4 Steps to Developing Solid Business Relationships

Use this strategy to create a network that is long-standing and lucrative

(Image: Thinkstock)
(Image: Thinkstock)

Cultivating a business relationship is no different than cultivating a personal one. The principles are all the same: Make a great first impression; develop trust; demonstrate synergies and work to maintain the relationship for the long haul.

If you don’t already think of business relationships in this way, you should start. Superficial interactions yield little value. So, don’t expect to hob-knob your way into five-star referrals or a million-dollar paycheck without first putting some relationship-building skin in the game.

Learn to cultivate solid business relationships using these key strategies:

1. Make a great first impression. Let’s face it, you’re human. You can’t help but draw certain conclusions after you interact with someone for the first time. You are constantly sensing, judging and trying to make sense of the information that you receive. So, the goal for everyone involved is to make a great first impression. Although schools of thought may vary, there are a few
basic principles that bode well for everyone:

  • Dress the part; a polished professional will always be well-received.
  • Arrive on time, which means always try to arrive at least 15 minutes early, but 30 minutes is preferred.
  • Be expertly prepared and make sure you are ready to execute deliverables.
  • Be yourself because most people can spot a fake from a mile away.
  • Be courteous. Observing customs and courtesies demonstrate emotional intelligence.
  • Don’t backbite—it’s a red flag that likely you cannot be trusted and the behavior screams “I’m petty.”
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation: talk less, listen more.
  • Don’t be an eager beaver. Know everything will happen in due time.
  • Don’t attempt to convince others of your intelligence. They will either see it or not. Forcing it is an amateur move.

These are the basics. If you can do these, you are well on your way to making an excellent first impression and can likely navigate your way to round two of the business relationship.

2. Build trust. This takes time, but the building blocks of trust begin during the initial contact and continue to form as the relationship progresses. Did you arrive on time and were you well-prepared to carry out business? Did you leak information that was deemed private? After a series of interactions, it will be apparent whether someone should be trusted. Therefore, don’t put yourself in a situation where you are viewed as someone unworthy of trust. Keep confidences, deliver on results promised and maintain your integrity.

3. Show value and demonstrate synergies. What value do you bring to the table? What kind of insight, talent and experience do you offer that is uniquely able to impact this transaction? What is the anticipated return on investment (ROI) of collaborating? It doesn’t have to been quantitative. Think qualitative results, too. Understanding this at a high level and being able to communicate it is critical. No one wants to waste time with a dog and pony show. So if you want to be taken seriously, leave any desire to engage in superficial dealings at the door.

4. Maintenance for the long haul. Romancing the stone? Engaging in substantive business is a process. So, don’t fly by the seat of your pants, thinking that your first impression or even a completed transaction will seal the deal. You have to continue to manage perceptions, in all the ways that you established them as you developed the relationship from infancy. If you don’t have the fortitude for this phase, then you may want to rethink your role in the business development equation. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Remember, building solid business relationships is just like building personal relationships: The principles are virtually the same. Observe the nuances and you’re guaranteed to make better decisions and build better relationships than if simply trying to wing it.

To your success!

Karima Mariama-Arthur Esq. is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm specializing in professional development. Follow her on Twitter: @wsrapport or visit her website, WordSmithRapport.com.


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  • “Romancing the stone? Engaging in substantive business is a process.”

    Ha! I see what you did there. 🙂

    Any thoughts on building relationships when you’ve made a bad first impression? It seems the general perception is “if you mess up your first impression you don’t get a second chance.”

    Is that always true? How does someone navigate a situation like that?

    This article was laser focused.