In a highly relationship-driven B2B business, in today’s business environment, your marketing channels, particularly your online channels, need to act like ‘Tinder’ for your business. A relationship-driven business, where there are significant financial and reputational risks, relies on trusted business relationships. The day-to-day process of building and nurturing business relationships is vital to the delivery of your business’s services or products. You are continually developing and cultivating relationships with existing clients, referrers and influencers, and prospective new clients.
Traditionally, business relationships built organically – someone you knew well introduced you to someone they knew well. Relationship-building today is different. Rapid advancements in technology have changed the way relationships are built and maintained. A potential client can now learn so much about you before they meet you in person. They also expect to be able to work easily with you online. Meeting and working with you needs to be easy, but also secure. Also, in the current business environment, post-GFC, the client relationship has changed in other ways. Clients now have different expectations. Sophisticated clients expect professionals to be more responsive to them and have a better understanding of the commercial pressures they face.
Relationships with influencers and referrers have also changed. People ‘meet’ online and then are more discerning about who they will meet in person to spend some of their precious time. They need a more compelling reason beyond just ‘let’s have a chat, I think we can help each other’.
So, relationship-driven marketing needs to work hard for you and your business, creating opportunities and helping to convert those opportunities into valuable, satisfying work. Strategic relationship-driven marketing can be your ‘Tinder for business’ by:
1. Raising Your Profile.
Just like entering any new relationship, you’ve got to sell yourself. Whether it’s your own personal brand, as a Visible Expert®, or your business’s brand, you need to establish trust and credibility. This doesn’t happen as organically as it used to. Multiple online channels mean that the market is far more competitive, and clients are now savvier and more informed. Marketing can help you increase your profile by using well-positioned content, including thought leadership in your area of expertise. It can help you ‘cut through’ and become recognised as an expert that people will seek advice from. A good marketer can help you identify your target audience and develop relevant content that will resonate with that audience. A cleverly designed and clearly articulated content strategy can focus your efforts in the most valuable areas. Social media is just one channel you will use to publish your content, but a well-structured social media strategy, that aligns with your business strategy, can become an extremely valuable relationship building tactic. Done strategically, you can begin to have two-way conversations with prospective clients and influencers and gain extremely valuable information in the process.
2. Researching the Market.
A strategic marketing (and relationship-building) plan should always begin with comprehensive market research. Market research can help you identify opportunities in the market, or you may already know your most valuable client niche, based on existing client work, but want to gain a deeper understanding of that market or markets. Marketing technology and modern market research techniques can help you develop a deeper understanding of your target market/s.
Market research consists of primary research, where you’re conducting one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Secondary research is usually conducted online and can include industry research and may include surveys to multiple prospective or existing clients. It depends on the questions you need to answer. Primary research allows you to gain an in-depth understanding of needs, attitudes, and future plans. Secondary research helps you evaluate overall markets and identify trends. Surveys can help you bridge the gap between the two.
3. Targeting Your Ideal Relationships.
Once you know who you want to be talking to, in terms of your ideal client and your ideal referrers, you can then use social media and inbound digital marketing to build a list of people you want to build a relationship with. This is where social media, and particularly LinkedIn, has dramatically changed the way we begin business relationships. It is now acceptable for someone that you don’t know to start interacting with you online.
Even if you don’t feel that it’s appropriate, or you aren’t comfortable, to reach out directly to someone online, you can still begin to build your online network and there are multiple ways to do this. Whether you’re inviting people to connect or attracting people to your website and encouraging them to fill in a short contact form, in exchange for valuable and relevant content, building your online business network is now crucial to the development of your business.
4. Engaging Prospects.
Building your online network, allows you to start engaging with potential new clients and potential new referrers and influencers. After capturing contact information, you can begin to encourage them to meet you in person. Traditional networking events and technical seminars are a fantastic next step. Webinars are also a great way to further develop the relationship. If they are interested in your content, and have a need to hear more about a particular issue they’re having, inviting them to an event could be a great way for them to experience what it would be like to work with you.
5. Making the Best First Impression.
Most psychologists agree you have seven seconds to make a first impression. In a business meeting, or at a networking event, you want your prospective client or business associate to immediately feel that you are authentic, trustworthy, credible, easy to work with, and reliable. A marketing professional can help you develop your positioning statement, which you will be able to build into presentations and conversations naturally, the more you practice.
6. Sealing the Deal.
Selling is a skill. You can learn to sell and, if it’s not something you or your team are naturally comfortable doing, you should definitely consider sales training. There are organisations that specialise in sales training for B2B and professional services. If the sales process is a gap in your marketing and business development strategy, consider a sales program from a company such as The RAIN Group.
7. Managing Your Relationships.
Once you’ve initiated and developed new relationships, just like the relationships in your personal life, they take work to maintain. If you have a team of people working with clients, using a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system to keep track of interactions is extremely valuable. Relationships with referral sources should also be tracked and managed using a CRM.
Your relationships may not be as strong as you think they are. If they aren’t well managed and you aren’t connecting as often as you need to, because you are busy looking after everything else in your world, they won’t be secure. The ultimate business relationship is a symbiotic relationship, i.e. one that is mutually beneficial. Systems like a CRM, or even just Outlook, can be utilised to help you maintain stronger relationships.
In the current business environment, business transactions and business relationships are changing. The way we approach the relationship-building and maintaining process needs to change to keep pace with the modern business relationship ‘scene’.