A Formula for Strategic Relationships

Trust is the foundation of successful business (and personal) relationships. When trust is present, information flows more readily, people are more receptive to new ideas and everyone receives more honest feedback.

While trust is an emotional response, there are formulae to create and maintain trust. I like the one offered by Charles H. Green, co-author of “The Trusted Adviser.”

(Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/Self-orientation

Credibility: We build credibility with our credentials, professional experience, presence, business judgement and financial acumen. We also demonstrate credibility by answering questions directly and succinctly offering our opinions and insights.

Reliability: We build reliability when people know they can count on us to make and keep commitments, respond promptly and show consistency in our actions and attitudes.

Intimacy: The authors use this term to mean connectedness, empathy and discretion. Intimacy engenders relationships where people share what is most important to them. Candor with respect grows intimacy.

Self-orientation: Being in the denominator, self-orientation works in reverse. To build trust, people need to believe that you are motivated by the best interests of the organization and people. That means being unselfish. It also means being calm, not preoccupied or self-secure. These qualities help you be perceived as objective, without a personal agenda.

Trust is, however, a binary dynamic. The first is trustworthiness, the one being trusted. The other dynamic is the person doing the trusting and taking the risks. It may be obvious that others take risk in trusting us. It may be less obvious that we have to show that we trust them as well.

What are the dynamics of your strategic relationships?

Make Relationship Marketing Work for You


© Atee83 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Relationship marketing is a strategic process to develop and grow relationships with people both inside and outside of your circle of influence–customers, prospects, community leaders, elected officials—anyone you value getting to know on a deeper level, and anyone who may become a friend and ally.

Our clients understand the value of relationship marketing, and they turn to us to support their effort. Some already have full plates and are unable to add this into their workload. Others are not comfortable or do not know where to begin to reach out to prospects without a specific ask in mind.

The Bottom Line approach

At Bottom Line, we use a proven process to make relationship marketing work on behalf of our clients. We start by leveraging our own contacts, and we look for and identify other contacts who might benefit from a mutual discussion.

The key to a successful connection is to identify a benefit to the person you want to meet with. What’s in it for them?  For most of our relationship marketing meetings, we let contacts know there is no agenda and no sales pitch. There is a desire to meet, learn from one another and possibly, depending on the client’s strategy, talk about a specific idea. We are clear, however, that the meeting is not a sales meeting. It’s about relationship development. 

For example, one of our clients has an objective to meet with business and elected officials in the community they serve. We start by identifying the business leaders and elected officials at the local and state level. We invite those leaders to take a tour of our client’s headquarters and spend a little time with the leadership team. The benefit to the prospect is to meet with the company’s executives, gain deeper understanding of the company’s commitment to the community, as well as get an inside look at our client’s facility, something they wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to do.

After the initial meeting, we encourage our clients to send a personalized thank you note and to do any follow up. We look for other opportunities for the client to get back in touch with someone they’ve previously met with. This could be something as simple as forwarding an article the prospect might be interested in. That is made even better if it relates to something that was discussed during the initial meeting.

Bottom Line uses a customer relationship marketing software program to track meetings and follow ups on behalf of our clients. We also generate status reports and contact lists to share with our clients.

Our relationship marketing approach has been successful in strengthening our clients’ reputations in their communities as experts in their fields, reliable partners, and good corporate citizens.

Tips for success

We touched on these tips in a previous blog post, but they’re worth repeating when building and maintaining a relationship:

  • Be persistent, but not pesky when scheduling a meeting. Most of us have few openings in our calendars and emails get lost in an inbox that is already full. Stay in touch. Chances are, the other person let it slip and appreciates the follow up.
  • Respect others’ time. If you set an appointment for a follow-up meeting, be specific on the start and end time, and adhere to it.
  • Know what you’re going to say. It’s best to listen and learn rather than have a specific ask in mind. Get to know the person before you jump in with a request.
  • Follow up. A handwritten thank you note is always appreciated.
  • Stay in touch periodically. Send an article of interest, a note of congratulations, the latest news release or newsletter about something happening in your company. Always include a personal note and the reason for sending. Periodically, extend an invitation to get together again.
  • Be patient. Solid relationships take time to grow.

Give us a call if you would like help expanding your circle of influence. We’d be delighted to help develop a customized plan for you personally or for your business.

Digital vs. Face-to-face Networking

The digital business world certainly has its benefits. It’s quick, convenient and highly accessible. It’s where trends are happening. Online networking is one of those trends. While it’s not trendy, face-to-face networking is here to stay. The key then is to integrate online and offline. This can translate into a more strategic approach and help you make the most of the time you dedicate to real world networking.

We are humans. We are hard-wired as social beings. The trust and momentum behind a strong business relationship, just like any relationship, springs from a real, physical presence — and that’s something not even the most dynamic online conversation can provide. Online networking tools are an excellent way to organize and augment your face-to-face networking.

So what are the benefits of networking in person?

