NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the four of a five part series on “Building Relationships,” Matthew Falls of BusinessUSA shares his insights on maintaining relationships with customers.
You’ve done whatever follow-up resulted from your conversation and it’s time to make the follow up call, or set the meeting. Again, prepare: research beyond the web site, set the agenda and focus beforehand with your contact. This is very important – it moves the conversation forward, lays the stage for the expected action items and demonstrates respect for the other person in that you are prepared for the call and do not intend to waste their time.
Dig deeper – look behind what’s in front of you – talk to multiple people – find out the real story, not just what’s on the web site. Look for ways to bring more value to meetings. Think beyond the meeting to your ultimate goals for this relationship. Focus on the person that you’re speaking with, the action item and how you can help this person.
If you are focusing on the other person and their needs, you can be patient and let the conversation progress naturally. Sharpen your customer conversation skills. Ask about their interests, what’s important to them. It’s very important to cultivate the human side of relationships to get beyond the standard speech.
You can find out what they are willing to do and capable of doing, by listening to throwaway comments or venting, especially those made in frustration, they exhibit true feelings not stated. Cultivating the human side of relationships develops the trust that makes your contact feel comfortable enough to reveal such information, indicating pain points that your solution can solve.
Your goal is to come away from this first call with points of pain. It’s important to be aware of where you are in the process versus where you want to be and figure out how to advance to next stage – bring in an idea that adds value to them. Each conversation should build on the previous conversation; if you are having the same conversation, they are not ready.
There may not be any apparent points of pain. That’s ok. Keep the conversation going with contacts by looking at them and their business as a whole and send them information, interesting items, bits of news. Become a resource to them. Over time they may introduce you to opportunities, or pain points may be revealed. Your relationships should also give you intelligence about upcoming opportunities.
If you are a federal contractor or sub-contractor, bringing business to the prime obviously will make them see you as a resource and an ideal teaming partner. With contracting trends indicating that 1 of 4 contracts are multiple award vehicles, teaming decisions are often made before the Statement of Work is issued, so developing and expanding teaming relationships become critical to the success of the company.
Many contracts result from being on a team. Not just any team though, the right team. You also want to make your company desirable to the right team. A strategic advisor focused on generating revenue can assess your company, help you determine your core competencies, develop strategies to get on the right team and negotiate a teaming agreement that brings value to all team members.
All of this great research and preparation won’t deliver results if you can’t deliver the message to the customer. Take the time to practice so that you will be more confident in the moment. Anticipate how the call will play out and do some role playing.
Use the seasons analogy to guide the building of your relationships – plant the seed – introduce yourself – nurture the relationship – become a resource to them, send information, make introductions, etc. – harvest the seeds – if you have nurtured the relationship, the harvest time becomes apparent – enjoy the fruits – take the time to enjoy your success – start to think about new opportunities.
Matthew Falls works for the federal initiative BusinessUSA, focusing on outreach to the state and local partners and the business community. He collaborates with state and local economic development organizations to feature their program content on BusinessUSA and to introduce BusinessUSA as a resource to small businesses.