Ten practical tips to profitable business relationships

Bioteams.com has previously published a number of articles on Social Networking which have addressed the Analysis perspective. I am delighted to round out the coverage of this crucial area with an excellent guest article by business networking guru Tony Altham which offers ten practical tips for creating, building and sustaining profitable business relationships.

Tony Altham

Tip 1. Working a room

There are some simple rules to make this easy and fun. Firstly - forget working and picture mingling.

Remember people stand in open or closed groups.

Open means they are standing slightly alongside each other leaving a space for someone else to join them and closed means they are standing directly opposite and facing each other.

Open means they are happy for others to join them and leave a space for that to happen.

Closed means they are facing each other directly and are in a deep and important conversation so 'please don't interrupt us' is the message they give out.

Circulate and spot the open groups and the lone rangers and as you approach, make eye contact, smile and say the magic words 'Hi - may I join you?' or 'Hello, my name is (say your name, first name only is informal and full name and company name is formal), may I join you?'

Invariably people smile back and say 'yes of course' and welcome you into their group and conversation. Experienced networkers will notice you on your own and will invite you to join them as well.

If you are in a group and spot someone on their own, invite them to join you and welcome them as if you are their host.

Tip 2. Mingling successfully / Mingling with intent

Mingling is moving around the room as if you are at a party. No pressure, just fun. At a party we circulate and introduce people and this is really all we do at networking events.

You can choose to be a guest or a host. Guests tend to be more reserved whereas Hosts have the freedom to mix and circulate and easily connect people. As you introduce people to each other you become the catalyst and connector and they will thank you for doing it and of course remember you.

You can think of this as being like a matchmaker putting people together that you feel will like each other and be good company for each other but when networking, you are the matchmaker putting contacts together who can help each other.

Tip 3. Listen, HEAR & Respond

Remember the art of great conversation is flowing two way dialogue and for the other person to really enjoy the conversation and know you are genuinely interested in them, they need to speak as much, if not more than you do.

It is a fact that you learn far more when you listen than when you speak so as well as listening, ensure you really HEAR what they are saying and demonstrate this in the way you respond.

The difference between listening and hearing is this. We demonstrate that we have listened by repeating back to the person we are talking to a summary of the things they have said to us during our conversation, as part of our conversation. When we have HEARD what they have said we are responsive with potential opportunities and contacts that we know of and we ask questions like 'So am I right in thinking that someone like James at ABC Company would be a great contact for you?'

If you have listened then they may well have said that they were looking for a contact in ABC Company. When you have HEARD them then you recognise the opportunities and make the connections without any need for them to mention a specific company or contact that they are looking for.

When you truly hear what they are saying you become valuable to them and they likewise become valuable to you because you understand how they can help people in your network - both existing and future contacts.


Being memorable is great but being rememberable is fantastic.


Because being memorable means that we can remain in someone's memory long after they meet you but you may not readily come to mind as the first person they think of when opportunities occur.

Being REMEMBERABLE however means they think of you first and think of you ahead of your competitors in their contacts network when opportunities to introduce you come up.

In business we need to remember people we meet and of course, we want them to remember us as well. Rememberability is our ability to ensure this happens. It's our ability to help people remember us long after our first meeting. It's what makes them think of us first and come to us first, every time they come into contact with an opportunity that they know we can help with.

Decide how you want to be remembered and give the people you meet a key to remember you by. I recently met a guy while on holiday and he introduced himself as "Hi, I'm Chris - Chris Pric,e but my friends call me ASDA." As we chatted about what we both do in our respected businesses, I learned that Chris is an independent mortgage broker. Just think how well and how easily I now remember 'ASDA Price the Mortgage Specialist' and although I know and work with several independent mortgage specialists and financial advisers, when someone mentions mortgages to me now, I remember Chris first because he guaranteed his rememberability with me..

Tip 5. Playing Connections

Play connections every time you meet someone new. Think of at least three people you know that you can connect them to among the people you know and you will remember them because you have immediately placed them into your own network.

Playing connections well is critical because this is your key mental logging and filing system. Having a terrific contact management system back at your office is extremely important in managing relationships but having your mental filing system properly indexed and organised is critical for when you are out of your office and meeting new people.

Connections is how you build your networking framework and position all the people you know so you can recall them with ease every time you need and want to do so in the future.

Connections means you can recall those key contacts immediately when you are in conversation with someone new and effectively pass the details there and then while the opportunity to do so is at its peak.

Tip 6. Ask Great Questions

Great questions are the ones that encourage great responses in terms of being more than yes and no answers. The who, what, why, where, how and when questions are those that allow the other person to talk more expansively and the more they talk the better the conversation they feel they are having with you. Ask great open questions and encourage and motivate the other person to talk freely. Be attentive as they respond.

Keeping in mind that very often when meeting new people at business networking meetings, we only have a brief opportunity to talk, it is important to discover great information as quickly and easily as possible.

With this in mind, some very useful questions to ask include:

What three things are you and your company best at?

What is the key difference between you and your competitors?

