Last updated on February 6th, 2023
Businesses thrive only because of loyal customers. Only a solid customer base of a business can help it grow steadily and expand its market share. But, it all starts with building a close relationship with people through a variety of channels, both online and offline. However, many business owners falter in their efforts to engage people to win their trust. Designhill conducted an AMA session with marketing strategist Kathyrn Gratton showing the professional way to build relationships that matter to businesses. Have a look!
A major factor behind many businesses, especially smaller ones that they do not have a customer base to rely on. They were unable to lay a good foundation in terms of engaging people and turning them into customers. Successful startups, small to medium businesses know how to bring people to their offerings.
So, first, business owners should chalk out a strategy of making people aware of their products or services. This they should do by formulating a plan to engage people in general on social media and other platforms. But, they must follow the basics of how to grab people’s attention and have a solid relationship with them.
To address this issue professionally, Designhill, the leading creative marketplace, conducted an AMA session on the topic – Business And People – Why Building Relationships Is Important For Sustainable Growth, on 2nd November 2020. Marketing and Industry expert Kathyrn Gratton was the guest speaker of the session.
About Kathyrn Gratton
Kathyrn Gratton has more than 16 years of experience working as a marketing and business strategist. She is the Founder & Chief Strategy Officer at Red Lips Mentor LLC. She helps brands build meaningful relationships with potential customers through a process to ensure growth.
- Different stakeholders involved in a business and their significance
- Tips & Strategies to utilize their best potential while fostering a long-lasting relationship.
- How to communicate effectively & develop great communities?
- Client Relationship Management in B2B, B2C businesses & its key aspects.
- General ethics & code of conduct to deal with collaborators, partners & employees.
- Resolving Business Conflicts & the legal know-how
In this post, we have shared the session’s video as well as the transcript in the form of Q/As where you can learn more about why building relationships is important for sustainable growth. So, while you have earned a diploma of business, you still need to learn a lot from experienced professionals like Kathyrn Gratton about how to maintain great relationships with customers.
Transcript: Here Is What Businesses Should Follow While Building Lasting Relationships With People
The ABC of Building A Relationship
Kathyrn Gratton: One of my favorite things to talk about is relationship building and how it’s important to businesses. When I’m talking with business owners and trying to explain to them the importance, I like to take and focus on the ABCs.
The first key piece when you’re building a relationship is authenticity. In your professional life, you want to be authentic when establishing a relationship with your customers or other vendors. This is similar to building relationships in your personal lives. Just in general community leaders, you have to come from a place of being real with them.
For example, I have a client I work with, and she is a true artist. She is a wonderfully creative mind. But sometimes a creative mind holds her up when she’s doing some of her marketing. So, when she’s putting stuff out on social media to promote herself, a lot of different thoughts go everywhere. Then she gets flustered and it comes across because she’ll strip it all back. It’s just very cold blood to the point. That is not the experience you get when you’re learning from her going to her classes.
So, we had to sit down and have a talk about and she just cannot feel herself when she’s doing marketing online. We had to come up with how to create an authentic voice so people could see it. And for her, that became taking away typing words and allowing video to speak.
Now, people can see that personality come through. They can see how amazing she is while walking you through creating artworks. It’s turned things around for her to show those pieces. That authenticity gave a realness that just was not there before, that she was trying to convey.
Another key thing to consider while building a relationship is balance. That’s my B in the ABCs. You need to keep a good balance within your professional life besides balancing it with your personal life. Keeping a balance is good as you can get burned out quickly. You are trying to just go out and attend networking events, or being online. At these difficult times, we all are connecting with folks on social media and checking in.
But, you can get lost in your home life. Then, you may not be connecting with the folks that you need to be a part of. Or, if you are too invested in your personal life, you are not connected enough for business. So you have to find what balances for you. That’s not an easy answer, because it’s different for each person.
The next piece of my ABCs to build relationships is consistency. Whatever you decide to set forth on creating for relationship-building processes, it has to be consistent. You may be showing up every day telling people on LinkedIn how happy you are. Or, you may be sending congratulations on anniversaries and following them, and interacting with them. Whatever you do, try to figure out how you can maintain that level of interaction. This is because they think you are a very engaging and caring person. Also, they think you are invested in them.
