. Be clear about why you are suggesting this future encounter. There are a whole host of things you can suggest that will seem inviting without appearing to look like a well planned system of drawing someone in for the big close.
Key point: Your suggestion has to have strategic appeal to your connection or the desire to move forward to build a relationship won’t seem balanced.
Measure your progress by the quality of the interaction, not the time it takes to get there:
Everyone moves at different speeds. If things are moving too quickly, consider this a red flag. If the other person lacks any real engagement for where the relationship is going, consider this a red flag as well. Only a speed that works for both of you and touches on real value driven activities is a relationship building effort that is likely to last and produce future fruit.
Don’t Confuse ‘Activity’ Over Quality Interaction
When it comes to building a network of highly valued business relationship, quality beats quantity every time. It’s OK to get new ‘Likes’ on Facebook or more ‘followers’ on Twitter and requests to connect on LinkedIn. If you do nothing more than read and delete the notification email in your inbox, these connections will likely never produce anything. If, however, you selectively decide to pursue the connections you feel would build a great future network, take action and put your process in motion.
You’ll be surprised over time at how many people you consider valuable business relationships who also feel the same way about you!
About the Author
Steve provides leadership, management and marketing coaching to business owners, executives and entrepreneurs worldwide. Considered the Catalyst for Change by the California Business Journal, Steve has coached over 400 business professionals to date.