In the old days, you developed relationships with customers through shared experiences. Golf, hunting, fishing, sporting events, meals–all bonding opportunities.
But things have changed a lot. These types of activities are fading in favor. Rules, lack of time and money–as well as the old system's strong whiff of sexism–have dramatically curtailed these events.
In a busy world where connections are often more digital than in person, meetings are shorter and entertainment is often either prohibited or time constrained, you need new strategies. To keep connected to the senior decision-makers of a customer and following the guidelines of what is permissible, I recommend the following five connection strategies.
1. Quarterly Business Reviews
By creating a periodic account review with real analysis, insight and recommendations, you can stay connected to your most important decision-makers in your key accounts. To get attendance and participation from the more senior people, there needs to be a promise of value; a simple review of performance and outstanding issues will not bring the senior most people to the meeting.
You need to bring insights about their industry, their account and ways that they can improve their own business to the conversation. As these executives see your relationship producing value, you keep the connection and the priority.
2. Executive Briefings
Provide your customers with an executive briefing, whether through a personal presentation, a webinar or newsletter. You should be covering the major trends in technology, regulation, trends and events. Being a source of updates and insights makes you not only more valuable but more worthy of regular connection.
Too often we believe our job is just to provide great products and quality service at a reasonable price. In the highly competitive global economy, there is another requirement: insight.
3. Panel Participation
If you participate in trade associations, then there are often opportunities to recommend speakers, panel members and featured guests at events held by the groups. By providing your key account customers with a platform to promote their ideas and businesses, you are demonstrating a very different and important type of value.
On a personal level, you are increasing the person’s credibility, resume and contacts. On a business level, you are increasing visibility, influence and brand equity. For ambitious executives–are there any other kinds?–this can be a strong relationship-building gesture.
4. Interview for Article or White Paper
Similar to the public speech or panel: Request an interview to be included as source material for an article, blog post or white paper. It's flattering as well as bond-building–and by focusing on the interaction on the higher-level topics, you get to connect in a strategy session that has longevity to it. Follow-up calls and connections will naturally reflect back to the conversation supporting the assignment.
When your conversations only focus on orders, service and issues, your relationships quickly devolve to transaction processing. By adding this higher level of conversation, you expand the relationship.
5. Request for Help
Benjamin Franklin was said to have increased his relationships with peers, even enemies, by asking for a favor. The request put him in a “one down” position, which would make the relationship more balanced–creating greater connection and willingness for the other person to open up.
You could ask for a recommendation for a possible hiring candidate, an assessment of an upcoming process change, or possibly an introduction. The point is that the request itself is actually a step toward a higher-quality relationship.