Business development in the AEC world takes time. You do not create a successful client relationship after one introduction, a first meeting, or an encounter at a conference. It may take months to receive the first RFP from a client. It could take years for the first sale. That may sound daunting, but it’s true. If you want to succeed at business development, you have to be in it for the long haul, and you have to want it. The most rewarding relationships, personal or professional, are long term. It takes years to nurture and grow a truly fruitful client/service provider relationship.
In its simplest form, successful business development isn’t about selling. It’s about giving. Giving of your time, your knowledge, and yourself. When you learn to truly give to your clients, the relationship goes beyond client/service provider to true friends. Other than those childhood friendships that developed playing ball in the street and running between each other’s lawns, most friendships take time to develop. Think of building client relationships as you think of meeting and getting to know your wife or your husband. You didn’t marry them after one date. It took many dates, months and maybe years of getting to know their likes/dislikes, their values, and their dreams and aspirations. Just like with your best friend and your spouse, you need to put in the time to nurture and grow the client relationship.
If you want a truly rewarding client relationship, you will need to go beyond their name, title, and who they report to. Sure, you think, I’ll ask them what keeps them up at night. There’s more than that to a deep, rewarding relationship. If you want a quick sale, if you don’t want to put in the time and effort to get to know your clients, then you’re in the wrong business. The AEC world may not be for you. There are other sales jobs, think car salesman or retail, where you don’t need years to achieve the sale. In those roles, you can get instant gratification. Not so in the AEC industry.
In today’s world where we hide behind our cell phones and our computers, we pretend we have hundreds of LinkedIn contacts, hundreds of Facebook friends, and thousands of Instagram and Twitter followers. Of those, who do you really know? Do you know where they went to school? Do you know their spouse’s name? Children’s names and ages? Do you know if they celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or something else? If you don’t, I challenge that you don’t know them very well. You have a social media relationship that has no roots. It won’t be there when the times get tough – either a business slow down or a tough patch of life – and you need a friend.
Six years ago, when my late husband was diagnosed with cancer, my healthcare clients and their spouses were amongst the first people to reach out to me and offer support. Yes, their spouses too. Why? Because our relationships go beyond the office walls and the next RFP. These relationships don’t hinge on the next sale. They are based on a deep-rooted respect and true caring for one another. These folks were there when I needed them because I’d put in the time, by choice, to build a generous, authentic relationship. These same clients have been with me professionally for years through several job changes. Why? Because, we’re friends. And as the old adage goes, you want to work with people you like.
How do you make your clients your friends? You start with authenticity. You give more than you get. And, your motive is always to help others not yourself. When we give more than we expect to receive, we always end up a winner.
In a future blog, I’ll discuss tips for building successful relationships.