This was one of the questions tackled during our ‘Funding for Christian Charities & Churches’ Conference, held at Central Hall, Westminster in November 2017.
Stewardship’s Chair, philanthropist and entrepreneur Ram Gidoomal CBE, delivered an excellent response to this challenge during his keynote address, during which he impressed upon the room the critical importance of nurturing authentic relationships when seeking funds from those blessed with the ability and means to make significant financial gifts to causes in which they believe.
Ram’s personal generosity has extended to making available online, for the first time, his very practical notes and advice on building relationships garnered from his many decades of experience in the commercial sector.
Building Client Relationships With Confidence
SOME PRACTICAL GUIDELINES
As with any type of business encounter, social meetings in the business context have an underlying structure which, if appreciated and understood can prove profitable in terms of building contacts, furthering on-going client relationships and introducing new business. These notes are based on my experience as a networker over a number of years.
Preparation is essential - wherever possible, research the people you will be meeting (Debrett’s, Who’s Who) - this will enable you to find common ground, talking points and help you establish the purpose of the meeting from your point of view.
If attending larger meetings, wherever possible, request a guest list and decide who you will make every effort to meet and what the purpose of each encounter is to be.
Remember that every chance meeting may be your only opportunity to turn a contact into a business relationship. Consider what would motivate the contact to want to talk with you, what he or she could gain, or even potentially lose by not talking with you.
3. Effective listening
Verbal signals, tone of voice and body language all help in communication.
Listen as the contact speaks and if appropriate acknowledge your understanding of what the person has expressed. Look interested, be interested, and sound interested! The contact may not be able to “hear” your thoughts, but they will hear the interest in your voice and respond to you.
Listen carefully to the tone of others speaking, it can give important clues and you can respond more accurately if you can detect hidden meanings in their tone of voice.
Put all other distractions out of your mind. Concentrate only on what is being said, also mentally not key phrases or key points.
Do not interrupt - let the contact talk and invite responses by asking questions, questioning to clarify what you have already heard is an acceptable interruption! It will get additional information and will help to focus or guide the conversation.
An occasional “yes I see” , “uh huh” or “okay” will encourage the contact to keep talking and show that you are listening. But beware, too many interruptions may be intrusive and give the wrong impression.
Confirmation of important details is also a good listening skill. This can be done by repeating information back to the contact to confirm the information’s accuracy. Remember that loud background noise (e.g. near speakers) can hinder listening and therefore proper understanding. Be bold and suggest moving to a place in the room where it is easier to listen and talk if that is an option.
Find out information through asking questions. This may seem obvious, but there are different types of questioning techniques that help to obtain information.
Open questions begin with WHO, WHAT WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW. These questions are used to open people up as they cannot be responded to with a “yes” or “no” reply. Information has to be given.
Closed questions begin with DO, DID, CAN, ARE, IS HAVE, WERE. These questions are useful for controlling and directing the conversations because they confirm or establish fact, often with a “yes” or “no” reply. They can keep a waffler under control, but if badly used, can turn a conversation into a interrogation.
The Request or Command is, strictly speaking, not a question, but they do “ask” for a response.
Asking questions in an assumptive or leading manner can help you to lead or guide the conversation as they suggest the answer in the question itself. If the assumption is correct, the listener fails to take the lead, they will normally say so and then supply an answer of their own. These questions need to be used with care as they can sound condescending or elicit the response of “why are you bothering to ask when you seem to know all the answers already?”
5. Ending the encounter
There are at least two clear options at the end of the encounter.
a) You may wish to develop this contact. In this case exchange cards, diary dates if appropriate, and agree how the meeting will be followed up (with a phone call, letter, fax or e-mail). Get the name of secretary/PA if you can. If they do not have a card, insist on writing down details. Unless they seem reluctant, in which case have something up your sleeve that would make it difficult to resist giving you their address. (Invitations to events that you have discovered may be of interest to them, a book?, be creative!).
b) You may not wish to develop this contact. Always leave the door open for a possible future encounter. The contact may be of no immediate value but may be just the person for a future situation. As a minimum exchange cards.
c) Follow up letters or emails are always good practice.