Then, all of a sudden you are giving mixed messages. And then that goes back to that authenticity, they’re seeing, and they’re sitting there questioning which one is the real use. So authenticity, balance, and consistency are key for growth in relationship building, and so forth for the business.
Designhill: Why should you build relationships?
If you don’t, you will lose customers
Kathyrn Gratton: Now, a lot of you may be asking, Well, why should I be doing marketing, I’ve got customers coming in the door, I’ve got sales coming in online, all that stuff. Why do I need to build these relationships? Why do I need to do these ABCs? Well, you are going to lose customers. It’s the thing that we never really talked about and it is that elephant in the room.
Reach to new emerging customers
But they say on average, about 20% of a community’s population will either move away or pass away or something. So there’s automatically a potential for you to lose 20% each year of your revenue base. You have to figure out how to reach a new 20% to maintain where you would operate.
So, how do you do that while you do the ABC? You follow people on social media and interact with people at events. You find out ways to build with other vendors. Maybe there is a complementary business that can send referrals to you. All of those pieces are important.
You need to keep in mind that you are chasing that new 20% that you need to bring in. But there is 80%, who fell in love with you that you’ve also got to keep happy. So, we work to keep them happy and maintain what we have done with them so far and established with them. It can become quite exhausting sometimes.
Free yourself for the operational side
So, the wisest investment is hiring a staff member to handle your marketing, public relations, and operational side. You can hire outside employees like working with myself or Designhill. Those can come in and do those jobs for you so that you can focus on other stuff as well. It is an uphill battle, but it is rewarding. Some of the coolest things can come out of establishing relationships with folks.
Get timely help
For example, I have established a relationship with folks that they know. And, I probably either have the answer, or I know the answer. I know the person who has the answer, and I can direct them to things. That’s been me authentically going and building relationships. I talk with folks finding out what they need, or helping them connect.
Then in return, I don’t have to ask them much to endorse my services. They do it willingly. They say to their peers, hey, have you talked to Katherine about this? She can help you. So, it’s been rewarding. Part of that came from learning how to create my balance. Then, I am also able to spend a little more time with the scale tip towards being in professional events and personal life.
This past year has allowed me to balance it a little better, with a little more home life. I am sure most of you have been able to do it because we’re on lockdown half the time. So, it has allowed me to bring those social media elements back. Now, I can connect with people without being in-person to connect. And that’s been me showing up consistently, checking in on friends asking how they’re doing.
Kathyrn Gratton: I ask business owners that I have worked with in the past if things are right. How they are doing. Even if we are not working together, we still had a relationship at some point. I am just checking in on them consistently to show that I am still here. Regardless of where things are in the world, I’m still being authentic and I still do care.
So, those three pieces just fit together well to say, I want to build relationships with folks.
Designhill: What are the key ingredients in maintaining a successful business relationship?
Be authentic in your relationship
Kathyrn Gratton: The key part is going back to what I touched on in the beginning: ABCs authenticity. Deliver on who you are portraying. If you are a caring and compassionate person, show that all the time. You should be authentic in that relationship. Find a balance to engage them in their expectations and the level that you are promising. Then, keep your consistency. It is about how you tell them as they are expecting you to show up like that.
Business relationships aren’t much different from personal relationships. When you think about it, you are still gaining trust and learning about the other person. There is that give and take that needs to take place. So those are the key pieces that you need to focus on when you’re starting to build the relationship.
But, there are turn-offs too. One of the biggest turn-offs is, for instance, when you are on LinkedIn. On this platform, you get the Accept the new request. Then, you get hit with the hey, so you want to buy my financial services. Hey, you want to take on that challenge? I accepted your request, I just met you. Why are you treating me like that by selling something aggressively?
So, your authentic person is to show up. You invest no time in such a relationship. There is no balance and will not be any consistency. When you want something you’ll tell me. But I am probably not going to get much out of this relationship. So that’s why authentic balance and consistency of those ABCs are so important for the relationships.
Designhill: How to balance between honesty and diplomacy to make any situation the best?
