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The Key to Strong Business Relationships

by Kenda Salisbury, CPSM, Director of Marketing, Historical Research Associates, Inc.

In this economy where we are asked to do more with less, how do you set yourself apart from others who do exactly what you do? What makes you a more desirable professional?

The key is in your ability to build and maintain strong business and personal relationships.

A few years back, my boss and I met with a client to discuss upcoming opportunities. It had been several years since we had worked for this client and my boss was determined to find out if there were problems with our work or if work just wasn't available, as the client had repeatedly told him.

On our way back to the office, my boss said 'I can't believe that we accomplished so much with this client. I have been trying to reach him for six months with email and phone messages.'

'Six months of emails and phone calls?' I asked. 'When was the last time you met face-to-face with this client?'

'It's been at least two years since I last met with him in person,' he replied.

Having worked successfully in business development for more than 20 years, I have been asked over and over again to train and mentor others. I have worked hard to impart my knowledge and give guidance on how to win new work. I have shared it all - maintain contact on a regular schedule; offer help before you ask for help (or business); build a personal relationship.

It wasn't until after I walked out of that meeting with our client that I knew that I had failed to pass on the key ingredient to my business development successes over the years. 

The key to building strong business relationships is that you must meet face-to-face.

It really is that simple.

The words we exchange are only part of our message. A majority of the communication that happens is non-verbal. According to A. Barbour, author of Louder Than Words: Nonverbal Communication, the impact of communication breaks down like this:

  • 7% verbal (words)
  • 38% vocal (volume, pitch, rhythm, etc.)
  • 55% body movements

 

People do business with people they trust. Building trust doesn't happen through email or over the phone. Building trust happens during personal interactions. Only by meeting with potential clients face-to-face can you interpret everything they are saying (verbally, vocally, and physically).

Building business through email is flawed because you can't hear or see your potential client. Trying to create a trusting relationship by phone robs you of 55% of what your contact is saying in a conversation. Only through in person communication can you fully understand what someone is really telling you. There is where a personal and trusting bond begins to form.

Very few of the technically minded professionals I have worked with throughout the years have been successful at business development. Why? Because the skills and knowledge they aquired to provide their expertise requires that their interactions with their clients are highly technical and well documented.

The very nature of providing a professional service sets a techincal professional up for failure in developing business. Through education, certification, and licensing they are taught that the answer to any problem can be found through knowledge. Don't know the answer? Look it up.

On the other hand, the last effects of business development can't be achieved through reserach. Bringing in new work requires the ability to build trust. Forming and maintaining new relationships is different in every instance, you don't know how others will respond. The answer can't be found in a book.

Once you understand that the skills needed to develop business are the opposite of the skills needed to complete the work, you will have mastered the most important aspect of business development.

Now, when I teach business development, I start with the key to building strong business relationships - get out of the office and meet people face-to-face.

Oh, and the result of our face-to-face meeting with our client? We were awarded with two new contracts within six months of the meeting.

Kenda Salisbury, CPSM, is the Director of Marketing for historical reserach and cultural resources management firm, Historical Research Associates, Inc.. She can be reached at (206) 343-0226 or [email protected]

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