By Heidi Wilcox
In any business there are critical roles both in front of, and behind the scenes. My role with Excelerate America falls into that latter camp, as I work daily with our local and strategic partners.
Our strategic partnerships are vital to our ongoing success and ensure that all of our brand and messaging are getting to the right audiences. This can be challenging at times because not only do I need to be sure I am keeping relationships strong with our current partners, I also need to bring on new partners on a consistent basis. For me to be successful I focus on building strategic relationships. Using what I've learned over the years, I am going to discuss how you too can build those relationships, how to better utilize them, and how to maintain them should one of your main contacts leave.
How to build strategic relationships
First of all, you should focus on building relationships with people who appreciate the service you're giving them. For me, this first step involves helping them or providing them with something extra. Usually I can hear it in their voice if they are stoked or appreciative that I have helped them in a way where others have lacked. This bonus doesn't have to be something over-the-top or expensive or even a tangible thing. Usually, it's as easy as following up more often to see if they have any questions or need anything else. One way to do this more effectively is to block out an hour or two every other Friday to pick up the phone and call your customers/network just to say hi. Ask how everything is going and share that you are just checking in. While these calls maybe take five minutes, they are priceless in building trust and stronger relationships.
While I encourage you to do this yourself, you can also invite other members of your team to participate in this step. At Excelerate America, our team jumps on board to call certain partners every other Friday which really helps me deliver on the commitment I make them when they join our program. The key here though is to make sure you pass your teammates a set list of questions to ask on your behalf. That way, you can collect the information you need and complete the follow up.
How to use your strategic relationships
Another valuable tip is to use your strategic relationships to request introductions to other partners you're prospecting in their area or in their network. This gives you a trusted source that you can depend on to provide a warm introduction. It also makes setting up calls with these prospects easier and a whole lot faster. In my experience, the group I've built a relationship with has a list of contacts they think would be interested in what we are providing as well. Don't be afraid to ask for these contacts' info! And also make sure it's ok to use your source's name when reaching out. This will make your job a whole lot easier.
How to maintain relationships if a key contact leaves
Usually when one of my key contacts departs, they'll let me know ahead of time and advise me of the new point person. If you aren't immediately given this info, make sure you ask for it and then set up call with that new person, so you can start building the relationship. The new contact will typically have a whole new view on what they want from you; it's up to you to learn what their interests are and what is important to them. Unfortunately, they may not help you in the same way your prior contact did. Nonetheless, it is crucial to build and earn their trust. You want your new contact to feel comfortable with you so if someone reaches out they'll be able to speak highly about your service.
In closing, I want to really stress that sometimes you get a fast break where a contact starts referring you right away, but in most cases it takes months of being consistent and working with people before you can feel comfortable asking for referrals. While it takes a lot of work to get to that point, it is totally worth it.
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