You’re good at linking up with people and developing relationships. However, you’ve still not cracked how to translate these friendly relationships into work-winning relationships. This was the context to a question I was asked recently – and am often asked. This was how I answered the question.

Are you senior enough to get instructed?

Having a network is often seen as the only way to win work in a professional practice. So much so that this often gets translated as “create the right network around you and the work will follow”. But what happens if you are too junior for the “right” network to want to spend time building a relationship with you? Let’s say you qualified about 2 years ago in a mid tier, Big 4 or large law firm. Are introducers going to recommend you personally to large clients? Absolutely not. They are looking for a credible expert, not a junior fee earner. Bank panels will often only appoint a partner to a job. The word “partner” on your business card can really matter when it comes to the larger clients and type work.

So how do you solve this problem? The first thing is to take the pressure off yourself to win work. Look to build a network of professionals who are one step ahead of you,  so when they progress to the next stage they pull you along with them. Remember to stay in touch with the other professional advisors you work with on your client work. You never know when they may recommend your services or your firm’s services.
Another way to get contact time with senior decision makers when you are still a junior fee earner is to join clubs or societies where these people will be a member. Of course, there is always the ubiquitous golf club, but there is the Rotary club, Lions club, local drama society, mini-football league and so on. When you have a hobby in common, often the difference in seniority may not seem to matter and you will be given referrals for your firm from your “outside” interests.

Look at your own limiting beliefs

I recently ran a one-day business development workshop for middle-seniority consultants. What was fascinating was the extent to which they worried about stepping on the account manager or assignment manager’s toes by having a commercial conversation with the client. As I explained to these consultants, the client account manager was crying out for them to spot opportunities and have the conversation when they were on site with a client. What they needed to do was find out the parameters and expectations that their client account manager had for them when it came to business development conversations at the client’s site.
This was a classic example of a self-limiting belief stopping you from generating work from the relationships you are making. There will be other self-limiting beliefs that may stop you from turning your relationships into work-winning relationships. For example, perhaps you are worried about talking about work in case you come over as pushy or offend the other person. How likely is this if you do it in the right way?

Where are they in their buying journey?

We are often conditioned to think that if we have the conversation, it will automatically lead to work. In fact, firms often perpetuate this myth by not showing exactly how long their fee earners took to win a new client. Very often the years of relationship and profile building are not openly credited when a new client is won. The stark reality is that a client is often not ready to buy. The bigger and riskier the piece of work the longer the sales process to win the work. And that’s even if the client is ready to get into a sales conversation! When you know where they are in their buying journey – and it can often take years for a prospect to be ready to buy – it becomes easy to be helpful to them. Then when they are ready to buy they will get in contact.
I was recently speaking with a client about a conference they are planning. The client was very open with me that he was still very much in thinking mode about the conference. He wasn’t yet ready to take any buying decisions. He was still looking at options and how they would work. He was at the stage we call “defining outcome”, where they know the outcome they require but don’t yet know how they want to achieve it. The conversation went well, so I now have a commitment to speak again when my client has a better idea of what they want to achieve with the conference. I suspect I will now be part of the day as a result of being helpful, however, there are no guarantees!

Are you talking to the decision makers or gatekeepers to decision makers?

You may have the best network in the world with the closest and strongest relationships, but if the people in your network are not in a position to buy or refer you to people who will buy, then the relationships are never, in the short or medium term, going to turn into work-winning relationships. One of the best ways to make sure you are always talking to the right person is to do a network map. This network map is a key foundation for your networking plan. (Click here to download a networking plan template and guide on how to set up your plan.)

Are you taking an interest in their business and what they are doing work-wise?

When I was running the business development workshop for consultants, they stated that they formed good relationships with the client on the project, but this became more like a friend relationship than a work-winning relationship. I asked them whether they had wider conversations with their client’s about their business and their business challenges, and I was met with an illuminating stony silence.
I often say to people that if you want something different to happen, change the conversations you have with people. This is so true for when you want your relationships to move beyond friendships into work-winning relationships. Here are some great open-ended questions to help have a different conversation with your network:
  • What’s the biggest thing you are working on right now?’
  • How’s business/work at the moment?’
  • What’s the biggest challenge you are working on right now?’
These simple open-ended questions may just give you the permission to have a wider conversation about their business requirements.

Are you consistently staying in touch?

I get it, you are a busy person. You have high chargeable time targets and demanding clients. Often staying in touch with your network is very low on your priority list. This may be the REAL reason why your network of warm contacts isn’t delivering. Fail to stay in touch consistently and you just won’t have the top-of-the-mind visibility which will get you the referral. Part of your weekly routine needs to be 1-2 hours dedicated to keeping in touch with the important people in your network.

Do they receive valuable content from you?

How well are you educating your network about what you do? Now I don’t mean self-serving content where you add them to your firm’s newsletter, I mean how often are they getting personalised but valuable content from you? Content which is genuinely helpful to them – not self-serving for you – which highlights your credibility or your firm’s credibility. A well-timed email with valuable content may just strike lucky and help your contact to realise that you are more useful than just a drinking companion.

In summary:

To build a network of work-winning relationships, take the time to create a network of current or future decision makers, or people who will be or are connected to decision makers. Then make sure you do talk about work-related matters. The more interested and curious you are about their business the greater the likelihood that these conversations may progress to paid work.