Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 18 2014

4 Smart Strategies For Building Relationships In The Digital Age

By Amanda Marijanovic

relationship building

New technologies continue to make our lives easier, but are they eroding our ability to form the meaningful relationships that are so crucial in our industry? On Monday, January 13, at Convening Leaders 2014, experienced pros and emerging leaders shared their unique viewpoints with much discussion around the topic.

The standing-room-only, multigenerational audience consisted of planners and suppliers of varied experience levels who had ample time to chime in with their best practices and opinions thanks to the flipped classroom model implemented for the session. Attendees were encouraged to watch a 15-minute video in advance, in lieu of a panel discussion, to set up the key concepts.

“Technology is great, but it also takes out the relationships which our industry is built on,” Art Shaw, Director of Sales, Eastern Region Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, said. “That really concerns me.”

MaryAnne Bobrow of Bobrow & Associates agreed that technology allows us to be more efficient and more effective. “But we have to be the master of that technology versus it being the ruler of us,” she warned. “Human relationship is that ‘X factor’ that bonds us together so we’ll never be able to ignore the face-to-face.”

While the group didn’t come to a consensus on whether technology enhances or harms how we build relationships, they crowdsourced some smart strategies you can put in place to develop deeper connections with your prospects, customers and partners:

1. Be authentic and direct.

We’ve all heard these words championed before. However, in our overly connected daily routine where we’re quick to respond to the constant flurry of communications via phone, email, text and social media, it’s often helpful to be reminded of the importance of being transparent and authentic in our approach. This is especially true when you’re prospecting, according to planners in the audience.

If you use a community like LinkedIn to expand your business connections…

  • “Reference the business needs you can address with your services right up front when requesting a connection,” Molly Witges, Senior Manager, Conference Services, American Dental Association, suggested. If you know that person doesn’t have a need for your offering now, clearly state you’d like to be connected with them in case they have a need in the future. “Creating a context for your relationship is much more powerful than just having the connection.”
  • Put the ball in their court after a prospect accepts your request versus initiating the next step. Be straightforward about what you’re asking for: Thanks so much for the connection. When the time is right, may I speak with you about your events?
  • Be honest in that first dialogue about how you found out about them if you use LinkedIn to research your prospects before reaching out via email. For instance, In my research on LinkedIn,

2. Don’t be your own distraction.

Be concise and thoughtful in what you write so the recipient’s attention stays focused on your intention. With busy schedules and so much business being done over email, and even text message, it’s important to get right to the point. Don’t start your message with lines like I hope this finds you well or How are you?Instead, start in a way that’s much more compelling and direct. And if you’re prospecting, don’t allow your email to sound like a form letter – speak in your own voice.

According to the New York Times, many people use seemingly benign sign offs in their emails that are considered big no-nos. Ending with the single word, Best, can be perceived as a blow-off, but Best regards or All the best are okay. Using a different language (Chao! Cheers!) is also inappropriate. Do you close with Sincerely?Experts say it’s too old school.

Similar best practices apply to your phone conversations. When you reach someone live, never ask, Is this a good time? or Do you have a few minutes?

It provides the party on the other end of the line with a polite out and most will take it.

“We’re all doing more with less which means I’m often not at my office,” Amanda Luppino-Esposito, Events Manager at the Charles Koch Institute, said. She prefers when suppliers sends her a quick email to request a few minutes over the phone later that day. “I have so many things going on at once, I need to prioritize what gets my attention over the phone and what can be handled through a quick email exchange.

3. Give a little so others can “get” you.

Seek out opportunities to share nuggets of information about yourself that allow others to connect with you around common interests or shared experiences. One audience member suggested sharing some personal details in your LinkedIn header so people can get to know you better. For instance, Im a sushi lover, basketball fan, and social media geek. Another way to manage your personal brand in this way is to outbound information by sharing your perspectives on LinkedIn and Facebook where you have business connections.

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Seems simple enough, right? Communicating digitally can create behaviors from both planners and suppliers that are not exactly conducive to relationship building. Where do you start if you’re just not sure the best way to reach out?

Don’t make assumptions in generational gaps, said several attendees. Just ask! “It starts with respect,” session moderator Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, CMP of High Impact Presentations, said. “Then simply honor the other person’s predominant style. After all, selling is just how we help others by authentically trying to make their lives easier.”

Looking for more tips on digital communication best practices? Click here to make sure you’re not making a big email mistake.

Amanda is a big picture thinker, dynamic creative leader, Emmy-nominated producer, car geek and foodie freak. She also enjoys playing tennis, reading a good book, and long days of brisk walking on the show floor. ;)

She has embraced the joys of technology despite her seasoned professionalclassification. In her role as VP, Strategic & Creative Development for Source Line Inc., a corporate communications company specializing in communication design, strategic meeting assessment, and tactical execution, she helps companies better engage, empower and activate their internal audiences through the power of face-to-face experiences, digital learning, and even an old school email campaign when relevant. She also recently earned the designation of Digital Event Strategist through the Virtual Edge Institutes (VEI) certification program.

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