Jack Downton, Accountancy Age, Thursday 21 October 2010 at 00:30:00

Tackle the delicate subject of selling to your network of friends

It used to be that leveraging relationships to win new work was frowned upon.We?ve all been subjected to the ?do you mind if I ask what kind of pensionprovision you have?? question from a friend of a friend (probably now ex-friend)who kindly passed on your contact details.

The approach is not warmly received and the memory lives on when we are askedto open our own little black book of friends and contacts for the purpose ofwinning work.

Of course, these days we?re all digital. Adding all your ex-colleagues, oldcollege pals and business associates to your LinkedIn network and watching thenumbers grow as it unearths people you?d forgotten all about or didn?t know howto get in touch with, is one thing. Using those relationships to win more workis quite another.

How do you develop your ability to initiate and develop strong relationshipsso that you are able to remain in constant contact and introduce them to newservices as and when appropriate?

Trust is key, both personal and professional trust. The first step is to benatural and not try to imitate other people. If you are not yourself, peoplewill see you as not being authentic and trust will be lost.

The nature of a network of relationships is that they run two ways. Beforeyou start to think about what products you can sell to the people in yournetwork, think about what you can do for them rather than what they can do foryou. Can you help them in any way by connecting them with someone who could beuseful to them or sharing information they didn?t know?

To do this, you will need to understand their needs. For any relationship todevelop there must be mutual understanding between the parties. Asking questionsand really listening to what the other party has to say is important. Let theanswers inform your further questions and show your interest, whether theconversation takes place on the phone, by email or in person.

Crucially, don?t sell. Let people know what you are doing and show enthusiasm for what you do (we are often judged more on our commit*ment than what weactually do). If you have identified a genuine need where you think your firm?sservices could make a difference, keep your pitch short. Express it naturallyand focus on the benefits it will bring. Make sure you follow-up within 48hours.

Whatever the outcome, stay in touch. Send them an article, tell them what youare doing or just ask them how they are. We are moving towards the Christmasdrinks season and there will be myriad opportunities to catch-up with friendsand colleagues. Try not to leave it a year before you catch-up with them again.

Jack Downton is the managing director of The Influence Business