People buy from people
That truism underscores the fact that every business is built on relationships. Relationships are, in fact, at the very heart of client-centred marketing. They also play a major role in winning – or losing – client work. Here are just a few things we learned from decision-makers in our win/loss analyses for organisations around the world:
- The partner for this bid had extensive experience and relationships with us for many years. But none of that was reflected in the proposal.
- Rather than focusing solely on delivering an excellent project result, I wish the provider would help me with my role and responsibilities.
- One of the bidding teams was talking to my CEO without my knowledge. I did not like that.
- I don't want bidders to talk to my boss unsolicited. There are channels that need to be respected.
- If you want to accomplish something in a complex group environment, you need to engage the group.
As these paraphrased examples illustrate, whom you form relationships with – and how – can make or break a deal. It shouldn’t be this way. But it is.
In an ideal world, business relationships would be friendships. This isn't an ideal world. It’s a world in which all of us have unique likes and dislikes, preferences and frustrations, goals and ways of doing things. In some instances, you will meet clients you genuinely like. People you just get on better with. Just as often, though, business puts you in a relationship with someone you would not necessarily consider a friend. And that’s ok. As a professional in the business world, your goal should not be cultivating friendships. It should be cultivating more business and, of course, serving your clients to the best of your ability. If you’re a master of client-centric marketing, the lack of a genuine friendship will not be a barrier to an effective and productive collaboration.
The likeability factor
If you find yourself competing for business with other providers that can match you on reputation, expertise and pricing, how do you win new work? Often, it comes down to your trustworthiness and your likeability. Clients want someone who they can work with, get along with and respect. And they want someone who will offer them something more than just a promise to 'get the job done'. Presenting yourself as that person is the essence of client-centred marketing.
So how do you move from being a contact to becoming trusted adviser? As a first step, be clear about what you want from a relationship. Do you want to win a sale? Gain influence? Gather information? Strengthen an existing relationship? Once you answer that question, you need to make sure you’re building relationships with the people who can best help you achieve that goal. Are they the relevant decision-makers? Are they important influencers within their organizations or fields of expertise?
Taking such a calculated approach to relationship-building does not mean that you can’t and shouldn't develop relationships with others in the client organization. It just means that you need to be savvy about who wields the power, the information and the purse strings for future work. 'Mapping' is a disciplined approach that can help you zero-in on the right relationship targets. It provides a systematic approach to relationship development that aligns your colleagues with their counterparts in the client organisation. Relationship-building is a team sport.
Making relationships work
As mentioned, being 'BFFs' is not a prerequisite for building a successful working partnership. What’s more important is a willingness to improve the chemistry. Adopting the appropriate behaviour, talking the same jargon, or cultivating common interests or experiences can be game changers. Other tips include:
- Be yourself. Know your core values – and honour them while doing your best for your client. Understand how you act or react to other people. This will make it easier for you to assess and modify your behaviour, as needed. Be genuine in your interactions. A great business relationship will feel natural. Credibility and honesty are key.
- Place yourself in your client’s shoes. Do your homework to understand your clients’ organisations. Help them figure out what they want to achieve, and spot opportunities to help them be better at what they do. If you are the first person your client thinks to call to discuss an idea, that is the sign of a strong and trusting relationship.
- Pay attention. Many who excel at forming business relationships are 'people persons'. They genuinely like and care about people, can empathize, and want to know more about others. They are good and perceptive listeners, and hone their intuition to know when to speak and when to be silent. Even if you are more of an introvert, you have the ability to determine what clients like, their interests, or some issue over which you can form a bond. Keep an eye and ear out for those little cues that let you know you have something in common or have really piqued their interest.
- Earn respect. Respect is the foundation of a good relationship. You will gain respect in a number of ways. Take responsibility for your actions and stand by your decisions. Be professional, decisive, confident and calm. Admit when you are wrong. You will know you’ve garnered your clients’ respect when they ask you for advice.
- Set boundaries. Understand that there are lines you must not cross. Don’t over-share personal information. Judge the pace of the relationship and know what is appropriate to discuss at a given stage. Like any friendship, there are times when you just have to say no. You want to be available to your clients. But set reasonable limits on the time you devote to them. If you don’t respect yourself and set boundaries, why should anyone else?
- Be patient. It takes time for close business relationships to develop. It also takes effort, commitment and communication. But it will be worth it. Over time, your credibility will grow. You will have a new source of advice and a colleague in business who can even help you with your own career.
In client-centric marketing, the focus is always on the client and, by extension, the client’s customers and other stakeholders. By establishing a successful business relationship with your clients, you become embedded as a member of the client’s team. No longer an outsider, you share the same goals. You work from the same plan. You celebrate your mutual successes. You make each other look good.
At Gelst, our goal is to help you create and strengthen the relationships that will drive your organization forward. We know the better your relationships, the better the results for you and your clients. Let us help you start creating the relationships you want, need and deserve today.