  • Recognition. Face-to-face networking creates a memorable, personal impressions (hopefully positive) that you can follow-up on later. It puts a face with the name. Your network can see the real actions and values you embody, more than the professional content you share online.
  • Resources. By taking a genuine interest in others, you position yourself as a valuable resource to help someone get their job done, solve their problem or connect with someone else who can help
  • Inspiration. People tend to say different things in person than they do online. We talk differently than we write. In dialogue, we unearth background information that’s important to making smart business decisions, such as whom to work with on a new project, or how to better understand your competitors
  • Problem Solving. According to a survey of 850 business leaders by the Economist Intelligence Unit, more efficient problem-solving is the number one motivation for face-to-face interaction. Personal discussion can lead to faster, more productive solutions.

The future of great networking likely involves the perfect mix of face-to-face and digital, where each makes the other stronger, and none are dismissed as irrelevant and outdated. It’s like everything else in life — balance is key.

How have your business and networking efforts evolved over the last few years. Are you just using the Internet, or are you more in the world of face-to-face? What’s bringing you the most results? And what do you do to strike a balance?

How to Make Friends and Influence Public Policy

Relationships are the heartbeat of influence. Want to get your neighbors to agree to trim or take down a diseased tree that threatens to topple into your yard? Barbecue with them first. Want to encourage a family member toward healthier eating? Stop lecturing, start listening and work together to make dietary and exercise changes. Want to effect a change to public policy? Engage with the right people, educate them and build a connection over time.

Many businesses work through industry or professional associations and networks to influence public policy. That’s great. Those kinds of affiliations are essential for navigating complex policy matters, as well as creating the critical mass often needed for effective advocacy.

When a business or nonprofit organization has a personal relationship with a policymaker, however, they have a valuable asset unto themselves – and they also become an asset for the public official.

Several of our healthcare clients have cultivated relationships with state and federal policymakers who represent the communities they all serve. Through periodic coffee meetings with C-suite leaders, personal notes from the CEO and attendance at events by a variety of leaders representing key areas of the organization, our clients have planted and watered the seeds of relationship.

It’s been personally and professionally rewarding. Not only do these leaders enjoy their encounters, they gain deeper insight and can offer their own perspective on issues. They have opportunity to educate as well, often providing new information that better positions a policymaker to advance a more helpful or advantageous idea.

Further, as a result of these relationships, policymakers have reached out to our clients for support. They have a friend who can speak into legislation as it is developed, and support it at key junctures along the way – like including providing testimony and endorsement letters.

For the most authentic, savvy and strategic organizations, making friends and influencing public policy go hand in hand – and can result in positive, effective change. It’s the best of both worlds.  

Integrating Relationship Marketing with Media Relations

At Bottom Line, we recognize how media relations and relationship marketing perform better when integrated with one another. By simultaneously organizing meetings with key stakeholders and potential partners, and pitching a company’s unique stories to media, we double the touch-points for earned impressions and relationship engagement. This process increases brand awareness, enhances our clients’ visibility and supports strategic business objectives.

MR + RM infographic V2


Building Relationships

Relationships, both personal and business, don’t just happen. Like your backyard vegetable garden, they grow over time with some nurturing and attention.

Like a garden, many relationships start with planning. Especially in business, where strategic relationships may have significant impact, think of planning a relationship just like you plan your garden, pouring over seed catalogs in the dead of winter, deciding what to plant. Say that you’ve just returned to the office from a trade group luncheon. You’ve talked to a few people and exchanged business cards prior to sitting down for lunch.

Back at your desk, you’re reflecting on the new people you talked with. One might be a helpful connection with an internship for your college-aged son. Another works for a company whose services are something you could use. Yet another lives in your community and you both share the same like for a particular restaurant. Before you get busy for the afternoon, do something with those business cards other than stashing them in your desk drawer–make a plan to cultivate those relationships.

The first step is as simple as sending a quick email. “Hi Jon, great to meet you today at the MMAC luncheon. I was intrigued by the graphic design services your company provides. Would love to talk further over a cup of coffee. Let me know when you’re free.”

The seed has sprouted. You have coffee and learn more about each other and discuss how you can partner together on future projects. A few weeks later, you come across an article about something you shared in your coffee meeting. Cut it from the magazine and send it to your contact with a handwritten note. This is the fertilizer that keeps your plant growing strong. When an RFP lands in your inbox, you think of your contact and again reach out. Your contact used to work for the company that’s looking for the services your company provides. He puts in a good word for your organization. Your garden is ready to harvest and your relationship has grown. 

A few things to note when cultivating a relationship:

  • Be persistent, but not pesky. We have few blank spaces on our calendars and emails get lost in a full inbox. Stay in touch. Chances are, the other person let it slip and appreciates the follow up.
  • Respect others’ time. If you set an appointment for a follow up meeting, be specific on the start and end time and adhere to it.
  • Know what you’re going to say. It’s best to listen and learn rather than have a specific ask in mind. Get to know the person before you jump in with a request.
  • Follow up. A handwritten thank you note is always appreciated.
  • Stay in touch periodically. Send an article of interest, a note of congratulations, the latest news release or newsletter about something happening in your company. Always include a personal note and the reason for sending. You might extend an invitation to get together again.
  • Be patient. Like a rose or tomato, relationships need time to grow.

