By Mike Antonczyk and Matt Hirschland Ph.D., H2A Partners
We are revisiting and re-upping a piece we did in the early days of the pandemic where we asked the question: Do you have the right relationships with the executives you seek to serve? The question was simple enough and during a period where the world quickly shut down, many were unable to answer “yes” in the manner they would have liked. What ensued was a mad scramble to cultivate these connections in the midst of a crisis. Luckily for many, the pandemic and economic changes during and following saw the vast majority of professional service firms as busy as they ever wanted to be.
Not surprisingly, we are now hearing of slowing deal pace, longer decision cycles, and in some cases freezes on new contracts. So, we ask the question again: Do you have the relationships with clients and potential clients that you’d like and that will serve you and them in the months ahead?
The good news is that whatever your answer to the question above, it is not too late to begin building. Investments in client relationships pay dividends in good times and bad, whatever you believe the future may hold. Moreover, even with the much-reported ‘Zoom-fatigue’, executives remain keen to gather with peers and experts who can help them navigate uncertainty and complexity.
Wherever you may be on the client development curve, the playbook for what great looks like remains the same:
- Play to your strengths. For starters, get laser-focused on exactly which organizations and which specific executives you can serve immediately.
- Set the commercial aside (for now). Much like we saw during the heat of the COVID crisis, the companies and brands that were seen as helping first and building business second were the real winners. Engaging business leaders in the spirit of helping and learning is the winning hand.
- Put client agendas, needs, and pain points first. There is no doubt you and your firm likely have much to say and offer about the macro-economic, supply chain, energy, and other challenges of this moment. You may be swimming in new “thought leadership” perfect for this moment, or you may have none. Either way, simply ask the executives you wish to gather what they would like to discuss and you have all the direction you need to build meaningful interactions.
- Gather in-person again but keep virtual/hybrid options available. Our work shows that the appetite to gather in-person has been very high among senior executives and professional firm leaders alike. Given reductions in travel budgets, consider skipping hosting the big national/global conference and instead deploy small, multi-local gatherings in major city centers while connecting the broader group virtually.
- Don’t dawdle. Do not let perfect be the enemy of the good. Big production value or the perfect POV are simply not necessary. The right people engaging on topics they care about is the recipe for success. As the saying goes – if you begin by proving, you will never actually begin.
Finally, remember this simple truth: People prefer and choose to work with those they know and with whom they have a relationship. We continue to see this every day with our clients and those that are most likely to win work whether it is bid competitively or not. If you’re one call away from multiple c-suite “deciders” in the middle of an RFP or similar, our money is always on those who know.