Bad experience with clients is common
Kathyrn Gratton: I experienced early on in my career honesty and painfully trying to figure out how to do something. I had previous bosses in jobs, but they were not the best boss. They were, by definition, a micromanager. If you looked it up in the dictionary, I thought their picture should be right beside it.
They were sitting down, deciding after the first year. They wanted to do one-on-one, interviews, and reviews with the staff. They ask us how they were doing and not just to give us a review. But we were supposed to review them. It’s how you are when you have a boss that has an ego and is a micromanager. There is no bigger fear in your soul than sitting there saying I have to tell you how you’re doing for me. But, you control my paycheck.
So, at that moment, I had to sit there and figure out a nice way to say you drive me up a wall. I can’t work under these conditions and not lose my job while doing that. So it’s hard. But in much the same way that if you have a significant other and they’re wearing an ugly outfit. You want to steer them away from it. So, you say like what about the red dress that you wear that looks amazing on you? Or, you know that blue pinstripe suit I love. You kind of just shift and steer him away.
Know how not to say it directly
It is the same in business. There may be a spot where you feel like you have to be honest. But you do not want to say it directly as it is not going to come across well. Then, try to find that steady balance of not saying directly that management sounds bad. So, let’s focus on something else. Let’s talk about positives and maybe how things are affecting you. In that way, they may become aware of the situation.
At the end of the day, unfortunately, honesty is always the best policy. It is just finding the best way to package it nicely and tactfully. That is probably what’s going to help. They will respect you more for it too, once you realize that you’re being honest with them.
Do not be blunt with everyone
But, there is no one right answer for every person. Each time, you can’t just be blunt with every single person. I have had super sensitive clients and co-workers in the past that I just say, this is a bad idea. Oh, abort this idea and that would have just sent them over the edge. So, it is all right to take baby steps, walking through the process little by little.
But could we do these tweaks or is there a good foundation to this? Let us just think it through a little further, maybe in some more detail. It is about finding those fine lines and how they like to communicate and interact with you. Then, you will not be blunt with a sensitive person.
Designhill: What is the role of empathy in leadership?
Get input from the team
Kathyrn Gratton: So sitting in a team, with a bunch of people who are all top in their fields, can be hard. This is especially when you are supposed to be the alpha in that room who’s running the show. One way is to start going around the room and let each have their moment to give their input. And then circle it back, always dictating that you are the point person. You are the one that needs to focus and drive home where this path is going.
Ensure that your voice is heard
The other challenge is to make sure that your voice is heard. I have found a way to ensure that. When it’s in a team setting is I have stuck a bunch of posters hanging on my wall. That is because I am in those sessions with a lot of folks who want their pieces to be heard. Then, I am trying not to keep them talking over each other. I am jotting the ideas on paper or a blackboard or whiteboard. This way, they can see we discussed this matter. Then, it gives me the control moment to assert that I am the one who is running this meeting. I am in charge of it.
But then, I also give them the comfort of knowing their voice was heard and their input was taken down. We are also not wasting resources of duplicated ideas. This is because you tend to have experts of experts sitting in a room together. They have a lot of similar thoughts, even if they don’t want to always admit it.
Designhill: What are the best communication practices for introverts so that they don’t feel burnt out?
Kathyrn Gratton: I am a very introverted person and I am good right now because I am behind a computer screen. You guys are hidden behind the black box of my display. So, it is like I am just talking with my host here. It is great. Here, the introvert-me is happy I have a one-on-one.
Use social media to communicate
Because I am an introvert, I love social media for this reason. In this way, I can engage and interact with folks on my terms. I can create the balance that I want so that I avoid my burnout. Then, I can see updates from friends and co-workers and so forth that I can say, hey, I saw the promotion. It was awesome, and I can comment on their new baby. I can comment on their new significant other, their shared photos of the trip.
That way I am still building that relationship, I’m still creating that investment that I care about them. But I’m not having to overexert myself. Early in the career, I used to just go all out full force events when we were in person. We could interact with each other. And I’d come home and I was that collapse in the chair just. That was so much trying to be an extrovert.
