It's official: We survived 2009. But you're probably not spinning around in your office chair, throwing confetti in the air to celebrate. That's because though you may have survived, 2009 was an especially difficult year for business. And one major business casualty in the last year was customer-business trust. Damaged by the Madoffs, AIGs, and GMs of the world and forced by a down economy and growing unemployment to pinch every penny, many customers are simply finding it difficult to hand their trust over to those with whom they do business.
That said, the new year offers an opportunity for a fresh start. And while cutting prices or updating your marketing plan might help get the job done, Maribeth Kuzmeski says that 2010 is the year of the connector. And in the year of the connector, the connections you make and the relationships you build will be the true game changers.
"After all the debacles of 2009, people want to know who they are doing business with," explains Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, September 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8, $22.95). "Relationships are more important than ever, particularly when it comes to doing business. And thanks to social media, mobile technology, and the ever-expanding Internet, it's easier than ever to connect with others.
"But while everyone else is devoting their attention to the social media craze, it's time for you to slow down and consider what really brings success. Is it tweeting 100 times per day or having 500 businesspeople in your LinkedIn network? Possibly, but it really depends on whether you are truly connecting with those folks. Those who are able to master impactful connections with others will be the ones to triumph in 2010."
Kuzmeski says that it's the little things that count when it comes to making quality, lasting connections. If we simply pay closer attention to the emails, phone calls, and online interactions that make up our days, we can in turn create solid relationships with colleagues and clients alike.
Read on for her tips on how you can make more meaningful connections in the coming months:
Improve your social networking skills. In today's business world, social networking can't be ignored. We promote products on Facebook, network through LinkedIn, and get our news updates via tweets on Twitter. And while social networking is a great way to connect, it can be easy to forget that what you are aiming for are meaningful connections. And making meaningful connections via social media can sometimes take a little extra work and a different approach. Kuzmeski says that using a few simple rules of thumb can help make your social networking more efficient.
"Just like your real-life relationships, you should be picky about who you make connections with online," she asserts. "Choose to connect with people who have similar interests or who are working in your particular field. And when someone you know, want to know, or need to know connects with you online, you should always reciprocate.
"It shows that you are interested and available, and that you are paying attention to them. And don't let your online connections get lost out in cyberspace. Just because they are online doesn't mean they can't turn into quality connections. Find ways that you can connect through other avenues like conferences, retreats, or occasional in-office visits."
Remember: It's quality, not quantity. While the connections you make through social media are important – especially when you can transform those connections into relationships – you have to be careful not to get caught up in a more, more, more mentality, where you are constantly striving to get more friends on Facebook or to tweet more often during your day.
Kuzmeski says that you can actually be more successful if you use the time you spend going to the extreme in the social media arena to instead revamp the connections you already have by making them more meaningful and personal. Focus on making your connections more impactful, and you'll have a better shot at creating lasting relationships that you can count on for the long term, rather than wasting your time and resources casting a wide net just so you can make as many connections as possible.
"Given today's technology, it's certainly possible for us to connect with hundreds and even thousands of people at a time," explains Kuzmeski. "And while it certainly is fun to see how many friends you can get on Facebook or followers on Twitter, it shouldn't be your main focus. Instead, concentrate your efforts on turning your connections into more personal relationships: Your goal should be to make connections that you actually see outside of your computer screen. And since sales conversions are more likely face-to-face, consider hosting an event for your followers.
"Twitter users call this a 'tweetup.' According to a definition by PCMag.com, a tweetup is a gathering of users brought together via Twitter. For example, at conferences, Twitter is used by attendees to arrange to meet after the show for discussion, cocktails, and parties.
"This year, make a concerted effort to focus on the quality of your business relationships," she continues. "And don't press yourself to make so many social networking connections that you end up in a situation where you can't keep up with and strengthen them or where you are neglecting those with whom you already have quality relationships."
Be a voicemail non-conformist. If you've worked in business for any amount of time, then you've probably played a game of phone tag or two (or twenty!). When we attempt to connect with people over the phone, we're usually faced with having to leave a voicemail. But just because you're connecting with a voice mailbox doesn't mean your connection can't also be meaningful. Kuzmeski says that learning how to make the most of those voicemail messages can also help boost your connections.
"Treat your voicemail messages just like you would an actual conversation," says Kuzmeski. "Keep them short and sweet and stay on point. Practice your message before calling to make sure it is compelling! Say something unexpected that may get the listener's attention. And have lots of energy and enthusiasm when you call. In fact, you might even want to try smiling while you are speaking – it will come through in your tone of voice. Be sure to give the recipient of the message your reason for calling and a reason why they should call you back. And always, always clearly state your contact information. And then clearly state it again! There's no easier way to break a connection than failing to give others a way to connect back to you."