Why do your customers choose you instead of your competitors?

Who are great people and great potential new customers for you to meet and why?

I meet a lot of people in my business - how can I spot those who will provide great opportunities for you?

What is the best way for me introduce you when I come across an opportunity that I believe will good for you?

Tip 7. Great Conversation

The simple rule is that you should talk less and listen more. As you keep the conversation flowing and keep it light and easy you will notice how the other person will relax and be more open with you. Coincidentally, you learn more when the other person is talking and they feel they are having a great conversation because you are interested and paying attention to what they say.

Natural conversation means you will typically touch on topics beyond just work and this is all part of the opening up and self disclosure element of rapport building. For instance you may naturally discuss interests, family, travel and any number of other things. A key skill is being able to respond to the prompts others introduce without being intrusive about areas the other person might feel reluctant to share.

Also, never dominate a conversation with long monologues about all the great things you have done and do. You should say enough to keep a conversation flowing and get the other people talking again. Avoid interrupting and never cut across someone else while they are speaking. Also be conscious of the dangers of one-upmanship. This is a tendency some people have to always go one better than the people they are talking to (in their eyes at least) build their personal credibility and status.

So if for instance, if you are talking to Jenny and she says that she has recently been to Paris on holiday, rather than diving in with all the places you've been to in Paris and the fantastic places where you stayed, you might instead say that you've been there and loved the experience, then ask Jenny 'what did you like best about your trip? What were your most memorable experiences? Where would you recommend visiting if I or some friends and family were to go there?

In most cases where people go for the 'one better' response to build their personal credibility and status, the opposite effect is achieved and the other person sees you as arrogant. However, when you take the enquiring approach you are viewed as interested and engaging and someone they will feel they have had a great conversation with.

Tip 8. How can I help you?

One of the greatest questions to ask in a business and any networking context is very simply 'how can I help you?' or 'how can I help you best?' so listen, HEAR, learn and understand what the other person does and find out who would be great people for them to meet. At this point you can easily ask 'how can I help you?' or 'how can I help you best?'

When you ask someone how you can help them, they will invariable open up and tell you and you instantly get positioned in their mind as a valuable contact who they will want to keep in touch with.

Tip 9. Easy and Effective Introductions

When you first make eye contact with someone an excellent and instant technique for making the initial contact and to acknowledge that you have seen them is to do a very quick 'eyebrow flash'. This is simply raising your eyebrows as you smile. They invariably will then reciprocate and the contact is made.

The easiest and the most effective way to effect an introduction and start a conversation is simply to smile and say 'hi' or 'hello' combined with 'do you mind if I join you?' or 'may I join you?. The ice is broken and you can move on with the conversation.

From here, keep the dialogue light and find common ground like the event, their reason for attending, who do they know, what are they looking to gain from the event and the speakers, what is of most interest to them and so on and then you can move onto what do you do? Naturally, if time is tight you can short circuit this.

When someone asks, 'how are you?' remember your response is your choice. 'Not too bad' is probably the most common reply, however 'I'm great thanks, how are you' conveys far more energy, enthusiasm and good feeling with it, for you and for them.

Tip 10. How do you do that then?

When someone asks you what you do, create interest and intrigue by telling them the benefits of your product or service rather than what your job is. Your goal is to have them think 'that's interesting' and ask you 'how do you do that then?' and then for you to explain how you do what you do and why it is important for your clients and how they specifically benefit. The key is conveying what they are left with as a result of working with you.

Think and convey how you add value and the actual value you add.

For instance, an Accountant might say 'I'm an Accountant' however we all know (or at least think we know) what Accountants do. An effective alternative approach to prompt the 'how do you do that then?' question could be 'I help people keep more of the money they earn' or 'I help people to pay less tax' or 'I help business owners to increase their profits'.

As you think about the benefits you bring you will recognise the opportunities for you to do the same.

Remember people are generally most interested in the result than the process. In other words, they want to know about and will connect with what they are left with when you have done what you, do far more so than with the way you do what you do. Tell them the results first - the benefits.

Once someone has asked you 'How do you do that then?' that is your opportunity to elaborate with more information and respond with, (fill in the blanks)

"Well, I do ..........., which means that ............ and that is great because ........... The people who find my services / products most valuable are ............ because ..............."

Remember that Networking is easy and fun when you relax and allow yourself to enjoy the opportunity to simply meet and talk with people and you have the aim and view to create mutually helpful collaborative business relationships in preference to simply selling your own products and services. Strong personal relationships are a fantastic way to grow your business opportunities while leveraging your own time and resources by enlisting the help of and in turn by helping other people.

Copyright Tony Altham 03/2011

About The Author

Tony Altham has a wealth of experience in the networking field and shares that experience through a wide variety of events to suit every industry sector, interest and budget. Tony's keynote speeches give delegates a toolkit of skills that will enable them to move forward confidently in both their business and personal lives, aware of the impact they are having on the people they meet, and able to turn that impact to their advantage. Tony can be contacted at www.tonyaltham.com

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