Don’t hide behind the digital façade Are you too busy in your role to develop your business relationships effectively? The technological revolution was meant to make things easier for us at work, freeing up extra time each day. Instead, we’re bombarded with e-mail and social media updates and struggle to keep up. Often, the choice is finishing a “work” task and maintaining a network contact: the “work” usually wins as that’s seen as the most important. As we’re short of time, we’ll send a quick e-mail, or retweet something, and think that’s enough. After all, we’ve got a corporate Facebook page which we update weekly; that should do, shouldn’t it? Well, no: building stronger relationships is a vital part of building a successful business. As with so many things in life, you’ll get out of relationships what you put into them.
We can all hide behind the digital façade and expect our e-mails and updates to keep us in the forefront of people’s minds, but that’s not enough. If you call a customer, a supplier or even a friendly competitor with a request for help or information, but it’s been a long time since you spoke with them in a meaningful way, don’t be surprised if they’re less than positive. Be prepared to give, share and support before you ask for help; relationships must be mutually beneficial. You may feel you’re too busy at work to spend time on developing relationships, but this should be part of your “work” day. Use emails/social networks to support your relationships, not as your core strategy: when you come across an interesting articles or news item, don’t just send it to your whole network, have a think about who it will really appeal to and send it on to them with a personalised note. If you haven’t seen or spoken to them for a while, suggest a catch up. Don’t just sit in the office, get outside. Arrange catch ups over coffee or lunch, or suggest a meeting before a networking event that you know you both should attend. If you need a reason to get out of the office, lunch helps you become a better negotiator according to the Harvard Business Review. Now’s that’s what I call an excuse! LinkedIn is useful for many things, but building deep relationships is not one of them.
Don’t be a collector of contacts; be a connector. Ask yourself, who from your contacts list don’t know each other but should? Get these people together over a coffee, or invite them to your office for a catch up. This week will see many people giving up something for Lent; why not start something for Lent instead? Identify ten of your contacts that you need to build better relationships with; block out one hour per day over the next two weeks; devote one hour to each contact. Work out the best way to have a meaningful conversation with each contact: a coffee may be more appropriate for some, others a pint after work. For those where geography is an issue, schedule a call for a catch up. Offer something to each contact: an offer of help, some news about your industry or a mutual contact. If this works for you, repeat it over the coming weeks. Imagine the difference that could make over the full six weeks of Lent? You really would deserve that Easter egg! Stuart Clarke is Head of Corporate Relationships for TD Direct Investing.