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Networking is an important part of building successful long-term client relationships

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Linda DrisdelleBy Linda Drisdelle, Pinchin Ltd.

Growing businesses rely heavily on some staff developing great relationships with a strong client base. These relationships drive business and, often through word of mouth, extend businesses into new markets. Networks take years to nurture and as careers evolve, and over time, companies can find themselves having great relationships with powerful decision makers. These now very senior managers and executives work together on projects that bring benefit to both parties.

Those new to the workforce will come to observe these relationships regardless of where and what industry they are in. These relationships are most notable at the very top of the organization, at levels that have taken incumbents’ careers decades to reach. Understanding that these relationships started at points of time when these senior managers and executives were much earlier in their careers is needed in order to foster the skills required to replace them in succession planning.

The importance of these relationships, along with an understanding of their origins, is of interest to most organizations who take succession planning seriously. Succession planning for management, leadership and technical skills is fairly straightforward, particularly for organizations with supportive human resources teams. Relationship succession planning, on the other hand, is often problematic. This is in part because its importance is generally overlooked.

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Also overlooked, is that the long-standing senior relationships currently in place are likely not suited for succession planning. These relationships have evolved over time and inevitably acquire a personal tone, making it unsuitable for a hand off to a successor. What is needed are new relationships among new successors. Companies need to identify those with the skills and interest in this area and support the evolution of the next generation of senior relationships.

Staff showing interest and talent for relationship management are great candidates for consideration and could one day be managers at very senior levels. It takes a keen manager to be on the lookout for these skills that need to be developed through exposure to business problems and strategies. Companies prepared to provide coaching to those with talent will be well positioned for relationship succession planning.

The industrial, commercial and manufacturing sectors have a lot to gain by networking and relationship building at the mid-levels of their organizations. In particular, smaller companies lack the depth of professional skills to solve all of the problems they encounter.

My staff’s main point of contact is with operational and plant people with many problems to deal with and talk about. As consultants, my staff are expected to know how to help, and their clients are thankful to have someone knowledgeable in the areas where they lack expertise. Noticing these business opportunities is good practice for staff and young professionals to develop their emerging business development skills.

If staff cannot provide the solutions themselves, they have their own emerging networks of other professionals who can be called upon to provide the relief their clients need. It is great for clients to interact with consultants who can help them navigate a path towards a solution, without the need for hiring their own staff with high levels of expertise.

Fixing problems together sets the foundation for a strong business relationship that one day will join two companies at very senior levels. Not only does this experience afford opportunities for further business and cross-selling other services, but it expands networks for long-term business growth. My young staff know they always have a budget to take clients for lunch and have the freedom to be creative with developing budding personal relationships.

Senior managers or executives do not see anywhere near the number of operational problems as mid-level staff. If they do, they are not familiar enough with the details that are often required to generate the insights for truly high value suggestions or solutions. Besides, younger staff are better dialed into the latest technologies that give the best solutions anyway.

Modern day business is about solving modern day problems. Technology has shaken things up out there and younger staff know how to fix these problems best. More senior staff are too busy liaising with VPs and C-Suite people to ever be as good or as efficient at solving these operational problems their young staff are so good at. Different types of problems foster differing types of relationships among the varying ranks of the organization, and all are equally important for business growth and succession.

Everyone should notice the relationships young staff develop with clients and encourage them to invest time and resources when it makes sense, even at a personal level. Give them support by offering a budget for client lunches, and, if needed, offer to go with them for their first “business development” lunch.

Linda Drisdelle, P.Eng., M.Eng., MBA, FEC, is with Pinchin Ltd. This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s February 2018 issue.

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