So for me, I just realized that yes, I am energetic. I have a bold personality, but it kind of confuses people when I tell them I’m an introvert. But it’s because I like my interaction in a smaller, more intimate setting. In that way, it helps me not get overwhelmed. And so with that, if you can shift to things where you can do it in smaller settings that may help you with the burnout phase.
Designhill: What are the best ways to establish and maintain b2c relationships virtually?
Engage them through social media
Kathyrn Gratton: One way to build the business to customer relationships online is to use your social media platforms to your advantage. You should ask questions and engage them. For example, you have a clothing store, showing fashions and putting up the photos. Then, ask for their inputs. Put questions like do you like these clothes? Maybe, especially if you’re a small business, you will recognize names and photos of people.
Then, follow them and find out details, but not in a creepy stalker way. Just learn things about them, like what’s their birthday, or do they have a dog or a cat that they adore. With such details, you let them feel like you are connecting at a personal level. The business-to-business side has some of those same things. That is because honestly, the business is business, part of it is it’s a name. For me, it is like reading lips, mentors, the name of my company, but I’m still Katherine.
At the end of the day, if you build a relationship with red lips, mentor, you’re building a relationship with Katherine. So, you need to learn about Katherine and interact with Katherine. So that we get caught up in that thinking that some of this has to be different.
The b2b and b2c are not the same, but your vendors have had staff who will refer you. You are going to work with a person at that business. So, learn and establish good foundational pieces of that relationship. That is an investment with your customers. Therefore, applying that mentality on both sides can be beneficial.
Designhill: What is the most effective way of communicating with an online community and how often should we communicate?
Be consistent while communicating
Kathyrn Gratton: I would say consistency is the way while communicating with online communities. If you can check in on me every couple of days and post things and share them. Then, you check in every couple of days. If you see that you are losing followers and momentum, that is an analytic side based on my data. It tells me that I need to interact more often. That is because my customers want more from me.
Our online interactions with customers and vendors are a more prevalent part of our business going forward. So, learning to adapt and invest time in building relationships in a virtual world is crucial. It is important especially for small and medium-sized businesses.
Designhill: How to manage and grow relationships during this COVID-19 times?
Accept the crisis
Kathyrn Gratton: It is hard for someone who has sat in her fair share of Zoom networking events where you do breakout rooms. It is weird to sit and do this regularly. So, unfortunately, that is something we are not going to get over for a while. But we can bond over. I love just telling people right out the gate when I am sitting in the little breakout rooms for networking. This is strange to me. That is part we are going to have to get over.
For myself, that is part of my authenticity and a blunt kind of honesty as I tell you that I am feeling weird. I am feeling awkward right now. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea to say that. So, I tell people that, and it breaks down and it gives back that little piece of humanity that little piece of normality. We were talking and face-to-face scenarios and now this is awkward and weird. But you are going to see that it just works. You would feel a little more comfortable because they are uncomfortable as well.
You take time to adapt
But we can hide the weirdness behind our screens and that goes into that authenticity side of it. Social media can hide a lot of things and make everything look perfect. Social media only shows you the mirror view.
So, when you’re building in those online communities, be authentic. Tell people things and share with your customers how things are going. Share with them your feeling that you need their support.
My introverted-self is starting to crave which tells you that it has been for too long. But we need to convert from the real world to the virtual world. We are now supposed to conduct our meetings and interactions that way for several months. So, hopefully, some of the discomforts are starting to wear off. Now, we can start feeling that this is how we are going to interact.
Designhill: How do you build and maintain relationships with annoying people, but you have to work with them for a project?
Choose your clients carefully
Kathyrn Gratton: Clients give off a weird vibe. If you are a small business owner, you need to pick and choose who your clients are. So, you can dictate and not pick those clients. The best advice I can give is if they give you that weird vibe, establish ground rules and boundaries.
Limit your interaction with difficult clients
For example, maybe you only have to interact with them. You need to meet them for work and deal with them online. That is how we’re interacting with the majority of folks right now.
So, just send emails only. Do video chats when necessary, and limit that interaction. Just stick to the facts and the details. Do not invest too much in learning about their side. You should avoid spending too much time asking for their feedback. But, this should be as long as it is not a scenario where being cold and distant will harm your career.
