One of my favourite networking videos is from the stereotypical Goldman Sachs suit: Jim Donovan.
He matches the cliché so perfectly, with its impeccable suit, tie and hair, it’s almost funny.
This detail aside, and no matter your opinion on Big Banking, his 7 “pieces of advice” on client relationship management are solid gold. Not just for investment bankers, but for any salesperson or founder working with the clients and partners over the long-term can take learn from it.
Feel free to check out the video, we summed up our interpretation of it below.
Networking is a Learned Skill
Some people are natural networkers: They prepare, follow up, check in, keep in touch. Not being part of this category is not a valid excuse: Networking is a learned skill, and anyone can learn it if they're willing to put in the effort.
If you don't have a system in place to manage your professional network, you're playing the game in hard mode. Consider trying Poked, the #1 network manager for professionals.
Become a Strategic Advisor
To build strong and lasting business relationships, you need to grow beyond your function. Instead of "the salesman at ACME corporation," you want to be known as "Jim" or "Jane" to your clients.
Winning a client’s trust is an invaluable advantage over your competition, as it will allow you to short-circuit competition, make repeat sales, and upsell your clients.
How does this happen in real life?
Do a remarkably great job. That’s easier said than done, but an absolute pre-requisite to what’s next. During that job, ask question, learn about the business, be curious. Being curious and proactive already puts you in the Top 5% of professionals.
- Come up with ideas. Use what you’re learning to give advices in matters bordering the current job. Don’t make them all about you, offer even advices that are not in your interest in the short-term (see #5).
Follow up after the initial job is done. Memory fades, and a client you’re on good terms might forget most of it after a few months. Set reminders, reach out, keep working on their case even after the fact.
Let’s see a concrete example: Imagine you are a freelance SEO writer tasked to write an article:
- First, write a great article! If you miss this step, you're simply out.
- When giving the article back, mention that you have a few article ideas that could complement very well this one. Also they are great targeted traffic opportunities (you've checked).
- After a while, show them how blog articles are nice, but you've found a solid programmatic SEO opportunity that you'd like to share with them. “What's programmatic SEO?” might they ask: You’re not a freelance writer anymore, you’ve became a strategic advisor.
The more roles you can stack up during your time in close with your client, the easier it becomes for them to call you by your first name rather than your roles.
Ask Open-Ended Questions and Listen
To implement advice #2, you need information about your client. You must therefore talk to your client. Ask open-ended questions, dig further, explore each topic, actively listen, and take notes to remember. All the information you gather is beneficial to you and to your client:
You can give better advice. By obtaining a holistic view of your client's needs, you are in a better position to provide them with valuable advice.
You face less competition. If a topic has been raised and you provide a solution, a client who trusts you will not waste resources looking for another company to do the job.
People will appreciate you for it. People love to talk about themselves, and they appreciate it when someone listens.
If I may add to this advice, I’d emphasize the taking notes part: It's always surprising how little we remember when we don't take notes. Check out these note-taking tips to improve your note-taking skills.
Some people just love bursting your bubble and explain why something can not be done. Don’t be that guy. When customer comes with a bad idea, make sure to check these boxes before saying no:
- Is it an actually bad idea? Or is it just challenging your own habits?
- Can you come up with alternatives?
- Can you at least try, give a chance to the customer’s idea?
If you take the time to temper an impulsive “no” by asking yourself the above questions, your increase the chances for your client to feel heard, and leave the “Doctor No” role to someone else.
Put the client first
Putting the client first means placing their needs above your own. When you are able to provide advice that is 100% in their interest, even if it goes against your own, you will build a tremendous amount of credibility with that person.
In the short term, you may lose a sale. However, by establishing credibility, you will be recommended by your client to others in the long term. This can lead to future business opportunities that are actually beneficial to the client, and they will trust you even more.
Networking and high-level sales rewards are achieved over the long term.
When dealing with large accounts and amounts, clients expect a high level of availability. This includes promptly answering phone calls and messages, delivering on time without excuses, and going the extra mile. If you're not willing to do so, a competitor will.
Mr. Donovan highlights the importance of availability in his own experience at Goldman Sachs. During his first 10 years there, he told clients that he would always check his phone and respond, unless he was dead or asleep.
However, being available does not necessarily mean responding within 10 seconds. Instead, it means prioritizing your most important clients and responding as quickly as possible. Even if you don't have an immediate solution, satisfying the customer's need to be heard and reassured is an important aspect of your role.
Being positive is not only important for networking, but it also increases the likelihood that people will want to spend time with you. Complaining all day will have the opposite effect.
Good energy is contagious, but so is bad energy.
If you want to improve your networking skills, check out the blog and feel free to ask me any questions directly via LinkedIn email. And if you know of any cool resources like books, articles, or videos that can help me improve, please don't hesitate to reach out!