I have been involved in business growth and entrepreneurship for some time (the two are not necessarily aligned at times!) and, as such, have been working on business relationships and networking for almost 10 years.
Yeah, I know. 10 years.
At one point, the majority of businesses made their money out of simple transactions: I have something you want to buy and you have money for what I am selling and so the deal was done.
But the world has changed consumers are becoming more savvy, businesses want to develop closer relationships with customers (regardless of whether this is business-to-business or business-to-consumer) and all this is down to relationships. Then take a look at such social sites as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all vehicles for developing a relationship.
Do you get it? Relationship-building is critical which means that there are some really basic rules about it.
1. Before asking for something offer something. I am contacted weekly by people (strangers) and, within the first sentence, they ask me to introduce them to some of the Gurus. Seriously, weekly! No hello; no explanation as to why just introduce me to top earmers. Am I likely to help?
2. Be a professional friend. Build a network; build a relationship but remember that the world sees everything that you do through the eyes of social media and search engines so retain your professionalism.
3. Be prepared. It is amazing just how many people want a word but, when you give them the time to talk, they don't know what to say. For everyone in business, time is short so be brief, be to the point. Importantly, have a clear idea as to what you want to get out of it by the end of the conversation and make sure you get it!
4. Know when there's a line to cross. Business can be brutal sometimes you will win a deal; sometimes you will lose a deal; and sometimes there will be an option to win a deal if you do something unethical (or illegal). Personally, I work with people I like and trust I don't work with people lacking ethics or morals.
5. Understand the difference between position and influence. This is a common mistake made by sales professionals you may believe that selling your products / services to the CEO will guarantee the sale but how about if a) the sale is too low-level for their interest or b) the CEO trusts the opinion of a lower manager (one you have not spoken to!) position maybe guarantees influence and influence maybe guarantees position just be sure to know which is which.
6. Be emotionally intelligent. One of the interesting things that I see in business meetings and networking events is how, in a room full of people, you can successfully exclude others from joining in sometimes without realizing! When people try to monopolize the time of others, it precludes anyone else joining in and this is contrary to good relationship-building. Be sure to check that you are not the one doing the monopolizing otherwise you become the party bore that no one will want to talk to.
7. Eyes and ears. I really do hate this phrase but its true you have two ears and one mouth use them in that proportion. The more you listen, the more you will learn! Ask open questions; show interest; encourage them to talk. Remember the first point about offering something? well you are offering to listen to them talk and you will get a LOT in return.
8. Keep your word. If you say that you are going to do something do it this will slowly build peoples level of trust in you and that leads me nicely to the last one!
Learn to say no! If you cant help or you don't know don't string people along: be honest and say so. People will respect you more for this and, when you say yes, I can help you they believe you, they trust you.
In relationship-building, your currency in this market is simple: trustworthiness and like ability. If you are trusted and liked, you will be referred and recommended and that is a great way to do business!