So, I just email such people telling them that they email me what they need. Then, I get results from them. I won’t treat them with any less respect in delivering the results than I would a client I like. I would like to sit in the room with them. Because I, at the end of the day, have to feel like I am respecting myself.
If the boss makes you uncomfortable, then you need to have a conversation within yourself. Do you feel like you have enough of that? You should maybe talk to that person, customer, or client one-on-one. Tell that there is something off in our energy when we are around each other. Do not tell them that they creep you out, or they make you feel weird. It’s hard to tell what that is that weirds you out about them. It could be something like they have a nervous tic.
But, keep those interactions less personal and just alright. You can say that you have got a checklist and you need this piece of information. You do not want to engage them in your life any further.
Designhill: How do you maintain a long-term relationship with a friend, who also happens to be a business partner?
Talking business with friends is hard
Kathyrn Gratton: It is always hard to get in business with close friends, or family members, and so forth. Because you have that outside relationship you want to keep. One of the first challenges is, I would say, establishing what, when, and where you’re going to talk about business because that’s one of the first places this can start to go downhill.
Balance your personal and professional side
An example of that will be maybe you talk, okay, so we’re friends, and we have our business. But outside of work, when we don’t sit in our building, or on a Zoom call, we are not talking business. We are talking about the other things that made us have that relationship. Did we like to go to yoga classes together? Do we take our kids to the park? Make sure you protect that balance of the personal side and the professional side.
When we disagree, a lot of our relationships, their factors, and their people give what we don’t have of ourselves. So, I use my husband as an example. He is comfortable walking into any room and interacting with strangers. It drives me nuts because I can’t do it. But he balances me in that way. Because when we go to something, I know he’s gonna walk up and talk to the strangers for me. So, then I can feel more comfortable to go talk to strangers and it’s great that way, in the same sense, though. But we balance each other that way. And if we disagree on how it’s handled at times, but we come back to what is the main goal?
So, business is that way too. You are going to disagree on things. You don’t like how the new marketing campaigns are going. But are you the marketing person? Or, are you the finance person? Those seem to always be the ones that argue over stuff.
Find a common ground
So if you are disagreeing on those things, and you’re circling back to well, whose responsibility was it? Was it the marketing persons to take care of this and drive that ship forward? Was it the finance one? And kind of coming back to where are we fighting over? How do we just find common ground on it? How do we reach agreements on it?
That’s where you should treat those business relationships like personal ones. After all, at the end of the day, if the business dissolves, you probably want this person in your life.
Have time to keep a personal relationship
So, I don’t want to say, swallow your pride. But it is setting some things aside and asking how we work together. How do we establish that? It is probably we need to separate our time maintaining that personal relationship outside of the business and protecting this side. That is because, in the beginning, this personal relationship gave us comfort. We were able to say that we will go into business together anyhow.
As far as ups and downs of it are concerned, everything has ups and downs. We are never going in a straight and steady line. We’re always on a roller coaster in life.
Designhill: How can one build a genuine relationship in social media as an introvert?
Social media is introvert-friendly
Kathyrn Gratton: As I said, social media, and being an introvert, it is beautiful. That is because you are usually only interacting like at a smaller level of one-on-one persona. You talk with whoever is on the other side of the screen. So, that’s nice, because introverts don’t like large and overwhelming crowds. When you sit down and interact with someone, you just put words on the keyboard to one person.
You do not think about the millions of other eyes that could see the comments. And, you just focus on one person. For example, on Facebook, they’ll share questions and answers about business. I might look through to see if other people have given answers and input already. I can build upon that or if I just need my full, complete thought.
Just interacting with that one person
But at the end of the day, I am only focused on answering that one person’s piece. The one person that I’m building the relationship with. I am not as worried about the others in the comment thread. I don’t want to repeat something already, just because it’s already there for info. But I still might even if someone’s already answered, I’m going to say, hey, I’m here if you need to talk.
Don’t forget that the phone still works, and there is Zoom as well. You can see the other person. There is still that possibility where we are relying heavily on social media and online relationship building. You may still be able to have that face-to-face or that voice-to-voice interaction to add that personal touch.
Designhill: What are your experiences as a community builder and the problems you faced?
