By Steve Whitehorn
For our third post this month, we welcome Steve Whitehorn, managing principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., which provides architects and engineers with strategies to maximize profitability, while reducing risk and improving cash flow. Steve is a relationship expert whose firm created The A/E Empowerment Program® and is the author of the upcoming book, Empowerment by Design.
The A/E/C industry is a relationship business. Many architects have built their entire careers on strategic relationships. In fact, a recent study by the Society for Marketing Professional Services showed that regardless of the economic climate, firms had a 70% greater chance of getting a job if they had established a solid relationship with the decision maker at least seven months prior to the RFP.
Unfortunately, most architects and engineers didn’t learn how to build relationships in school. Don’t worry – great relationships aren’t born, they are bred. You can learn how to cultivate strong relationships that can help you win the projects you want.
Here are five tips to get you started:
1. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
For me, leadership expert John C. Maxwell’s words sum up the process of building relationships. Don’t worry about trying to impress a new contact with your skills or your portfolio when you first meet. Instead, show them how much you care about him, his business, and his interests.
2. Know your target.
New York Times best-selling business author and acclaimed CEO Harvey Mackay built his $100 million envelope business around this concept. His tool, the Mackay 66, is a simple list of background information about his customers. Keeping a file on each client allowed his sales team to personalize their pitches, which drastically improved success rates. Take the same approach with your business relationships. Do your best to gather pertinent information and write it down. If you can remember some of these details in your communication, it will show how much you value the contact and the relationship.
3. Relationships are not a noun – Relationships are a verb!
In order to be of value to you, a relationship must be active, not dormant. Commit yourself to taking meaningful actions to sustain and develop your relationships on a regular basis, such as reaching out by e-mail, meeting for coffee or drinks, or sending a gift you know they’ll appreciate. Little gestures and personalized touches go a long way toward strengthening the relationship.
4. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Oscar Wilde said it best. Authenticity is crucial when you’re networking, because people can sense when you’re not being yourself, and they’ll react poorly to it. Be confident and aware of your specific skill set when you make new connections.
5. It’s a process.
Even if you follow the steps outlined above, don’t expect to build a relationship overnight. And be careful not to focus all of your efforts on one relationship above others, no matter how valuable it is to you. Your goal is to cultivate a wide network of relationships, so that you never feel dependent on just one.
There are lots of firms out there that do what you do. How do you get ahead? Develop effective, meaningful relationships with decision makers. These relationships will give you a strategic edge over your competitors.