Build your own "Harvard Network. "People who have gone to Ivy League schools like Harvard typically look out for one another. They connect with each other, hire each other, and refer potential clients to one another. The same can be said for many of the most high-status schools in the nation. It may even be true that these alumni networks are more valuable and important to the success of graduates than the education they received. So what do you do if you didn't go to a prestigious school? The principles are the same for any network of people.
"Those with similar interests, backgrounds, commonality, and relationships will look out for each other, work with each other, and help each other," explains Kuzmeski. "It is human nature. So, if you don't already have a network, find one! Join a community group, alumni group, or industry group and get involved. Create advocates and make yourself a known entity in the group through your activism."
Create your powerful connections list. In order to form new and more powerful relationships, it's a good idea to first begin by determining who are, and who can potentially become, your most powerful connections. Ask yourself: Who do I need to be able to connect with to build my business successes?
"Create a list of at least 20 potentially powerful connections," Kuzmeski suggests. "Now you know who to reach out to. It isn't 1,000 people. It is a manageable 20 who will in turn connect you to others. But who wants to connect with you? Lots of people do; it simply takes finding out what's in it for them."
Leverage your connections. Effectively leverage your business network by creating a large enough network, regularly staying in touch with them, and helping them get to know you, what you do in your business, and the kinds of people you work with. But most of all, concentrate on getting to know them and developing a relationship focused on them.
"Thankfully, for salespeople everywhere, strategies for leveraging themselves exist!" Kuzmeski asserts. "It takes a plan, but leveraging current relationships can be the miracle answer to the typical grind of prospecting. Advocates, centers of influence, and your customers will give you referrals and introductions that are critical to expanding your reach and incremental sales growth."
True connections happen eye to eye .Just because there are a lot of new and improved ways to connect with people, it doesn't mean we should rule out good old-fashioned face-to-face contact. Sure, social networking is great, and when used the right way, it can be a great tool for you and your business. However, if you want to really connect with people, it is important to make it a priority to schedule face time.
Sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with someone you would like to strengthen your relationship with. Think about those on your powerful connections list, people you truly care about – the ones who will mean the most to you in the year ahead – and then make it a point to see each one of them in person at some point in the next few months.
"Of course you're busy," says Kuzmeski. "We all are. But you can't let that be your excuse for not making the time to connect with people in person. You have to make the time. Whether it means clearing out a couple of weeks out of the year to devote to traveling to see clients, or even breaking early from a conference to catch up with an important colleague, you should make it a priority. You need to establish a solid in-person relationship with people in order to gain their trust. And once you've done that, you can use all the other tools as a way to continue your relationship throughout the rest of your busy year!"
Make amends when you mis-connect. It's bound to happen at some point: You send an email about a client (intended for one of your employees!) to the client. Or you tweet something that at the time seemed funny and edgy, but instead offended a few of your followers. Or you forget to follow up on a referral you've received because they got lost in your email inbox for three months. What do you do? Mark these connections down as technology casualties and move on?
Kuzmeski says that option is a big mistake. She says that whenever you've made a mistake – online or otherwise – you should take immediate action to rectify the situation. Take down the offending tweet, send out an online apology, and certainly pick up the phone to apologize personally.
"The online world has provided us with increased opportunity," she says, "but that also means an increased opportunity for making mistakes. If you've offended someone, whether it be an employee, colleague, or a client (especially a client!), it's important for you to react quickly to make amends. Simply recognizing you were wrong and offering an apology will go a long way in helping you re-establish any trust that you've lost."
"No matter what method you choose to use to make connections this year, the important thing is that you keep connecting," Kuzmeski concludes. "Making impactful connections brings sales, leadership power, and personal success. And it is the best way to build a business effectively, efficiently, profitably, and quickly. Remember, improving your connecting skills costs nearly nothing, but pays off in many ways. It separates you from the rest of the pack, and is a surefire way for you to take your business to the next level in 2010!"
About the author:
Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. Maribeth has personally consulted with some of the world's most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and professionals. An internationally recognized speaker, she shares the tactics that businesspeople use today to create more sustainable business relationships, sales, and marketing successes.
Maribeth is the author of four books, including The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life. She has frequently appeared on TV and radio, and has written articles on marketing strategies for hundreds of publications including BusinessWeek and Entrepreneur. She regularly speaks to audiences on topics relating to business development, marketing, and sales strategies.
Maribeth graduated with a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and has an MBA from George Washington University. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two teenagers.
About the book:
The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, September 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8, $22.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797.