Forge Lasting Relationships

Develop a strategic relationship-building plan of attack.
Or…death to networking, once and for all!
For those folks that run their own business, sell products and services, or are looking to expand their professional network by finding individuals with whom they can cultivate meaningful business relationships, it can be hard to approach networking in a strategic fashion.
Why? There are so many business groups to contemplate joining and “networking” events to choose from, that simply focusing in on the best approach to take can be overwhelming. We all have limited time and resources to allocate. There IS a much more strategic approach to take than “networking.”
One strategy to implement is to develop a formal relationship-building strategic plan.
Here’s how you can successfully develop and implement your very own strategic relationship-building plan.
Start with YOU! By knowing yourself, your (short & long-term) business, career, and professional goals, you can better understand how/why you connect with certain types of people, and don’t with others. What’s your personality? Take an assessment. If you’re in a sales role, DISC is a useful starting point. More general personality type assessments include: Myers-Briggs, Keirsey, and Birkman. You can’t forge strong relationships until you know what makes YOU tick.
Next, develop a customer profile (written document) containing as much information as you can on a specific type of customer you have. Do they come from certain industries, possess key attributes you look for.
Most individuals actually target a few types of ideal customer, so having several customer profiles (“AVATARS”) will enable you to be extremely specific in how you identify them for purposes of using them as a template “cookie cutter approach” to find even MORE folks with backgrounds that match your ideal customers.
Start with your existing customer base and pick a few of your best customers. By “best” we are referring to very STRONG relationships. For example, how much business have they contributed to you. Be sure to factor into the equation not only their own relationships with you but also the people they referred to you.
Write down their background, education, prior work experience, position in the organization, training, education, certifications/accreditations, the industry Associations they belong to, and the industry events, trade shows, and conferences they attend.
Use the events they attend and organizations they belong to in order to develop a 30, 60, and 90-day calendar of highly lead generating events to attend.
Next, write down everything it took to find them, cultivate the relationship with them, and nurture that relationship. Why do this? Once you do this you have a blueprint for how to find OTHER people who fit into this profile. Consider joining the organizations they belong to, and/or attend the events they go to. You’ll find more people JUST LIKE THEM at the local/state chapters of the organizations they belong to.
Be a facilitator. Make introductions for people, try to connect people based on their interests, backgrounds, experience and needs. Find out what people’s top pain points are, what are their key challenges to achieving their goals, and be a servant-master to solve their problems. It’s tough to do if you don’t possess empathy, don’t care about others, and are so focused on making the sale that you don’t strive to help them.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the field of networking about the type of personality needed to successfully build professional relationships. Often, the approach used is a comparison of the HUNTER who is always on the hunt to capture new clients, versus the FARMER. The farmer plants (nurturing relationship) seeds that grow over time into productive, mutually beneficial relationships.
Clearly, both behavioral approaches are at opposite ends of the relationship approach spectrum and many people fall somewhere in-between. The point is, you want to be known as someone who does for others, not takes from others.
It helps to get out of the mindset of “networking” altogether. Networking isn’t even a term used for human beings! It is a term coined for connecting computers into networks and evolved out of a Cold War mentality of connecting computers so if a missile took out a computer in say New York City the entire network would not go down.
As an alternative mind set to networking, I suggest you consider relationship-building as akin to selling with 3 types of client as your relationship counterpart. The “Mercenary” client/connection doesn’t care about you, your challenges, the problems your organization faces, and is not loyal to you.
They are driven by price and WIIFM (what’s in it for me) and will leave you in a heart beat. Guess what? They represent 80% of your customer base and thus the people you will encounter. They go to networking events.
Then, there are “Loyalists.” They are basically happy with you, somewhat loyal, will give you the chance to service them and conduct repeat purchases with you. But, they can also be swayed to leave you if a competitive offering comes along that delivers on the ‘WIIFM.’ They represent @ 17-18% of your client roster and connections rolodex. Work hard to keep them satisfied and they will reciprocate in kind.
Lastly, come the most valued type of relationship, the “Brand Apostles” or “Raving Fans.” They see the value in their relationship with you, and all you do for them. They appreciate you making introductions, sharing useful information, and going out of your way to help them.
Apostle clients buy from you often, give you advice/ideas to improve your offerings, and go out of their way to refer others to you. These amazing people are a paltry 2-3% of all your customers. Same came be said of your relationship rolodex. These folks love how engaged you are, appreciate your continual efforts to nurture a stronger, more lasting relationship and reciprocate in kind
The approach to relationship-building using this 3 type of customer sales approach is to constantly strive to convert those Loyalists into Apostles. Start by developing a list of twelve (12) Loyalist folks you already know as your plan to convert into Apostles/Raving Fans in 2017.
Next, write down the names of 3-4 existing Apostles. Write down everything it took to find them, engage them, and nurture that relationship to the point it’s at now. Now go to your list of Loyalists. You have your plan to convert them into Apostles. Note that research shows you’ll be successful about 50% of the time in your conversion efforts. So you’ll need to constantly be on the lookout for new Loyalists.
There you have it. Do away with that outdated 20th century concept of networking, by approaching your future relationships with a more strategic, thoughtful and value-driven mindset.
For more useful business-building tips and advice, check out my website. Here’s to your continued success in 2017!
– Ethan