BUILDING BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
Business relationships are often described as the life blood of professional services firms. Relationships exist with current and past clients, as well as those the firm is targeting to ultimately win future work with. However, how often do partners, fee earners or business development professionals assess the existing and future clients’ relationships to discover where future revenue will come from?
One way of doing this it to consider the business relationships against different levels to help you find the frogs you should be kissing and those you should leave in the pond! Let’s consider the lowest level of relationships – an Identified contact. Essentially there is no relationship with these business contacts at the moment, they may have been identified as part of a targeting campaign or research. The chances of them buying from the firm at this stage are virtually zero. It’s like receiving a LinkedIn request from a complete stranger and the next day placing a major order for services with them….it’s not going to happen!
LUKE WARM CONTACT
The next level, a Luke Warm contact, is not much better in that you still have no relationship but you may have met previously (e.g. at an event or business meeting). They may also be someone you have been told about by a known contact. The likelihood of the Luke Warm contact remembering who you are or what you do in say six months’ time are low and the chances of them buying from you are also unlikely.
This takes us to our next level, a Contact. These are people who know who you are and what you do and they will talk to you however they don’t like to commit. They seldom return calls or initiate contact and you may feel like giving up on then. You may want to think again! Their business situation may change in the future and they could be in need of your services. At least as a Contact you are ‘on their radar’, however if you let the relationship whither over time they could easily forget about you.
Probably most of your relationships are at the next level, Supplier. Clients who regularly buy from your firms are often at this level, as they know what you can do for them and have memories of you working with them in the past. However they could put you in ‘pigeon hole’, as although you maybe on their ‘preferred supplier list’, they are probably not aware of the other services your firm could offer. They could also start to give work to other firms who they feel they have a stronger relationship with.
A Valued Partner relationship is at a higher level, as they tell you that they value the work that you do for them and regularly seek your advice. They may also introduce you to others inside and outside of the firm.
The top relationship to have, and which we aspire to reach but rarely achieve, is that of Trusted Adviser. These business relationships will call you and ask for advice/insights on topics both in and outside your service line/expertise. There maybe social and out of work connections, such as family, friends or shared activities that create trust and longevity.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOUR BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
So whether you are a partner, fee earner or business development professional in a professional services firm isn’t it about time you asked some questions about your business relationships? Here are a few to get you thinking:
- Who do you want to (and not want to!) have relationships with?
- How do you build long term trusting relationships?
- How do you evaluate your relationships?
- Do you really understand the buying motivation of your clients?
- How do you invest your valuable time for the greatest return?
- And….How much revenue is not being won or recovered based on the strength of your relationships?