Every professional needs strong business relationships to be successful. These relationships include interactions and connections you build with colleagues, peers, and other stakeholders.
These connections are some of your most valuable assets in both the short and long term, so it is well worth nurturing and strengthening these relationships.
With skill, practice, and commitment—and a few of the following tips—you can look forward to curating a network of business relationships that is mutually beneficial and supportive of your achievements.
What is a Business Relationship?
Business relationships can come in many forms, but ultimately they are about advancing your goals, particularly within an organization.
Pamela Rucker, instructor of Harvard’s Professional Development Program Strengthening Business Relationships: Creating Strategic Alliances and Building Trust, says that the way leaders perform their work changes as they advance in their career.
Leaders typically start off using their skills and intellect to manage their work based on their expertise. As they move up the ladder, their work becomes more complex; leaders may need insight, information, or input from others, or they may need to improve their team management skills.
This is where business relationships are helpful. Having a trusted network with which to share ideas and ask questions can help develop leadership abilities for better outcomes.
Different Types of Business Relationships
Depending on your industry, you are likely to encounter multiple types of business relationships.
According to Rucker, four of the most common types are your team and stakeholders, your ecosystem, your industry, and your clients. Each of these relationships play a unique role in serving the work that you do.
Team and Stakeholder Relationships
You work with these individuals every day to execute the strategic work of the organization. Since you work with your team and stakeholders most closely, focusing on building your success together should be a priority. Strong communication, clear expectations, and effective collaboration are all ways to harness that collective power together.
You partner with these players to deliver on your promise to the customer. This can include developers, operating support, and suppliers. Though you may not work with each member of your ecosystem daily, maintaining strong connections is essential to stay aligned and produce effective results.
It is essential to stay informed about your industry. Being an active leader means staying up-to-date on the movers and shakers, upcoming innovations, and important news. Rucker calls this process “developing competitive intelligence.”
Knowing what’s happening in your industry can help you learn about society at large. This can also help you pace yourself in your own business and adjust the effectiveness of your products or services.
Maintaining relationships with your clients can help you understand their needs and develop offerings to meet them. Ways to build client relationships include seeking meaningful feedback, delivering on time, meeting—or exceeding!—expectations, and following up.
Benefits of Strong Business Relationships
As a leader, strong business relationships are essential to your success. There are many benefits of prioritizing these relationships, from increased job opportunities and client referrals, to expanding your network and learning from others.
Rucker believes that the benefits of building these partnerships can include:
- Understanding others better and tapping into their capabilities
- Gaining insight and information to leverage a potential promotion or better pay
- Knowing how to focus your priorities based on others’ feedback
- Seeking missing links that may help your success
- Improving on challenging interactions and situations to keep innovation flowing
- Creating a higher level of presence, highlighting your leadership skills to others
“It’s essential for organizations to establish strategic business relationships because no company will be able to get all their customer’s needs met alone in this era,” Rucker says. “As a company, you need partners to help you have elasticity in your capabilities and be able to respond to a fast-moving marketplace.”
Tips for Building Strong Business Relationships
It can be difficult to know where to start when building business relationships. Below are some suggestions for maintaining and improving your existing relationships, as well as seeking out new ones.
Offer a Valuable Good or Service
Make sure there is something you can bring to the table with a valuable product or service. Building and forming relationships can come more naturally if what you offer is helpful, educational, supportive, or unique. Some examples are consulting services, useful software or web programs, ghostwriting, and selling products such as handmade crafts.
Maintain Important Contacts
Networking is necessary to build a robust community of support throughout your professional career, so keep in touch with your industry and business connections. Check in on LinkedIn or other professional social media platforms, hand out your business cards at networking events, and be a friendly face in whatever industry space you are in.
Once you have established that you are reliable, your reputation will speak for itself. Not only are your existing connections more likely to stay in your network if you are trustworthy, but you will also attract new business relationships looking for dependable partnerships.
Building trust is all about taking action and following through on your promises. Show your worth as a business connection by fulfilling your commitments. Validating your trustworthiness leads to stronger business relationships.
Ask For Constructive Feedback
Asking for constructive feedback is one of the best ways to show you are listening to others and are actively seeking to improve. Seeking feedback helps to acknowledge expectations and learn from potential mistakes. It also creates trust and opportunities for both parties to strengthen the relationship.
Utilize Social Media
In today’s digital-forward landscape, taking advantage of all the benefits social media offers is vital to your professional growth. Social media can help you stay in contact with your business relationships and gain new ones. LinkedIn is a useful resource, from joining industry-focused groups to making new connections with like-minded peers.
Be a Resource
Strong business relationships are about being mutually beneficial to one another. Make yourself invaluable by offering assistance, advice, and support to your connections. This creates authenticity and shows that you are invested in the success of others.
How Harvard Can Help You Learn More About Building Business Relationships
Strengthening Business Relationships is about helping leaders understand what to do, what to say, and how to act when working with others. The short professional development course helps leaders explore their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to building strong connections. It also provides guidance on how to get involved in more meaningful ways.
The program helps participants understand how to develop these essential relationships for greater success both now and moving forward into the future.
“Many of the leaders have told me that they have used the tools [from this program] to map out their relationships at work, and they’ve gone on to get connected to the people that matter the most to their future,” Rucher says. “Many of them have also said it has helped them change the way they show up in meetings, changed who they spend their time with, and changed their informal interactions with others.”