Relationships are the lifeblood of the consulting industry. Our success in building these relationships with colleagues and clients has as much to do with our overall success in the industry as the business expertise we bring to the table. On-site presence, which was once a given, is no longer a requirement at many firms on long-term, mature projects. The technology available today allows us to work remotely on many engagements, helping our clients shave costs. I believe that as technology continues to mature and cost pressures grow this will only increase.
In discussing this topic with colleagues, I began to wonder how we can successfully build and maintain strong relationships in this new paradigm. As I thought about this, I reflected on my career and the impact business relationships have had on my career trajectory. I can trace my entire career in this industry back to the relationships I built with my business partners at New York clearing agents when I was working in the cage for a small broker dealer in Little Rock, Arkansas. Those relationships were built without ever laying eyes on the people that eventually welcomed me to New York and helped me get a job when I decided to relocate. I can say with near 100 percent certainty that without these relationships, I would not be where I am today.
In today’s world of text, email, and social media, relationships are difficult to build because you do not need to interact with people face-to-face on a regular basis. To that point, I believe there are many people that use technology to avoid personal engagement. To build relationships you need focused and substantive interaction. This occurs naturally when you are on site at a client, but is more difficult when you are not able to walk to someone’s desk and strike up a conversation.
What is the key difference in today’s world vs that of 30 years ago? The telephone (I mean the one that is attached to a cable, not the one you carry in your pocket). While many of us still use the telephone for work, few of us will consistently use the phone to build and nurture relationships. In most cases, we are on a conference call (rarely actually paying full attention to the discussion) and occasionally having a one-on-one conversation with a business partner.
When I am faced with the need to build and maintain relationships remotely, there are a few things I do to take advantage of the telephone and ensure success:
Make sure I schedule regular touchpoints with clients.
Personalize discussions (but do not overdo it) to build a connection beyond the tasks at hand.
Pick up the phone and call someone on an ad hoc basis to engage in a casual conversation.
Nothing will ever replace face-to-face interactions as the most effective way to build and maintain relationships, but we cannot forget the power of the voice, even via the phone, as a way to ensure you are a successful relationship builder.