Finding (and Knowing) Your Audience

No matter what strategy or tactic you’re pursuing in PR, it’s essential to first know your audience. The best collateral materials or social campaign in the world won’t be effective unless you’re able to get it front of your audience, with messages relevant to them.

When planning, ask yourself questions like:

  • Who do we need to reach with this and why?
  • What action do we want them to take?
  • Where does this audience currently get their information? What channels do they already frequent? A busy executive, for example, likely isn’t engaging in the same way or in the same places as moms or college students.
  • What does this audience want most? What could make our message cool and relevant to them?
  • What other likes or interests does this audience have that could relate to our message and boost attention?
  • Gather data on what’s worked or hasn’t worked for this same audience in the past.

This can be trickier than it seems. Popular e-commerce sites like Amazon and Netflix do a great job of understanding their audiences’ tastes via gargantuan amounts of data. They recommend additional products accordingly, but there’s a line between pure audience data and turning it into actionable intelligence. Netflix got a lesson in that recently with its Marco Polo launch. Though the show seemingly hit on all the audience hot buttons, according to data—action, romance, exotic settings, etc.—it by-and-large failed to bring those together in a way that appealed.

Smart PR pros recognize that to “know” an audience is to go beyond simple numbers or demographics.

You also want to make sure your messaging and tactics match your audience. We worked for a client who had developed wonderful messaging for referring providers…only to realize their target audience should actually be patient families, who desired a very different set of messages.

Knowing your audience not only requires up front research and thoughtful planning, but also a commitment to remain connected to and invested in that audience so you’re able to track with changing wants and demands. While challenging, it’s one of the most important aspects of PR, and once you truly connect with an audience, their loyalty makes all the difference.

Relationship Marketing 101

It all starts with trust.

Building a relationship marketing program begins with two lists: a list of people you know and a list of people with whom you want to get to know to establish and maintain a mutual relationship. Relationships are built on identifying needs and fulfilling them. It takes ongoing listening and communication skills, and trust, to turn the relationship into a long-lasting partnership.

As a practice, relationship marketing differs from other forms of marketing in that it recognizes the long-term value of relationships and extends communication beyond sales messages. It’s most often focused on building allies, getting to know key influencers and decision-makers, and educating about your organization, service or product. When you engage with prospects without an “ask” in mind, they’re more likely to remember you when they’re ready to take action—make a purchase, develop a partnership or write a check.

The key to success is to be sure you’re targeting the right people, otherwise you’re wasting your efforts and marketing dollars. A good place to start is with the contacts you already have. As you meet with prospects and influencers, your targets will begin to define themselves, and you can build out your list based on those referrals.

In relationship marketing, customer information and a history of contacts are maintained in a relationship management database, and a point person is assigned to update and maintain the relationship contacts. The idea is to stay organized, track meeting results and identify trends.

And don’t forget to send a hand-written thank-you note!

We’ve developed the following process and use it to explain what relationship marketing is and to keep our clients on track.

RM tool

Make Relationship Marketing Work for You

Facing increased competition? Public policy issues causing you angst? Planning to expand your business? Need to make friends in all the right places? Building allies is an essential strategy for many businesses, and relationship marketing can be the way to do it. It’s an effective approach for developing long-term relationships with key stakeholders who can affect your reputation and your bottom line.

Think relationally
Most businesses think about customer or stakeholder relationships as transactional – an exchange of something for something else. These “exchange” relationships are the essence of most marketing relationships. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – but it doesn’t always get the job done. Sometimes, the quality of the relationship alone contains more power to help you, and help someone else. A “shared” relationship, when one party gives something and expects nothing in return, is the best way to learn, understand, educate and advance.

Set a goal
First, set a clearly defined goal. What do you want to accomplish? You may want to uncover new business opportunities, better understand customers or prospects, educate and engage stakeholders, garner support for a new initiative, gather market intelligence, influence public policy or avert a potential crisis.

Who are you going to meet with?
Clearly define the stakeholder group you want to target. If your goal involves public policy or government, you’ll want to build relationships with public officials. If you’re introducing a new initiative, you may want to meet with CEOs. If you’re experiencing increased competition, consider meeting personally with key customers. If you’re thinking about expanding your facility, getting to know your neighbors is critical.

Be ready to tell your story
What do you want these key stakeholders to understand about your business? What story can you tell to help them make sense of your mission? What materials can you share to help educate them? What can you show them to engage them? What questions can you ask that will help you learn about their needs and concerns? Going into each meeting with a clear message and story will help ensure you’re tracking toward your goal. And anything you share – data, results, video, testimonials and more – will help each contact get a better picture of your business and the issue at hand.

A few other tips
You’re more likely to experience success if you research each contact prior to the meeting, listen well, honor the time frame, follow up with a thank you note and keep track of results. Staying organized and committed are keys to relationship marketing.

Remember, the relationship is shared
Just like all enduring relationships, the relationships you cultivate with key stakeholders take time and investment. If the process is working, there will be additional touches, further conversations, new opportunities and possible learning and change on your part. But that’s what you want. Shared expertise and knowledge leads to increased understanding for both parties, which opens the door for helpful, strategic action. Now that’s worth it. For both of you.