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Business Development: Strategies to Inspire Trust and Confidence in Key Relationships

February 22, 2023

Stephanie Friese’s article, “Business Development: Strategies to Inspire Trust and Confidence in Key Relationships,” in the Daily Report

Daily Report

Reprinted with permission from the February 22, 2023, edition of Daily Report © 2023 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or reprints@alm.com.

Business Development: Strategies to Inspire Trust and Confidence in Key Relationships

By Stephanie Friese

Those of us who started the year afresh with a new business development plan may be getting into the swing of things with breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings. We have determined the best contacts who have the highest probability of sending us clients, researched target clients, made our lists, and have a plan for effective introductory meetings and follow ups. We have hopefully made a few calls and set up a few meetings.

People refer business to those they like and trust, and both are equally important. Someone may believe we are the best at what we do, but if they don’t really like us, they are not going to refer business to us. Similarly, someone may think we are exceptionally kind, funny, and compassionate, but may not be assured we can accomplish a client’s goal, in which case they will be hesitant to refer business to us. So, how do we begin to inspire trust and confidence in the first meeting?

Before the meeting, spend some time practicing a few short stories to demonstrate your expertise. Ideally, the stories can be told as an answer to the question “what is going on with you?” or “what have you been up to?” since these questions are likely to be asked and make for an easy segue. Stories may be about a case you recently won, a deal you recently closed, or a client relationship that went well. Include numbers that demonstrate the importance of the case, and if you have permission to do so, use specific and respected client names, which demonstrate you are trustworthy with significant matters. Consider having a different story for different types of gatekeepers. For example, if I am talking with a business owner who rents commercial space, I may want to tell a story about how we helped a tenant resolve a dispute with a landlord; whereas if I am talking with a landlord or property manager, I may want to tell a story about a tenant who was difficult to evict, or talk about a recent acquisition of a retail center. 

Set a positive mood. When asked how you are doing, try to say something more than “I am doing well”. Rather, share the reason you are having a great day, such as, I am in a great mood because we just got a jury verdict in a high profile case on which I worked many hours.” This is a way to highlight a particular interest, demonstrate your excitement about what you do, and also puts the other person at ease since it provides a spring board for follow up questions and conversation. Unless you already have a friendship with the person you are meeting, it’s likely not the best time to complain about why you may have woken up on the wrong side of the bed.

Be personal enough to establish rapport, but don’t do all the talking. My deepest friendships are with people who ask the best questions. Share enough personal information to show you are authentic, but move quickly to asking questions about the other person. It’s better if we can get others talking, so ask more about the other person than we talk about ourselves. One of the best ways to make a personal connection is to be genuinely interested in what someone else is saying, so personal topics are best when they reveal shared values and interests. Watch for enthusiasm and return it in kind.

However, don’t wait too long to get down to business.  It’s easy to spend the hour talking about children, pets, or sports, but this is not why either party is at the table, and it’s important to maintain enough focus to steer the conversation towards business so you can accomplish your goals. One way to begin the transition from personal to professional is to ask more about the other person’s sphere of influence. Where does his or her spouse work? On which non-profit boards do they serve? What are their community interests? What professional organizations do they support?  And don’t be shy about asking for names and introductions to enhance your list of key contacts. This is a great way to grow a network.

Another easy way to transition from personal to business topics is to seek information about the other person’s professional obstacles, challenges, and goals. Listen to the answers with the objective of figuring out what problems you can help solve.  People remember others who help them and will look for ways to return the favor, so this is a great way to establish rapport.  Consider asking about challenges faced in a particular industry and move on to how that industry challenge is affecting a person’s role at work. This is also a great way to learn more about a potential client’s business or industry. Similarly, try to figure out what motivates a person. One of my largest clients I developed because the person who worked in the corporate real estate department was passionate about helping women succeed.

Ask directly how you can help. Most business development techniques with which I feel comfortable are not “hard sell” tactics, but I feel strongly about asking this direct question as part of most any introductory meeting. At some point during the second half of the meeting, perhaps after a conversation lull, ask a direct question such as “how can I help you with your goals” or “what types of people are helpful for you to meet?” Not only will this help you figure out how you can contribute to the relationship, but this will likely lead to the other person asking you the same question. As the meeting begins to wrap up, ask your contact for introductions to other gatekeepers whose clients you might be able to help. This is a great way to grow your network.

And of course, follow up on those introductions that you promised to make and those which the other person suggested for you, and continue to look for resources you can offer that might be of interest to the other person. These are great excuses for future connection which further develop a relationship of trust, respect, and confidence.

One final tip to remember, always keep an open mind. Sometimes we get the most help when we least expect it.  There are times we are on the accepting end of an invite and may not have an agenda for the meeting. Don’t hesitate to make the most of it by sharing your own professional challenges and being clear about your objectives. I have unexpectedly uncovered many resources this way, and never cease to be amazed at how much we can learn from each other in ways we didn’t expect. 

Stephanie Friese is co-managing shareholder in the Atlanta office and chair of the Real Estate Practice Group of Chamberlain Hrdlicka. She can be contacted at (404) 665-1220 or Stephanie.Friese@chamberlainlaw.com.