One of the many perks of the business relationships game is the occasional fine meal, a beverage after hours, and (if you are lucky) an occasional ball game. Sharing these experiences genuinely helps build relationships. Getting out of the office and talking about things other than work helps humanize and builds trust.
Now, with work-from-home the norm the most effective tools for relationship building may or may not be available; so what do you do? Focus on the tools that you have and how you can use them most effectively. Not very long ago, video conferencing was widely available but seldom leveraged. Overnight, it became the required tool for human communication and will continue to play a major role in any business relationship-management function.
In our book “A Dragon Walks Into a Meeting” we talk about the importance of building trust (Job #1!). One of the key ways to build trust is to put people at ease. This principle applies regardless of the medium but might be more critical with video conferencing. As you consider how to put someone at ease, think about the things that put you at ease. For me, there are three key drivers; preparation, inquisitiveness, and a frictionless experience.
Preparation matters – even if it is a 30 minute get-to-know-you call. Be prepared with conversation starters. Know that your client will be moving from one meeting to the next with more intermittent distractions. Your client will appreciate your preparation because they will avoid being on the hook to ‘host’. Depending on the exact purpose of the call start with something benign – but with some level of insight. Avoid dead end questions like “how was your weekend” as that usually results in “good”. Instead, start with something slightly more open ended but allows for deeper probing. For example:
- Where’s your office? What’s your office routine now?
- How long have you been with the company/industry?
- What were your kids/family/pets up to this weekend?
- What’s going on with [their favorite hobby]?
The first example alone leads to multiple interesting follow ups: So where are you from? Where were you before [city]? And which you do like better? Inquisitiveness is one of the best traits of an excellent client manager.
Even with monosyllabic responses you can keep the conversation going. Eventually, you will hit on something that lights a spark. A word of warning: this can get annoying if not authentic. Make sure you have a transition strategy that can bring it back to business if needed. Having a fallback open-ended question that is more business-related is a strong save. Perhaps: why they are interested in X product, or what does your strategy look like in regards to x? What is your biggest project right now?
The good news is the preparation and inquisitiveness are the hard part. Ensuring a frictionless experience is the easiest but equally important. As my client runs from meeting to meeting, the last thing I want her to worry about is which technology she needs to fire up for her next video conference. The solution: ask her what technology her organization uses and schedule accordingly. If your client is familiar with one technology, they may not be able to seamlessly transition between Zoom, Webex and Google Meet. Consider also that some companies restrict which platforms can access their network. When you choose your technology over theirs, are you creating a distraction?
Minimize or remove the friction, be prepared and be inquisitive. Following this recipe will create a comfortable environment so you get on the road to building trust and great relationships.
A Dragon Walks Into a Meeting is our guide to the best tactics for a professional account manager. Pick up a copy today to learn the tactics that make new account managers into seasoned professionals.