Step 4: Deepening Connections And Unlocking Opportunities
This is step 4 in building your consulting firm, as I learnt and applied from The Irresistible Consultant's Guide to Winning Clients.
In this post, we discuss how to enhance professional relationships. How to target your outreach and conversations. For your new relationships, we discuss tips to manage contacts to build strong bonds.
Step 4: Build Relationships
Website Sanity Check
Put a smiling headshot on your website. It helps build trust and makes you seem approachable.
Do the same on LinkedIn and other platforms.
Goal: Nurture relationships. Stay at the top of your contacts' minds.
Regularly Reach Out: Keep in touch with people regularly. Choose phone calls over emails. Even short conversations matter. If not possible, send an email with a Calendly link for scheduling.
Backup Script: If you find it hard to start making calls, prepare a script. This will help you remember key points, kick off calling each week, and keep a routine. See David's Outreach Call Outline for a script example. His script is hard to find online, so here is a screenshot and a related blog.
I live in Ireland, but my network is mainly in the US and India. Making phone calls to these places is hard for me. So, I send messages or emails. Sometimes, I set up calls. I found calls and reaching out to people tiring. Over time, I did less of this.
I spent a lot of time and effort on building relationships (new friendships) on weekends in Ireland to create a community or social circle. I will write about my experiments and learnings in a separate article.
I have a goal in 2024 to nurture my closest relationships: “My spouse and I hosted 100s of friends at our home over the last two years. Now, be more mindful of whom to spend time with. For example, follow the ‘My Social Universe” exercise from The Good Life to categorize my friendships on an 'energize - deplete' axis to better manage social interactions.”
Some helpful books on building relationships:
This Sh*t Works gets super tactical in helping you succeed at any meetup or conference.
The 2-Hour Cocktail Party agrees that meetups are poorly organized. Instead, it teaches you the N-step process to host an amazing meetup at your home. While minimizing expense, time spent, and social hesitation.
How to Win Friends & Influence People helped round up relationship-building skills.
Fanatical Prospecting helped me understand the importance of outreach.
The Good Life gave me new energy to make friends in our new home in Ireland.
Demand-Side Sales 101 explained that sales is about relationship building. It's a long game. Help everyone. Help your sales prospects. Even if that doesn't make you money that day.
The Art of Gathering got me thinking about the purpose every time I invite friends. I learned to arrange all parts of an event to meet that purpose.
Turning A Chat To Business
When a conversation shows potential to become a business discussion, make a smooth transition. Allow the prospect to decline the change of conversation focus.
The Turn: This is when you shift a conversation into a business discussion when it feels right.
To do "the turn" and move a relationship into a business conversation:
Would you be open to a separate conversation where we talk about your business and explore whether my firm can help you achieve your goals?
The bold words are important.
I've tried this approach several times, and it's been effective. For example, I once did it with a former colleague who co-founded a tech startup in the US. Although we did not have any follow-up conversation, I felt this statement helped keep the trust high in the first conversation. In another case, during a virtual coffee chat, I discovered someone seeking a startup product coach with a mindset like mine. So, I had follow-up conversations up till pricing discussions with this UK-based accelerator.
Ask For Referrals
When you want to ask for referrals, ask about intriguing people or those creating change, not directly for business referrals.
Use this approach:
“You have been very helpful during this project. You know that meeting people and building relationships is at the heart of consulting. I love meeting interesting people. Who have you run into recently who is intriguing, creating change, or shaking things up?”
This helps avoid putting your contact in an uncomfortable position of feeling like they're facilitating a hard sell.
Don’t say this:
"Who do you know that would benefit from the value I provide?"
When should you ask for a referral?
Finished a project? Ask for a referral.
Lost a prospect or a project? Ask for a referral.
I forgot this advice about not asking for a business referral. When I asked some people for referrals, it didn't lead anywhere. Also, when I asked for interesting people, people found it vague. So, that approach was not much help for me either.
End Conversations With Golden Questions
I read the book "How to be a power connector" recently. Here are tips from the book for questions at the end of any conversation:
How can I help you?
This opens the door for referral opportunities or to give advice.
What ideas do you have for me?
This lets them contribute value to you. People like helping others.
Who else do you think I should talk to?
The person you want to connect with might be in their network, even if it's not them directly.
How To Structure Your CRM
If you are reaching out to a lot of people, you will benefit from a CRM. A CRM can be:
Calendar reminders to follow up,
A spreadsheet with conditional formatting to remind you to stay in touch,
LinkedIn or Gmail’s built-in reminders and snooze functions, or
A professional CRM like Salesforce, Zoho, Hubspot.
I’ll write the rest assuming you are using a CRM. Segment the people you know on two axes:
Relationship Strength, and,
Decision Making Influence.
Relationship Strength (1, 2, 3, and so on):
1: These are individuals who would return your calls and reply to your emails. They include your spouse, employees, subcontractors, and clients.
2: You may have met them once or twice but haven't been in touch for a few years.
3: This category includes everyone else not fitting into the above categories.
4: Relationships that have ended negatively.
Decision-Making Influence (A, B, or C):
A: People who can hire you. Decisions makers. This includes C-level executives, General Managers, and Vice Presidents.
B: Individuals who can influence hiring but don't have the final say. They are influential within their company.
C: This category includes everyone else.
Now, you can better understand who to focus your efforts on and how to approach each relationship. Rank your contacts based on the strength of your relationship with them and their ability to influence decisions.
Instead of a 4-unit scale, I rated my contacts from 1 (close relationships) to 9 (new or weak ties). I hired data entry virtual assistants (VAs) to input information into my CRM, and an applications engineer to set up CRM automation.
I understand the importance of segmenting contacts, but I've realized data entry is very time-consuming. Also, I noticed I have very few decision-makers in my network. As David might say, “now you know why you're not making sales despite your connections.”
How Often To Connect With Your Core Network
Email: Email them once every quarter. If they don't reply, follow up once or wait until the next quarter to reach out again.
Phone: Call them twice a year. If they don't return your call, try again in a month.
In Person: Meet them when you are in their city.
I set a reminder to reconnect over email with my tier-1 contacts after 6 months of no contact. I tried reaching out every two to three months, but sometimes, I couldn't think of what to talk about. It also made me question my contacts’ relationship strengths and move down many relationships.
Since it is hard to navigate within a long post with a table of contents, I split this into 5 articles, (about) one for each step. All posts in this series:
Step 5 and 6: Transforming Consulting Prospects Into Projects