In 2020, business leaders across industries have faced a challenging economic environment. But it has been uniquely challenging for professional-service executives responsible for new business development.
These leaders need successful strategies to maintain existing relationships during the economic fallout of COVID-19; they also must build new relationships in complicated remote-work and work-from-home settings. This raises the question—how does one maintain and form new business connections and manage relationship capital in a post-COVID-19 world?
BoardEx CEO Cameron Ireland participated in a virtual panel to identify unique business-development solutions given these circumstances. He was joined by Martin Wise, CEO of RelPro; Eva Davis, Co-Chair, Private Equity at Winston & Strawn; and Petra Schmidt, Managing Partner and Enterprise Client Lead at Aon; for the panel discussion.
You can watch the full recording here. Findings from the conversation include:
- Key trends impacting business development in 2020 – 2021
- Strategies for maintaining one’s relevance with clients
- Methods for creating value through virtual networking
- Tips and techniques for new growth in an evolving business landscape
Here we share how these leaders have successfully maintained and cultivated critical business relationships over the past five months; and how business leaders can thrive in 2021, even amidst the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Make the Most of Your Relationship Capital with These Industry Trends
To understand the existing climate for business relationships, we first must understand the new and prevailing trends impacting industry today. These include:
- Acceleration of Strategy. Companies will prioritize strategic adoption of digital tools and reimagine how and where their teams will collaborate. They will consider how individual responsibilities will play out in those environments as well, especially when working with providers, partners, clients, and other outside parties.
- Increased Focus on Resilience and Operational Risk. Companies are rethinking their overall enterprise risk management strategies to include responsive measures in the face of future, macro-disruptive events.
- Deglobalization. Companies are reevaluating supply chains that failed or that had weaknesses exposed during the disruptions of 2020, often leading to reductions in the global reach of their sourcing efforts.
- Greater speculation. A lack of historical data to help guide business decision makers drives those leaders to speculate about economic recovery. They will invest in short-term solutions that will allow them to pivot as events unfold.
During the panel, the four leaders synthesized their experiences and perspectives shaped by these trends. Here we share their recommendations for using relationship capital successfully as the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic continue.
Staying Relevant to Clients
Remaining relevant in the eyes of clients extends beyond service quality. The following three approaches exemplify how business development leaders can act on their clients’ evolving expectations successfully.
The impact of COVID-19 has brought personal well-being and safety to the forefront of every conversation. That impact is not lost to decision makers at Winston & Strawn, where Eva Davis has emphasized connecting with clients in more creative and personal ways.
“We understand how important relationships are, and people have been feeling isolated,” says Davis. “We’ve been checking in and… discussing personal subjects, such as homeschooling, daycare, elder care—things we didn’t necessarily talk about before.”
Davis has also ensured Winston & Strawn adapts their digital resource center, curating content that addresses impacts to clients and prospects on an industry-by-industry basis. Rather than focusing on mass outreach, Davis ensures the firm provides only content focused on the subjects that concern her clients and prospects most.
Petra Schmidt shares that Aon is employing its data analytics, risk management, and human resources to facilitate conversations among leaders who have struggled to connect in the past, forming coalitions for major cities across the globe.
“We’re using our knowledge and connections to bring information to clients in a way where we’re coming together, knowing that none of us alone has the solution to these problems,” says Schmidt. “In this way, we’re making information and data available to people by serving as a central coordination point, which has been fascinating.”
“I think the right thing to do is to help each other get through these challenges,” adds Cameron Ireland. “Once you find commonality, you find potential solutions that may not grow your business at the start; but I firmly believe it helps you in the longer term as a company.”
Maximizing Value from Virtual Networking Environments
Remote work has forced business relationships to evolve in unexpected ways as well. In this new environment, remaining connected to customers and prospects is a challenge; but even more challenging is expanding networks and building new relationships critical to business success.
Eva Davis attributes part of the resilience and growth of her professional relationships to her social media activity. Posting once a day, she not only shares news—she shares insights from her sources to deliver immediate value to members of her network.
In a recent LinkedIn post, Davis tagged 20 women who own and run their own private equity firms. The post became extremely popular online and spun off into a webinar series. This type of client and prospect engagement had not been a focus before the pandemic broke out.
Petra Schmidt highlights the collaborative efforts of Aon and other consulting firms as they troubleshoot financial problems affecting New York City, including how to re-open safely and rebuild its struggling economy. It’s an essential job, Schmidt observes. But working alongside other major consulting firms as they take on challenge associated with infrastructure, tax, policy, and technology has contributed to Aon’s brand recognition as well.
“The brainstorming sessions we had to solve these problems on behalf of a very large community were incredibly interesting,” says Schmidt. “Doing these things help promote the firm, even as we continue to do the work on a pro bono basis.”
Strong financial partnerships have taken on new roles as well, beyond the commercial opportunities around which they were originally formed. In this new type of relationship, partners must work together to find the right solution in a network—creating resilience, forming relationships, and mapping business development, says Cameron Ireland. “We all have to do it, so let’s all try and find the right approach.”
Strengthening Relationship Capital to Fuel Business Development
The greatest challenges in this new business environment emerge around expanding networks, engaging new prospects, and building on your relationship capital. Fortunately, the four business leaders have identified some noteworthy opportunities for progress in these areas.
Eva Davis emphasizes the value of referral networks, especially among companies that align with key customer profiles. For Winston & Strawn, that means ensuring accounting firms, investment banks, or insurance providers in their network have the right information to share with potential clients. Small, online peer-to-peer conversations and presentations with existing clients are opportunities to keep one’s referral network informed, says Davis.
Petra Schmidt recommends connecting members of one’s existing network to one another, effectively building coalitions. This especially applies to colleagues in junior roles who have yet to form strong business relationships of their own. Connecting newer team members—many of whom have missed growth opportunities due to confinement—with one’s existing connections positions them to grow and strike up new relationships of their own.
Thought leaders who introduce discussion topics about urgent themes in society and business can quickly align interested parties around those ideas, Cameron Ireland observes. Formally creating online discussions about gender equity, minority leadership, or climate change, for example, can facilitate connections and ultimately new relationships. These conversations can evolve to become a number of formats, from Zoom calls with a handful of members to online events attended by hundreds.
“It opens up opportunities to meet new people in areas that I never would have expected six months ago,” says Ireland. “We’re identifying what data we have that we could then share to help each other, and that to me has been the most positive result over the last six months.”
Staying Relevant Post-Pandemic
Running through each of these strategies is a single, critical theme: relevance. Interestingly, distancing and remote work have made relevance even more achievable. As we each work from our desks at home, real-time access to valuable information before, after, and during online interactions is always available. This is especially critical when forming new relationships; that is, speaking to someone for the very first time.
“Before I meet someone for the first time, I will have done my research on their company, market position, and strategy,” says Cameron Ireland of his recent first-time conversations. “And I generally want to have pose some provocative, interesting ideas or questions to show them how much I already understand.”
Preparing in this way allows business leaders to highlight their companies’ activities that are most relevant to the conversation, or help the new contact anticipate outcomes they might not have considered themselves.
“If you’ve done that for your initial meeting, chances are you will get invited to multiple meetings and be able to work with that individual again,” says Ireland. “Today, the creation of those close bonds is something we cannot take for granted.”
BoardEx is a database of more than 2M Company profiles and the 1.4M+ Individuals who lead them. We have an internal research team that investigates, verifies, and updates these profiles daily, making BoardEx the gold standard in leadership data.
Access to this exclusive data enables business development and research professionals to discover potential new business opportunities existing within their network by way of an advanced relationship mapping and management algorithm.