Post by Laura Thompson, contributing Women On Business writer
When you think about it, social relationships are a great metaphor for business relationships. They have the same highs and lows, the same emotional baggage—sometimes even the same game-playing, and I know how much you hate that.
You’re a professional, but you’re also a red-blooded woman. You have relationships both inside and outside work, and you can apply what you’ve learned in the dating world to your business strategy.
Getting to Know You
Think about how you approach long-term relationships versus one-night stands. If you’re only interested in making a connection that won’t last beyond a few martinis at the bar, you mostly ask the other person surface questions.
What do you do? What are your favorite hobbies? Where do you live? Have you tried the chicken fingers?
On the other hand, if you think this person might be relationship material, you take the conversation to a deeper level: hopes, dreams, fears. You get inside that person’s head and find out what makes him tick.
Your clients are no different. If you only ask surface questions and deal with the problems presented to you, it is unlikely you’ll retain that client for future work. In fact, it might not even enter his or her mind that you could be a long-term asset because you haven’t brought it up.
In business, you can develop long-term relationships by showing your clients how you can make their lives different six months from now, a year from now, even five years in the future. Discuss long-term strategies that will benefit them on a deeper level.
For example, let’s say that you’re a freelance copywriter specializing in search engine optimization and organic search marketing. Your clients are mostly business owners who want to get noticed on the web. When you’re approached by clients, you can build long-term relationships rather than one-night stands by discussing the importance of adding fresh content to web sites on a regular basis.
If you just say, "Sure, I’ll optimize your web site," and give the client a quote, you’re missing out on what could potentially be a profitable relationship for both of you.
The Next Level
Even if you are extraordinarily compatible and eager to move forward, building a long-term relationship with a significant other takes work. If you truly believe a relationship might last beyond that initial first date, you make phone calls, send e-mails and suggest second-date destinations.
With a one-night stand, you lose the other person’s number and hope they didn’t get yours. You’ve already gotten all the value you can possibly squeeze out of the relationship, so in your mind it’s completely over.
With business clients, you also have to work to create long-term relationships. Just because you’ve completed a service or delivered a product doesn’t mean you can never connect again. Send your client a thank-you card to show your appreciation, give him a call to see how he’s doing, shoot him an e-mail when you think he should know about a new product or service you’re offering.
In other words, keep your business contacts in the loop.
It is also important to realize that long-term relationships are reciprocal. Rather than providing a product or offering a service to your client, maybe the tables turn the next time around. Be open to new ways in which you can support your network.
The Definite One-Night Stand
Just like in your personal life, you will make business connections that you know will not last longer than a single product or exchange. That’s okay. Not all of your relationships will constitute ongoing, profitable partnerships.
However, you can still benefit from the one-night stands. For example, in the dating world, you might discover that you don’t have much in common with that guy you met at the bar. But maybe he has a friend who would be perfect for you. So perhaps you build a casual friendship with that guy in the hopes he’ll introduce you to someone who could constitute a long-term relationship.
The same goes for the business world. Referrals and word-of-mouth marketing are almost as powerful as direct connections. When a one-night stand tells his business partner how amazing you were or how great your products are, your business card will change hands and suddenly you have a new shot.
Both long-term relationships and one-night stands have a place in your business, but try to build partnerships more often than not. Create a new goal for 2009: 80 percent client retention. See how easily you can form long-term relationships with your clients.