How to build relationships

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At a recent presentation to a leading business school we were asked how to build relationships in a relationship-based market. Intercultural experts frequently distinguish international markets by the terms task-based (business first, relationship maybe later) and relationship-based (relationship building first, business later). Business prospects in a  relationship-based market want to get to know you before they do business with you. As one of our Korean alumni put it, ‘Get the relationship right and the business will follow as day follows night.’

So how do you do it? Here are five strategies.

RECOGNISE IT TAKES TIME.

Recognise that it will take several meetings and maybe visits to build a relationship, (to the chagrin of your Finance Director!). The payoff is that once achieved it will be long term.  Be prepared to think long term.

LISTEN ACTIVELY.

Learn to shut up and listen to your interlocutor. Note their interests and their concerns and reciprocate where you can.

FAMILIES MATTER.

Exchange information about families, often an indication of reliability (you have something to protect), and non-business life activities. Try to find and build common areas of interest. Be sensitive to cultural embargoes in some societies (e.g. religion or politics). Our Business Culture Market Briefings can help you here.

HOSPITALITY MATTERS.

Get to know your future business partner through hospitality. In your market you pay. In theirs they pay. Don’t ‘go Dutch’, reciprocate. Drinks, coffee and meals shared together outside the office help cement relationships.

REMEMBER THE LITTLE THINGS. KEEP IN TOUCH.

Check your prospect on social media. Email or text congratulations, best wishes and commiserations on events in their world. ‘Likes’ on Facebook helps keep personal relationships alive. Carefully chosen gifts show interest and thoughtfulness, Facebook and LinkedIn messaging show concern and commitment. Gift giving, personal not just corporate, is often important in relationship-based markets.

THE KEY

Never forget! Build the relationship and the business follows.

Barry Tomalin, Cross Cultural Lead, Fortis CL

Author: ‘World Business Cultures – a Handbook’