Build Relationships on Solid Foundations

It was another early start. The bitter chill in the air caused the business development manager to ponder the point of another networking meeting.

As her journey meandered through the familiar streets to the venue she’d become acquainted to, there was a moment of reflection and realisation. While she enjoyed the company of the other 25 business people, the goal of increasing her firm’s client base had been completely missed.

Instead, she had spent her time focusing on the demands of growing the group and its unrelenting hunger for referrals. In a sense, she had become an employee of the networking group.

Weeks after leaving the group to reduce costs, she noticed that neither she or anyone from the group had kept in touch. Not a single meaningful relationship had been forged despite her tireless efforts over two years.

Does this sound familiar? Whilst networking can give you the opportunity of meeting more people, it does so by enforcing a doctrine of bigger is better.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t attend such events where you can meet others. But I would encourage you to change your mindset. Rather than attending to bombard people with business cards, make an intentional decision to use them to lay the foundations of solid relationships.

Relationships not forced referrals

The conclusion the business development manager arrived at is a familiar one. By becoming a part of a networking group, her focus was not on creating her own relational ecosystem, it was about all about numbers. How many referrals could she find? How many other events could she attend to distribute her business cards like they were hot potatoes?

Referrals are an absolute necessity in business, but forced referrals can cost you relationships. The demands of finding new business for others as well as yourself means a panic sets in.

The result is you dash from one person to another in the hope that someone will say they need your services or that of someone within the group.
So after two years of intense meetings and desperately searching for new group members, she had burned herself out. Like so many others, networking became a word that struck fear and loathing within her.

And she isn’t alone. Francesca Gino, of Harvard Business School, published a study entitled The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty. Even though those who took part in the study recognised how useful networking could be for furthering their careers, they felt unclean when doing it.

Lay foundations

Every relationship within your life needs nurturing. If you are married, chances are you have invested time in cultivating your bond with your spouse. Anyone who walked down the aisle thinking, “What am I going to get out of this?” is unlikely to have a happy or long spell of matrimony.

With any relationship it is what you put in that matters and, ultimately, results in both parties achieving an equally profitable result. You don’t give to gain, but often that is what takes place. Don’t allow that to be at the forefront of your mind.

When someone I worked for some time announced they were leaving, I immediately congratulated them and chatted about their plans. It was much later in the conversation that I mentioned I’d like to continue working for the firm and asked how I could lay the foundations of new relationships within the business.

As a food and wine aficionado who organises fine wine and artisan cheese tastings, he suggested I host one for him and he would invite senior colleagues.

Keeping his word, I enjoyed an evening where I shared my knowledge. I made a tiny reference to Relationology because I didn’t attend to sell myself. Everyone left that evening with a bag of artisan cheese and within it was one of my books.

Time passed by and six months later, one of the guests was appointed to the executive board of the firm and contacted me and asked me to develop a Relationology Mastermind. Laying foundations earlier gave me the solid ground on which to build that relationship further.

Maintain don’t engineer

Walking into a bustling room of people who are ‘networking’ never feels particularly relaxing. The discussions that take place often feel forced!

Such meetings, sadly, feel engineered and that’s largely because they are. Their success is judged on the numbers in the room and the ‘buzz’ created, so organisers invite everyone on their mailing list.

If you use such a gathering to lay the foundations to a relationship, however, you will need to keep in touch with that person. Don’t wait until the next meeting to speak to them or you will appear to be only interested in what you can gain from them.

I have developed a habit every December during the traditionally quiet time for meetings to plan my first weeks of January. I reach out to clients I have worked with in the past 12 months and those from the year before. My aim is to arrange a time to catch up in the new year.

By doing so, those I have worked with do not feel used and abused. The relationship becomes authentic rather than transactional or engineered.

Go deeper

If the aim of gaining business from relationships is merely to deliver great customer service, then think again. While good service is essential, our job should be to amaze our clients.

That well-known saying of under-promising and over-delivering is completely accurate. Adding extra value within your client’s business gives you a platform to build a deeper relationship.

A communications consultant I know shared a story about one of his clients who was always slow to respond to calls and emails. He couldn’t judge whether the lack of response was because they were building up end his retained services.

But when a national crisis took place, they turned to him and he worked long hours to make sure they communicated with their clients. A week or so later, his client wrote a review explaining that they couldn’t work without him. That relationship had been deepened to such an extent that his clients didn’t consider him as an outside consultant.  

Build up

Your existing relational ecosystem holds the key to building up your business. If you invest time and money in many networking events you are diluting your effectiveness. The wisest way to maximise your growth is to look no further than your current client portfolio.

The old expression that your best customer is your current customer holds truth. This approach to building your business will be the most successful, but it does require a long-term view of the value of client relationships.

If you adopt this technique while laying your foundations, your business will rise along with  relationships you are building up.

If you would like me to discuss the importance of building relationships, contact me about being a keynote at your event – whether in person or online.

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