Got my ABCs early in life
Kathyrn Gratton: I came across my ABC mentality early in my career. I was 17 when I was diagnosed with cancer, and I had that up until about two years ago. I am a rare case where they have you live with active cancer cells. Early on in my career, I thought people would view me as a sick person if I ever shared it. So I never told people when I was sick, and when I would show up consistently. Then, all of a sudden, I have a flare-up where my immune system would act up. I’d have to not be out in the public for three to four weeks.
It killed my relationship building in the early phases. This is because I would disappear very often. They thought that I was fake and I just ran away. And then, they were giving me a second chance but then I disappeared. So, that’s where that authenticity came. Because I started to be comfortable to say to people, this is who I am. This is what I’m dealing with. And let them see the real me, not just the happy, healthy persona I was trying to put out into the community.
Open up yourself
That brought a lot of people closer to me. And it was funny. I found that a lot of people weren’t scared of the sick person like I thought they would. I know that’s an extreme answer on the relationship-building side. But that is how I learned that just opening up being myself was the best path for me. A lot of people that resonated with that a lot better. They said they did not know about my sickness. A few of them told me that they thought I was a fleet that just couldn’t commit to things.
Designhill: What are a few strategies for building relationships with collaborators and partners, where things are still sorted with monetary exchanges?
Settle the money part early
Kathyrn Gratton: Money always complicates things. When you start talking about money and relationships, people get uncomfortable. In different cultures, you sometimes don’t talk about money. So I try to get it out of the way early. If it’s with a client, I try to establish upfront. I will say here is what the contracts are, here is this piece. And then we get that out of the way so I can build the relationships.
Getting the money matter out of the way early on just helps to remove that obstacle that later troubles. Because we are building relationships. We start to view some of our clients and our customers like friends. It makes it harder, later on, to go well, but they’re my friends. Therefore, I don’t want to ask them for a raise and an increase in my contract. So, settle the money part early so that you can remove that awkwardness. You can then build the relationship side of it.
Designhill: What are some ways and tips that human resource managers must take care of to foster positive employee relationships?
Kathyrn Gratton: That is a huge matter, which is going to be ever-evolving in the coming years. Many social media policies are coming out on how employees can and can’t interact on social media. Whether or not they can represent the companies they work for. For example, in a local hospital here, they do not allow employees to their social media accounts that they work for them. They don’t want the hospital represented on social media.
So, on the employee side, I tell people if they are sitting there questioning whether or not they should say this, don’t say it.
If you do not question it, but you know, it’s controversial, then find your best friend who can tell that to you brutally. Talk to the one who will tell you that you had too many cookies over the holiday break. That it’s time to go to the gym. That brutally honest, When it comes to putting it on social media, It feels like we’re adults. We should be able to just put what we want and not face repercussions.
But again, too much of business anymore is about the people, not the name of the company. People are establishing relationships with you and with your employees. They are representing all of those things. You have to make sure that you are mindful of what you’re putting out into the world. And especially in today’s culture, we have to be even more sensitive than sometimes we would like to be. But it’s just what we’re facing.
Define what not to share
It is a balancing act. You should define what you can share and what you can’t. That is why maintaining those offline relationships is still important. Those are the ones you can talk to as well. You can have lively debates about politics and all those things without someone misconstruing it. They know you have a better understanding of viewpoints. And, we don’t have to share everything on social media.
So, keep these basics from Kathyrn Gratton in mind while building relationships with your target audience. You will take time to finally win the trust of people. But when you do that, engaging and having them with your business will be much easier.
Meanwhile, take a relook at your visual identities such as logo, business card, brochure, website, etc of your brand. Ensure that these visuals are the best designs to make a lasting impression. Only then your efforts to build relationships with them will bear fruits.
You can use Designhill as your platform to outsource your logo etc design work. Just launch your design contest for hundreds of designers at this marketplace. Shortly, you will have many unique design ideas. You can then pick one winning design that matches your brand personality.
Building relationships with people is crucial for the success of businesses in their niche. Marketing expert Kathyrn Gratton advises following her principles of ABC. This is about maintaining Authenticity, Balance, and Consistency in your approach while engaging people with your businesses. She emphasizes being honest with people while taking your business to them.