Thom’s Blog Carnival

So there’s this thing called a blog carnival where someone poses an interesting question and then other bloggers respond to it. The “host” will then link back to all the responses, and you get to read all kinds of perspectives on one issue. Sounds fun, so I thought I’d toss my hat into this ring.

Note, Thom is the author of “Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships”… you can hop on over to his website for more info. Here’s his question:

What is your best tip on how to make, grow and keep your business relationships – and turn them into real business?

Aha. The “best tip.” I’m a list guy, and I hate to have a list of just one thing! So let me throw a few tips out there, and then at the end I’ll see if I can come up with my favorite one 😉 Reading through this simple question makes me think the response can actually be categorized into four different areas (yep, I got this nasty habit from my MBA program – this question has 4 sub-questions):

Make business relationships

  • Realize that you are always making business relationships. Some of these relationships are obvious, like a vendor or partner from another customer. But the less obvious might be a receptionist at your company, or someone in AP or HR. You never know where these people might be in 2 years, and your relationship with them then might be dramatically different than what it is now.
  • Conscientiously make an effort to make a new internal relationship each week (or day or month or whatever). That is, meet someone new that you haven’t had a chance to develop a relationship with.
  • Same thing, but do it with someone external (vendor, customer, peer, etc.)
  • Find a power-connector in your industry or specialty (which would bridge industries). This could be a headhunter, someone is sales (that is out meeting tons of folks), etc. Develop a relationship with this person, to the point that they know you and try and connect you with some of their contacts.
  • Just do it. I know you are busy, and so is everyone else, but just pick up the phone and ask someone to lunch today. Today.

Grow business relationships

  • Continually keep in touch with people that you have met. This can be hard without an organizational system (hey, speaking of, I know just the free tool!), but it really is critical. Your first encounter just introduces you, you should continue to have communication and develop a deeper relationship.
  • Understand that you should be in touch with some contacts frequently (weekly?) and others infrequently (perhaps every 6 months?). So don’t overburden everyone all the time, but know which relationships merit more attention, and then pay attention to them – while not disregarding the other relationships!
  • Follow-up on leads or items of interest that you come upon. For example, if you know one of your contacts has a keen interest in fly-fishing, send him an article from a magazine (yep, cut it out and mail it to him) with a personal note (a small one). If a different contact is thinking about a sabbatical, send her some information that you find as well as a note of encouragement. In other words, think about these people and send them things that would be interesting to them.

Keep business relationships

  • Be genuine and interested in them. No one likes a person that is obviously self-serving.
  • Be of value to people in your network. Connect them, when appropriate, with others. Give them business leads (without keeping score!). Let them know, by your actions, that you are someone important in their network, because they know they are important in your network.
  • Develop a relationship that goes beyond superficial. Develop important, personal friendships that last longer than a job title or company position might.

Turn them (the business relationships) into real business

  • Let your contacts know what your capacity is, what your company does, and that you are interested in helping them where it makes sense. You can help them as a vendor or as a customer – but they need to know about it and you.
  • Be honest with them, and if there is a better solution for them then let them know. If you work to make them look good, even if you don’t get the business now, they will always remember that.
  • Do the above things to grow and keep the relationships, and when the time is right, business just might follow.
  • If it doesn’t turn into business, even though you think it should, get over it. Remember that the long-term value of the relationship is likely more valuable to you and your career than this deal. Don’t hold the grudge.

As promised, here’s my one summarized TIP: Be genuine, have a strategy, but JUST START! I think too many people try and figure out all the ins-and-outs, or get analysis-paralysis, and never get anywhere. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call or e-mail inviting the other person to lunch, and ta-da! You have begun!

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