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Business relationships. Partnerships. Friendships. There is no one-size-fits-all approach or playbook that can teach someone how to build and maintain successful relationships. There is no amount of data or market research that will provide an intuitive understanding of the enigma that is human nature. Only diverse business experiences and knowing how to effectively unite with others can instill the foundation of relationship-building and unlock powerful business connections.
Through the course of my career, I’ve learned that executive mentorship coupled with consistent professional development can help lay the framework for establishing beneficial relationships and maximize your current relationships to garner effective results for your business and clients. Success happens when you approach every new connection as a discovery. Through this methodology, I have gained a solid understanding of people and ultimately what drives those people. Below are helpful practices to forge a network of contacts and maximize the value of each personal interaction.
This is textbook. Listening is a skillset every professional can improve upon. So, shut up and take the time to hear them. Make it a priority to understand the desires of everyone you meet. What drives them? What are their personal and business goals? By immersing yourself in their challenges and opportunities you can provide valuable insight and leverage your existing relationships to benefit them. Steve Jobs once said, “You have to believe the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Even if a connection has no immediate benefit to you or your business; it does not mean it won’t down the road.
Do more than network
Take every opportunity to grow your existing network. However, do not solely use these opportunities to sell yourself or your services. It’s apparent upon meeting someone what their intentions are. Your initial conversation is less likely to resonate if they think your priority is purely self-promotion. Focus on the long-term benefits of a business relationship by sincerely engaging with other professionals in the present. The most substantial partnerships often do not happen instantly. They are cultivated over time.
Emotional connections. Make ‘em
We all have our own values, our own personalities and our own positions. Develop your business relationships in an authentic way and get to know every person you meet. Your connections will be more rewarding if you put in the effort. Take the time to ask profound questions and get to know the other person beyond their business exterior. By connecting with people emotionally, you develop a line of trust and could potentially uncover a new opportunity.
Build friendships first
By building friendships first, business collaboration will flow more organically. I am not suggesting you invite everyone you meet to happy hour, but I’m also not suggesting to not go that route. Read the room. Read the person. Follow your instinct. If your instinct is telling you to go grab a beer and continue the conversation, do it. The best collaborators are friends. By forming a friendship first, you establish a foundation of trust and respect, which can result in referrals and other opportunities.
Your character counts.
We’ve consistently been told to put our best foot forward. It’s for good reason. The first impression is invaluable. Don’t be a jerk. This advice holds true; if people like you, they will listen to you. If people trust you, they will do business with you. People tend to gravitate toward an equal exchange of energy. Always be mindful of the fact that your words and actions are powerful and can affect people both positively and negatively.
Overall, being an effective connector boils down to networking with intent and establishing a positive rapport with everyone you interact with. Not everyone will like you. You are not a piece of pizza. Nurture relationships with those you can relate and identify with and move on from the ones that are superficial and counterproductive.
And please, whatever you do – do not waste countless hours at networking events simply shaking hands, collecting business cards and sitting around waiting for your new ‘connections’ to accept your LinkedIn invitation. Make the effort, get to know people and then connect the dots.
Over and out.
Drew Coomes, Executive Vice President – KM&A