Maintaining Business Relationships
Business people today spend a lot of time networking, but by networking, they usually mean meeting NEW people. At a few trade shows last quarter, I heard more than one person lament, “this is just the same group of people over and over; I don’t know why I bother coming”. While it is indeed stimulating to meet new people, it is important to put as much if not more stock in building existing relationships.
If a new client wants a reference before availing him or herself of one of your company’s products or services, you can certainly give her the name of someone who successfully uses your wares. However, if you are able to allow her to speak with someone who knows both what your company produces AND your history, she is much more likely to come away feeling comfortable about the engagement. I have a client who has been a customer of three of the four companies for which I’ve worked over the past 15 years. He knows me well enough to know that if I stand behind something and recommend it to him as being a good fit for his business, there is a good chance that it is.
A new client can breathe fresh life into an organization, but a mature client will support you with a history of traction with your company. Longtime relations are also more likely to ride out temporary bumps in the road, and to hold steady through organizational challenges or changes. Relationships from your ‘former professional life’ can also be very helpful if your company chooses to take on a new endeavor or move in a different direction. Having contacts outside of that in what you are currently immersed can assist in that growth by opening doors down the hallway to your new endeavor.
New relationships are easy to try to amass. Sit next to someone you don’t know at a trade show. Post on social networking forums and solicit ideas. Basically, go against what your mother told you and talk to strangers. In terms of fortifying existing relationships, the easiest way to do that is to add value. A majority of your old acquaintances will be NEW acquaintances to each other; connect them. Be a go-to person in terms of resources. Treat your existing relationships with as much energy and vigor as you would a potential association.
For those if those of you still stuck on NEW relationships, existing associates can help with that, too. Who can better refer you new business than someone who trusts and understands your company? A glance around my current business network reflects this premise strongly: One of our best recent hires was referred by a colleague of mine from over ten years ago. My first boss out of college is assisting a family friend in starting up a new company. Don’t get me wrong. New relationships are GREAT, but you don’t have to be a good scout to embrace the age-old adage: Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold.