Business Development: The art of building long-term relationships


The fundamental key to establishing long-term relationships is: Treat people the way you want to be treated – with respect, integrity, and trust and exhibit a “can do” attitude!

Over the years, I have learned a lot about long-term relationships.

1) First impressions count!

Prospective clients will form a first impression about you in less than 30 seconds. Do your due diligence, know your audience, and bring your consultative expertise to the table with confidence. Dress professionally, ask thoughtful questions, LISTEN, respond intelligently, and offer solutions that show you can be a valued business partner.

2) Tenacity pays off

If a client relationship is something worth pursuing, never give up! There is an art to being persistent without being a pest. You have to be yourself and play to your strengths. In my case, I use a combination of confidence, humor, and raw emotion to convince people to meet me. Whatever gets someone’s attention in your own personal style will work because it will be sincere.

Many years ago, I was introduced to a hiring executive who had had bad experiences with executive search firms and no desire to establish another relationship. Up for the challenge, I set out to prove that good search partners exist. It took some effort to convince her to give us a chance and once she did it was initially challenging, but over the last decade, we achieved multiple successes together. She remains a client and friend today.

Sometimes you must give before you can receive. Sometimes you have to prove that you can add value to a potential client by demonstrating your knowledge or that you are a trusted advisor. I remember one potential client for whom I did career counseling for his entire family before the client hired me to do a search. The client laughingly said, "If you could get [his] son to do a good resume," you can do anything. When potential clients see that you see them as more than a search, they will look for ways to reciprocate. It can be wise counsel, a resource, a referral, or simply offering uplifting words of encouragement to help solve a problem. In the circle of the search industry, clients become candidates and candidates become clients.

4) Make people feel special – empathize

Being recruited into a new company is a huge, emotional decision for executives, requiring complete support from the person’s family, especially if it involves relocation, significant travel, or any other major lifestyle change. Earning the individual’s trust is paramount and empathizing with his or her process is an important ingredient to establishing a long term relationship. Listening, building rapport, and sharing in their personal circumstances are the ways to earn credibility and confirm that you have the individual’s best interest at heart.

5) People like to do business with people like themselves

People feel comfortable with shared values, mission, and vision. Seek common ground and once there, build upon it. For example, sharing in the daily challenge of juggling career, travel, and motherhood can be a bonding experience with fellow female executives. It establishes an instant connection and ease in developing a relationship. 

6) Think long term but seize the moment

7) Deliver more than promised, more than expected

Do what you say you will or more. Demonstrate to your new client that what we promised is what they will get. There is a reason we all grew up with the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Like all service businesses, our reputation stands on our unwavering commitment to deliver to our clients and we won’t rest until we do. As one of my partners says, “We are only as good as our last search.”


And the Ones You Walk Away From

It’s amazing what we learn about the human psyche in this business. I have learned to walk away from potentially lucrative relationships because I don’t share the values of a particular executive. Here are a few in that category…the CEO who ordered a gourmet meal complete with wine at 3 pm when I invited him for coffee; the physician president of a life sciences company who blew his runny nose repeatedly and then reached out to shake my hand; or the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation who, out of nowhere, excitedly demonstrated the “pee-pee” dance his two-year-old does while potty training, just as we were about to sit down for lunch. Truly, you just can’t make this up. :)

Ultimately, it is a thrill to build long-term relationships! It doesn’t get any better than to be viewed as an integral partner to help clients grow their businesses and candidates fulfill their goals. This is why I continue to hop out of bed every day! 



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1 Comment

February 8, 2013 AT 4:00 PM CST

MJ Jolda wrote:

Enjoyed meeting you the other day. Could not wait to read your blog.

Great advice!


MJ Jolda

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