Fiona Duncan-Steer, founder of RSViP Business Networking Agency, discusses the art of relationship building.
‘Building relationships’ are the buzzwords of the moment and quite literally everyone’s doing it, whether they know it or not. The question is why is it so important and what makes it an art?
Quite simply, it’s not as easy as you might think. Building a relationship with someone requires an investment of your time and your energy. It may start with a simple introduction for example at a networking event. That new connection then turns into a conversation which then turns into a follow up email, LinkedIn connection or private face to face meeting. It is at this point that you should have gotten the initial small talk out of the way and are beginning to get to know the individual – as a person and not as the brand they represent. What makes them tick? Where are they from? What is their role, their goals, their personal interests?
It is this key information that tests your conversational skills – have you asked the right questions, without being too invasive? Have you listened clearly and built the conversation up over a comfortable amount of time, utilising the responses the other person has given you appropriately and have you directed it towards the area you want to discuss? This also tests your leadership skills and natural leaders make great conversationalists. Small talk is all well and good, but we don’t want to hang out here for too long as it can become tedious, try to be creative with your questioning as this in turn will make you more memorable.
Your intuition also needs to come into practise pretty soon into a conversation. Be self-aware and read faces and body language – are they engaged?
If they are shifting from foot to foot or have one leg angled away from you, this is sure sign they are bored and are looking for a quick way out. Eye contact is also super important to clock – keep it and lock that person in. That is when you know they are fully engaged in conversation with you and you have them, but don’t keep them there for too long. As in the dating game, play hard to get, hold a little back and give just enough to keep them intrigued – no one likes a show-off so talking about yourself too much is a no no, therefore asking questions will always be a winner (as people like to talk about what interests them) but don’t deflect as you will arouse suspicion (I told you it is an art). You can then build the conversation from there – you become the facilitator of this scenario. Then just when it’s on a high, wind it up in an assertive and friendly manner using the nugget of an exit strategy that never fails me: “Well it’s been great speaking with you, I won’t take up anymore of your time, here’s my card let’s talk again,” and slide off in victory.
You will both then go on to do your usual follow ups via the many platforms we have available to us these days and you can once again work on refining your conversational skills whether in an email/social media message or phone call, but if in writing, why not write like you speak, to remind them of your cracking personality as opposed to a structured, overly formal email they are likely to skim over. The subject box of an email is always a golden opportunity to attract attention to your email in a fun way too, so why not experiment with the use of that next time you contact someone.
I often get asked how I remember all of my clients names (I run a business network with over 500 members), attract between 100-150 people to my events and meet on average 50-100 new faces per month and the answer is simple; because I have taken the time to get to know them, their needs and how I can help them. I have spoken to them over email/social media/telephone/face to face and I have identified with them in some way at some point – genuinely.
In my line of work, events and networking, I meet and speak to new people daily, many of which enquire about my services but don’t necessarily take me up on them straight away. I am confident however that I will see or hear from them again further down the line, when they recall our encounter even years on when other people share their success stories with them about the experiences of working with me or attending my events which also nudges their memory – and that is gold dust. Third party referrals will do it every time.
So you see that’s the power of networking right there – my ‘network’ of thousands of people I have had even just a brief interaction with over the last eleven years of being in business are out there doing the marketing for me. All I’ve had to do is lay the foundations correctly by building those relationships in the right way in the first instance. Of course, every industry is different, but the theory is the same, so tailor it to suit you, but these basic tips should get you started and then you can work on refining your technique over time as your confidence builds.