When it comes to building and maintaining professional relationships, most of us would prefer to be viewed as a trusted advisor rather than just another vendor. But what does it take to earn that trust?
1. Do your homework
One of the first steps to take in building professional relationships is to do your homework. Don’t expect the client to do it for you. A few hours spent tracking down information on their business and their customers will help you accelerate things, yet it’s amazing how few people actually do this. Here are a few obvious resources:
- Their company website – particularly worth checking news and press releases.
- Google – obviously, and worth searching for ‘articles about x’ to get a good selection. Remember too that you can sign up for Google alerts.
- Business websites – such as The FT, Economist, Forbes.
- The Stock Exchange – if they’re a public company, they’ll be listed on one of the world’s stock exchanges so you can check out how the share price is doing.
- Glassdoor – gives you an indication of what they’re like to work for.
- LinkedIn – to check profiles of key contacts and see if there are any contacts you have in common.
2. Find out how they make money
Some organisations are transparent about this; others may require you to do a bit more digging. Even so, don’t take at face value what you find at first pass. The financial figures – if you can access them – may not give you the whole story. For example, many retailers of high-ticket items (computers, domestic appliances, furniture for example) make their biggest profits on selling credit and insurance. So find out where the money really comes from. Equally, if not more important, find out how they lose money.
3. Dig beneath the values
That statement on: the website, the wall in reception, social media, etc is all very well. But to what extent are those values lived and breathed, right through the organisation? A useful exercise can be to look at different parts of the client’s business and assess this; it just might tie up with where they’re making / losing money.
4. Use some tools to explore issues
Simple tools can help clarify and explore business issues, such as a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. You can find out more via this link.
A PESTLE analysis (usually stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental) can be valuable for looking at the overall context. More on this via Business Balls.
There are heaps more, which a quick search will soon reveal, but these are two good ones to start with. I also highly recommend Kevin Duncan’s Diagrams Book for examples and when to use them.
5. Find out what’s important to your contact
This will take time and patience in most cases. A new professional relationship won’t get from 0 – 60 in the first few conversations. Over time you can notice and find out more about what really matters to your contact, which might include some of the following:
Getting great PR
Anxiety over competitor activity
What’s being said about them on social media
Dealing with procurement
What’s being said about their company in the financial pages
Looking good to the board
New product / service development (or lack of).
These 5 steps are only the beginning, but just by taking them you’ll be getting ahead of others and well on the way to earning trust.
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.