Originally published on DandB.com
As a diverse supplier, your business is built on the power of your relationships. Only when you consistently reach out to prospective clients can you position your business to fulfill their needs and become their go-to supplier long-term.
But how are you supposed to meet the people in a position to hire you, let alone compete with all the other suppliers vying for their business?
The secret lies in strategic relationship development.
This is an area many diverse suppliers may overlook when they are applying for contracts or competing for a new client.
The adage, “it’s who you know,” does not negate the need for excellence in your products or services. It does, however, mean that forming and cultivating the right relationships with the right people can dramatically increase your chances of small business success.
Here are 5 proven ways to help develop and leverage powerful, profitable relationships with the people who are in a position to hire you.
1. Network Online and Offline
Before you can form a good relationship with a prospective client, you have to form a relationship, period. That means putting yourself in a position to meet as many quality prospects as possible, as often as possible.
The key here is not to meet people for the sake of meeting people, but to seek out opportunities to form connections with a highly targeted group of potential clients and referral partners.
Your first step is to do your research and determine whom exactly you want to meet. LinkedIn is a great tool for this because you can search by company name and title to find the specific people you want to meet. Create a spreadsheet that includes your target’s name, company name, title, LinkedIn profile ID and a note about how you think you can create value for them.
Trade shows, conferences, and association meetings are great places to make in-person connections. Focus on meeting and having a real conversation with 1-2 target contacts per event, instead of collecting as many business cards as possible. Be sure to read about their background, current role and interests via social media so you can strike up an interesting and engaging conversation.
At the same time, you’re not confined to offline events in order to form strong connections. Join online mastermind groups, Facebook groups, and LinkedIn groups specific to the industry you’re targeting. This will help you meet and connect with your ideal prospective clients online.
From there, you can schedule an in-person meeting if appropriate, or simply move on to Step 2…
2. Practice Considerate Communication
Find out how your prospect likes to communicate and honor that. If they use Google chat or Facebook messenger to contact you, don’t make the mistake of calling or emailing them to get in touch.
If you want to share a document or piece of content that requires another type of communication platform, ask them how they would like to receive it.
If you can meet them on their level by speaking their language, you’ll be planting the seeds to form a deep, lasting relationship based on consideration.
3. Get (Strategically) Social
In the same way that you communicate with your prospect using their preferred method, you should connect with them on social media by following their lead.
Following them on Twitter won’t do much good if they haven’t tweeted in 6 months, just as connecting on LinkedIn will fall flat if that’s not their platform of choice.
Find out where they like to hang out on social media, and make it a point to connect with them in a way that’s conducive to their social style.
Pay close attention to see if they share highly personal content, like family photos, then engage with them on a more personal level. If they tend to engage with industry-related content, consider sharing something you think they’d like and tagging them to get their thoughts. Make it easy on yourself to track your target contacts by creating lists in your social media account specifically for that purpose.
Speaking of sharing content…
4. Share Valuable Content
When courting a prospective client or customer, your job is to show them how much value you can provide and how working with you is going to positively impact their business.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by sharing relevant, valuable content to let them know you’re thinking of them and are attuned to their problems and needs.
For instance, let’s say your small diverse business sells fitness equipment to health clubs and you come across an interesting blog post about the latest in wearable fitness technology. Share the blog with your prospective client using their preferred communication method or social media platform. Add a note about how you’re incorporating the technology into your business and how you might use it to benefit their health club.
Keep it short and sweet, but clearly indicate why the content is relevant to them. This kind of specific, strategic value-add can demonstrate your understanding of the client’s needs, keep you top of mind, and make them think “Wow! If they’re helping me out this much for free, just imagine how much value they’ll provide when I actually hire them!”
5. Honor Their Wins
It goes without saying that you should be tracking the major happenings of any client you’re targeting, whether that’s product launches, award nominations, new employees, or other company news.
Set up a Google alert to help track your client’s wins online. Be the first to congratulate them on their successes, no matter how small. A simple email or text in response to some great press or an exciting merger can further cultivate and deepen the relationship.
The success of your business depends on the quality of your relationships. Strong business relationships don’t just happen when a client hires you or a customer makes a purchase. They begin long before that, when the prospect first becomes aware of how you might be able to help them.
By actively seeking new prospects, communicating in their chosen style, leveraging social media, sharing valuable content, and acknowledging their wins, you can cultivate deeper, more profitable relationships with clients who will be more likely to remain loyal to your small diverse business long-term.
If you’re interested in finding quality business contacts to create a relationship with, consider Hoover’s in-depth data on over 85 million companies.