Have you ever asked yourself questions like;
"What if I message them and they think I'm trying to cold-pitch?"
"How can I reach out without looking sleazy?"
"How do other people build these easy relationships with key stakeholders when it feels so awkward and unnatural to me?"
Every day, my inbox is full of these questions from the incredible listeners of my Selling to Corporate podcast. In fact, the most common fears that people have around business development can be categorised into three core areas;
- Finding the correct stakeholders to build relationships with
- Worrying about the 'approach' and how to build a mutually beneficial relationship without behaving like a 1950's car salesman. (Tyre kicking optional.)
- Freaking out about business development calls and wondering how they can be of genuine value to both parties.
In other words, it's completely normal to worry about doing business development in the best way - but that shouldn't stop you implementing a process that works for you.
Over the last fourteen years that I've spent in the sales world, I've picked up some simple techniques that help build the best, mutually beneficial relationships - and that don't make you feel like you need to scrub yourself down with salt after completing your sales activities either. #WinWinSituations
When we're thinking about the ways to build the best business relationships, we're most commonly worrying about the initial approach - and the awkward moment that we have to actually message or call someone to start the relationship building cycle. But in order to understand how to do that in a better way - we have to look at why we even want to build the best business relationships at all.
The biggest difference between building solid business relationships - and simply spotting an opportunity to get a lucky sale are vast. Not only do better business relationships mean that you always have an 'internal champion' who'll be able to help you navigate any challenging situations that might arise, but you'll also have;
1. A competitive advantage
If you have great business relationships with a company / stakeholder, then you'll automatically have a competitive advantage. You'll be able to find out information more easily, understand the key components/ problems that the company is looking to solve - and likely have advance warning/ knowledge on upcoming projects that they'll be needing assistance with.
2. Customer retention
We all like to use people/ companies that we like - and that do a great job. If you focus on providing a great service to those stakeholders that you've built a relationship with? You'll be able to increase your lifetime customer value and be able to help the companies that you work with even more efficiently and effectively.
3. Referral based marketing
Large organisations often have different operating companies - and stakeholders often network extensively. That means that you can reduce paid advertising costs in favour of referral based marketing - simply by building better business relationships and doing a great job!
4. Better brand awareness
If your key stakeholder leaves to join another firm... who do you think that they'll want to bring with them to consult/ contract/ deliver services etc? That's right - the person that they already have a good working relationship with. It can often be isolating for a stakeholder to change organisations - and having the support of an existing supplier can really help them with new / major decisions and projects. In turn, that relationship builds your brand awareness - and helps you land clients in companies that might previously have been unavailable for you.
5. Improved customer loyalty
Ever worried that you're the 'last in, first out' supplier? When you build better business relationships, you're invested in the stakeholder / company - and they're invested in you. That means that during challenging times, you can expect open, transparent communication - and the desire to continue working for mutually beneficial gains, rather than freaking out about having your revenue slashed by customers who don't have that solid relationship with you and so don't see the long term value of trying to reach mutually beneficial conclusions.
And there are tons of other reasons that solid stakeholder relationships mean successful outcomes for both you and their organisation.
When we look at all of these reasons that we want to build good business relationships, we also start to think about how the stakeholder benefits from having a solid relationship with us as a supplier too.
- Having a consultative (and specialist) partner: Which means that they'll have a supplier/ service provider who listens to the problems and proposes best fit solutions (vs being an 'order taker'), challenges perceptions, helps to get wider organisational buy in and can share regular industry knowledge, insights and trends.
- Not having to waste time on thousands of supplier conversations (and distractions from the day job): Being a stakeholder means that they're often subjected to numerous (poor quality!) sales calls per day. Having a good relationship with 2-3 key suppliers means that they waste a lot less time on poor quality sales calls and more time on the jobs that they want to get done.
- Having a supplier committed to their success: When we have a good business relationship, we actively want that company to have even higher levels of success. For stakeholders, developing these key relationships with suppliers are crucial for ensuring that they work with people and companies who actively care about the results generated.
Not to mention that having decent supplier relationships with companies that genuinely care about (and achieve) results, makes the stakeholder an even more valuable resource to their organisation too - and often results in more projects being completed on time, in budget with happier teams overall.
So if we know that simply by developing these business relationships and ensuring mutually beneficial outcomes, that both parties will have positive experiences... why aren't we approaching more companies and starting that initial conversation?
Most of the time, it's either; feeling awkward / worrying about being 'sleazy' by starting a conversation or not knowing the appropriate ways to actually start building that relationship in the first place.
Let's address the awkwardness first.
A lot of business owners worry about being sleazy or 'sale-sy' in their approach to building a business relationship. Here's the thing, there's a BIG difference between making sales - and acting like a slimeball to get a sale over the line. When we think about what sales activities/ leave us feeling cold, it's usually that the sales activity isn't transparent, meaning that we're trying to falsify, lie or omit the truth in some way to get the outcome that we want.
You can avoid feeling awkward or sleazy altogether, simply by being open and transparent about what you're trying to achieve - and keeping the focus and intention on a) making sure that everything you do is from a place of trying to benefit both parties and b) being transparent and accepting that stakeholders get to make their own decisions about what to do next.
From a practical standpoint (and looking at how best to navigate that initial approach) it could look something like this;
- Using LinkedIn for the professional networking platform that it is. Meaning, using the search function correctly to identify the right stakeholders to connect with so that you're never connecting and making someone feel inadvertently irrelevant.
- Being open and transparent about why you want to connect in the first place - and letting them decide whether or not they want to connect with you/ whether they're really the best person for you to connect with.
- Clearly communicating next steps/ how you're going to build the relationship.
- Adding value to their newsfeed/ inbox.
That could then look like;
- Sending personalised connection requests that are upfront about your reasons for wanting to connect
- On connecting with stakeholders, actually messaging them, demonstrating your willingness to learn / forge that new relationship.
- Leading with value; after you've curated your connections and decide to create broadcast content, make it relevant, interesting, useful and valuable.
Nothing sleazy, gross - or even particularly complex.
And the biggest tip of all when it comes to building better business relationships?
Be a human being.
Always remember that there's a real person at the end of each email, phone call or zoom chat. So if you read / listen back to what you've said and it sounds awkward/ uncomfortable or rude? Stop. Learn. Change.
If you're looking to improve your business development skills, then go ahead and download my Top 5 Business Development Questions that will help you add value to any business development call you'll be holding in the near future and help to position you as the consultative partner that companies want to work with! Download the free questions by clicking here.