It’s not your father’s business development environment anymore. Today’s ever-fluid shifting business, technology, and cultural dynamics have converged to dramatically alter the buying behaviors of prospects and clients.
The new sales economy, and specifically technology, have broadened the ways in which relationships in the accounting industry and other professional services industries are built and sustained. But it’s still the value created through a strategic relationship that remains at the heart of the most successful business development. This is especially true in high-value, B2B professional services environments.
It requires you to thoughtfully expand your networks, to cultivate and leverage them in ways that go beyond traditional marketing and selling. Do you know how to find and make those connections, and turn kernels of a new relationship into a long-term loyal customer for your firm?
The Three R’s
Every opportunity identified, and every opportunity earned is based on a combination of three core elements: results, reputation, and relationships.
- Reputation – credibility, visibility, and how a person is perceived in the marketplace.
- Results – the effort put in, and the outcomes created.
- Relationships – the value brought to others, and the strength of one’s strategic networks.
These are the three Rs, and everyone takes these with them in life, wherever they go. They’re transferable from one situation or experience to the next, and they build on one another. Each relationship experience provides learning and perspective, and helps a person better connect in the next relationship. The three Rs are the foundation that can strengthen business development results and create lasting impact with prospects and clients.
Of those three elements, relationships are truly the X-factor of business development success.
The Power of Social Capital
Accountants naturally think in terms of statements. One line item that will never be on a P&L, yet is critical to success is social capital, or the collective value of relationships and the outcomes created through those relationships. Organizations and individuals that place a high value on social capital treat relationships with purpose and build strong networks both internally and externally.
Why does social capital matter so much in today’s business development environment? Here are three reasons.
1. Buying decisions are increasingly being made by committee and consensus. More decisions than ever before require consensus building, whether overtly or behind the scenes. The number of decision makers and influencers in any given opportunity has increased dramatically, and those relationships are more complex across job function and geography. Your firm’s business developers and marketers must go wider and deeper in their relationship-building efforts, expanding beyond the usual departments in which they do business and stretching further into the organization.
2. It is more challenging to reach decision makers and influencers. While social platforms put everyone just a connection or two away from decision makers and influencers, these connections are often only surface level. Those who build and maintain strong networks have the advantage and can rise above the noise. When strategic networks run wide and deep, this can mean fewer cold calls, quicker access, and more support—because the foundation of the relationship has been established.
3. Business development is still about connecting to other human beings in a way that’s genuine and adds value. In complex environments, technology is an enabler, but isn’t going to win or expand the business. It is the business development professional who will do that. The best business developers leverage technology to improve their relationship-building efforts and their results.
A Formula for Social Capital Success
While relationship building may seem like an art, there is a formula that can be applied to provide consistency and long-term success:
(Create + Sustain) 2
= Strong Strategic Relationships
In this formula, Create and Sustain are the relationship-building investments.
Like a healthy bank account, any healthy relationship has a balance of credits and debits, but it is important that the balance remain to the positive.
When an associate or business developer places twice the effort into providing value to the relationship (Create and Sustain), those investments grow over time. That growth allows for third element of the equation, Leverage. Leverage is asking for what is needed to advance an initiative or opportunity. Or it may be gaining commitment to move further in the business development process.
The Takeaway Tips
Everyone in your firm can contribute to business development, form strategic relationships and set specific outreach goals for themselves. Here are some tips you can put into action right now.
- Use social media with the goal of taking key relationships offline. LinkedIn and Twitter are my main social media outlets. But with so many connections and followers, it’s impossible to create meaningful relationships with everyone, and nor would you want to. Select one or two people a month, and make an effort to continue the conversation offline. It’s usually a quick phone call if there’s distance involved. Or if they are local, meet for lunch or at an event.
- Balance your networking strategy between in-person and online communication. You can start building a relationship online and move the relationship offline. Or, you can reverse the strategy. The ability to form a professional relationship beyond your online presence is invaluable. Nothing is more important than an engaging conversation and a firm handshake. Once you have established that relationship, balance your communication with online and offline strategies.
- Actively volunteer in a key industry organization. Be selective in the groups you join, and then get involved! Being an active member helps you build better relationships and a higher profile. Find the membership or programs director for the group, and introduce yourself – that person will help you find strategic opportunities that are a fit for your skills and goals.
- Develop a keep-in-touch strategy. Keeping in touch is vital. First, it keeps momentum up and allows you to build better relationships. Second, most people just aren’t doing it, so you will stand out. The best keep in touch strategy utilizes technology with a personal touch. A tip here is to create something of value on a regular basis and communicate with your audience.
- Build relationships before you need them. By the time you need a relationship, it’s usually too late to build it. This is why people end up feeling as though they’re being insincere, because continual relationship building isn’t a habit built into their everyday life. When you have the mindset that relationship building is an everyday part of your learning and leadership development, you’ll likely never fall into that trap.
Over the long-term, delivering value and forging strategic relationships creates a foundation for success-- and serves as the X-factor to set you firm apart from your competition.