The focus on business development and building a ‘customer-centric’ organization has been a concept that has eluded many organizations. We have witnessed what many have termed “the decade of the customer” wherein focus on the customer is unrivalled. But just saying you want to focus or you are focusing on the customer as a mere rhetoric will not lead you to deriving the benefits of developing organizations with the customer at their centre.
Outside the elaborate customer centric jargons and programmes like Customer Relationship management (CRM), Customer Performance Management (CPM), Customer Experience Management (CEM), Customer Equity (CE), Customer Loyalty Schemes, Customer Scorecard and many others is the basic and effective good-old Relationship Building and Networking (RBN).
This write-up is to present readers with some few thoughts I shared recently with participants at the Ghana Insurance Brokers Association’s (GIBA) 5th Annual Conference & Exhibition in Takoradi.
The success of any endeavour between two or more parties depends on the quality of the relationship developed and maintained. A good business relationship, just like a good friendship, relies on building a good rapport, trust and understanding between the parties. To achieve such relationships and build profitable business networks requires more than just some jargon and elaborate customer centric strategies, although they positively make an impact. It requires investing time and effort in meeting and understanding the client, his/her business and also his/her situation.
The Balance defines business networking as “a process of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients and/or customers. The primary purpose of business networking is to tell others about your business and hopefully turn them into customers”. Relationship building however evolves from our networking activities. It must be well noted that networking is a process and not an event as many managers believe.
Managers expect sales people, marketers and their managers to conclude businesses at networking events or opportunities – when networking is just the start of the relationship building process, with an expectation of turning those networks into profitable clients. Networking means much more than that one-time meeting of a potential prospect for a transaction; it involves the building of a number of deeper, helpful and mutually beneficial relationships with people we will stay in contact with and benefit from in the longer-term.
Why is Networking and Relationship Building Important?
Growing your networks, building and maintaining effective and rewarding relationships with clients has many benefits.
- Develop New Contacts and Referrals: The foremost reason for networking and business development is to meet potential clients and/or generate referrals, which you can then follow-up, hopefully, to add to your client base. It helps identify opportunities for partnerships, joint ventures or developing new areas of expansion for your business.
- Creates Visibility for the Company: Business executives need to meet and communicate with potential clients and businesses on a regular basis to maintain business relationships. Attending business luncheons and other networking events raises your personal and corporate profile, and can help keep the company at front and centre in the minds of the right people.
- Helps Company Share Knowledge and Experiences: Attending seminars and networking with your peers and business associates on a regular basis will help provide many opportunities to ask questions and receive feedback. Discussing other points of view really expands your knowledge base, and allows you to see things from a broader perspective. Learning from other’s ‘best practices’ saves time, energy and resources.
- Solves Problems: In addition to the potential of increasing your business, you can often find solutions to your own business problems or needs by networking.
- Builds Confidence and Morale: Most business people are optimistic and positive. Regularly associating with such people can be a great morale-boost, particularly in the difficult early phases of a new business. Developing new relationships leads to higher self-esteem and confidence. If you are not naturally outgoing, regularly meeting new people can also boost your confidence – and on a personal basis you may form new friendships with like-minded people.
Opportunities for Potential Networking and Relationship Building
- Attending Conferences, Seminars and Workshops
- Attending Chambers of Commerce meetings
- Working with community service groups like Lions and Rotary International
- Volunteering for non-profit organizations
- Hosting your own networking event
- Looking in your local newspaper for networking events that are open to the public
- Attending industry-related events at the local, regional or national levels
- Participating in Alumni Associations and Activities
- Participating in various online platforms and professional bodies
Key Pointers in Networking and Building Relationships
Key Pointer #1 – Network the Old-Fashioned Way
Meeting people in person seems old-fashioned in the digital age, but wherever possible you should network face-to-face. Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are excellent ways to communicate with customers and business associates, but they do not substitute for meeting people in person. A lot of local business is still done on a handshake basis.
Key Pointer #2 – Start with your Personal Contacts
Start by identifying your core contacts – people you know personally and are naturally willing to help. They should fully understand what you are doing and your end goal.
Key Pointer #3 – Move on to External Connections
Start looking into mutual friends, alumni networks and any other degrees of separation that could get you a simple introduction, thus creating your own network.
Key Pointer #4 – Step out of your Comfort-Zone
This might be the most important facet of maximizing your network. Without it, you will not be able to grow your network into a self-sustaining asset. You must attend network events, meetings of potential clients and approach new people.
Key Pointer #5 – Create your own Networks and Events
Businesses must create their own networking events to attract desired target groups. These events can range from information sessions, workshops, product launches or relaunches, awards, cocktails and sponsorship events. They can also create their own network groups, but as physical networks and online networks.
Key Pointer #6 – Effective Communication
Relationships and networks are dynamic and need consistent nurturing. One of the reasons that lead to a deterioration of relationships is the perception of being taken for granted. Comprehensive, clear and regular communication is the most effective means of nurturing a client relationship. A schedule of regular meetings and progress reports should be agreed at the outset. Ideally, this is enhanced by opportunities for social interaction. Keep a record of interactions so that this aspect and health of the relationship can be monitored. As well as promoting the “feel good factor”, communication develops a high level of understanding on both sides and minimizes misunderstanding.
Key Pointer #7 – Ask How You Can be of Help
Don’t make the mistake of thinking only about your own personal interest or agenda when networking. I have found that the most effective networking method is to ask what you can do for others, not what others can do for you. The connections you make, either business or personal, are more likely to help you in the future if you helped them in the past.
Key Pointer #8 – Always Follow-Up
Networking only produces good results when it is followed-up. Following-up with contacts builds trust, reputation, and relationships.
Key Pointer #9 – Build One Relationship at a Time
Networking events are not for card collection, but to identify individuals or businesses that will be interested in doing business with you. At any event, target some key people and spend time to build a relationship with them.
Key Pointer #10 – Plan your Networking
All projects need managing. Business networking is a project, and so it needs managing. You can use various tools to manage your networking.
Key Pointer #11 – Plan your Networking
Business networking is a form of marketing. All forms of marketing benefit from strongly-focused activity, which is necessary first:
- to create awareness, and then
- to build relationships to the point when a sale can be made.
Key Pointer #12 – Develop a Healthy Life Balance
A healthy balance in your life – of work, pleasure, business, social etc. – promotes and gives a feeling of well-being, which is helpful for networking in many ways.
The writer is the Chief Executive Officer,MGA Consulting Ghana Ltd.
Michael Abbiw is a sales and marketing strategist who partners with Business Executives, Sales and Marketing Heads and Sales Teams in developing and executing effective strategies for increased performance. His passion is providing practical and workable support to organizations and individuals seeking to transform their sales and marketing teams into more efficient ones.