COME READY TO TALK BUSINESS − Time is money, as they say, and in today’s increasingly hectic and uncertain world, individuals are often increasingly pressed for both. Keeping this in mind, it’s only becoming more important to be respectful of their bandwidth and schedules. To this extent, any initial exploratory outreach or calls should be kept to 15 to 30 minutes maximum and be clearly noted as such. (Ex: Here at FutureProof Strategies and BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development, we allow one total inquiry of 15 to 30 minutes maximum time with the team, depending on project scope and scale.) Likewise, if you request that others submit a pitch or proposal, it should be one that’s short and straightforward for the applicant(s) to compile, so as not to require them to burn up many hours sans compensation and be presentable virtually vs. in-person. (And so as to save them the potential time and cost of flying out to present for a deal that may never materialize.) Details on any proposed deal’s status and a timeline for making any decisions should also be outlined as part of any outreach inquiry, and any follow-up queries from others responded to in a 48-hour window. (Even if it’s just to say that you don’t have an update just yet.) When it’s time to move forward, don’t swing back until you have specific numbers in mind, budget/project approval already cleared, and are ready to negotiate either. When speaking with your preferred hire or partner, cut to the chase, be up-front about your needs and expectations, and understand where there is room to be flexible with deal terms and where firm lines are drawn. Aim to get terms locked down within no more than five business days. After all, unless you’re negotiating a high-level merger or acquisition, or there’s good strategic reason to draw the proceedings out, remember… you’re not hammering out a global peace treaty here.

EMBRACE PARTNERSHIPS AND COLLABORATION − Great ideas can come from anywhere, customers often are the #1 best source of new and innovative concepts, and frontline workers (aka those closest to clients) are often the most informed audience in a business. That’s why it’s essential to grow bigger ears as an individual/organization, be more inclusive when it comes to inviting other audiences to the table, and encourage peers, partners, and end-users to speak up and share their feedback and insights more readily. (After all, it’s hard to think differently as a business when everyone shares the same perspective and is thinking the same.) But if you really want to exponentially scale and accelerate innovation? You’ll also practice both outside-in and inside-out approaches to disruption. For example, many organizations are turning to the concept of open innovation − inviting feedback and ideas from external sources such as the startup and academic communities (i.e. the outside in) − to achieve exponential growth. Likewise, others are turning to inside-out methods and taking tools and technologies that they’ve come up with (e.g. platforms for data sharing and collaboration) and finding ways to incorporate them into others’ innovation processes. In short, teamwork and collaboration can pay huge dividends. Moreover, learning to effectively leverage all of the above methodologies for promoting greater elements of partnership at every turn will only become increasingly important in coming years. To succeed in business going forward, don’t compete, find more ways to collaborate − working together is the way forward.

FIND MORE WAYS TO CELEBRATE AND HIGHLIGHT YOUR PARTNERS – If you want to stay top of mind with your clients, and build stronger relationships, make it a practice to shine the spotlight on your partners more frequently. Sample ways to do so include crowdsourcing their articles, stories, and videos for promotional efforts, partnering to raise awareness for new initiatives (i.e. on social media or otherwise), and creating online or print publications that showcase their input and insights. By way of illustration, this might involve creating newsletters or Web-based magazines where you can share case studies and client interviews or establishing online communities tasked with the sharing of best practices and thought leadership. On the flip side, other ways to help promote your partners might include teaming up around initiatives that prioritize community development and social good, i.e. charitable efforts, after-school programs, disaster relief campaigns, scholarships and educational grants, research coalitions, and public-facing events. Whatever partner-focused publishing vehicles and programs that you elect to establish (whose teams and committees will typically be staffed by volunteers from these myriad vendors), your aim should be to show your appreciation for collaborators. Likewise, any ventures you launch should also serve to help support them in their goals and build awareness for their efforts.

REMIND OTHERS HOW MUCH THAT YOU APPRECIATE THEM − Ever feel overlooked, overextended, and underappreciated on the job from time to time? Odds are that your clients do too − so make a point to routinely check in and remind them that they’re always top of mind and that you’re thinking about them. Of course, actions need to align with words here as well: Noting that thank you and congratulatory notes are now the stuff of spam emails, it helps to put your money where your mouth is as well. Mind you: We’re not talking about being splashy with payouts here… rather, more generous with free giveaways that are intended to surprise, delight, and brighten others’ days. (Perhaps, if you feel it necessary, with a subtle, light-touch tie-in to various topics, trends, or ventures that your firm is currently promoting.) For instance, you might mail a valued client a staycation, summer getaway, or movie night care package full of snacks and activities. Alternately, if you can’t fly out to say hello to them in person, you might have a meal/cooking kit, bottle of wine, or some favorite local foods of theirs mailed to their doorstep. Physical items aren’t necessary a must here either: For example, a gift of an online training class, ticket to a must-see virtual conference or seminar, or helpful free software download may come in handy as well. Note that the aim here isn’t to spoil partners by spending on them… rather, to be more thoughtful and personalized in your messaging, theme, and presentation, all with an eye towards putting a smile on someone’s face.

PROMOTE MORE DIALOGUE WITH PARTNERS AND PEERS − As touched on earlier, winning insights and ideas most typically come from those with an informed viewpoint and pulse on what’s happening on the frontlines of any given industry. Bearing this in mind, promoting regular, consistent dialogue and sourcing running feedback and input from partners is critical. To one extent, this means having to craft channels and platforms that present forums through which collaborators and customers can routinely share their thoughts (meetings, conferences, internal Q&As, meet-and-greets, etc.). At the same time, it also means having to invite your peers to participate in product or service trials more frequently and asking them to be more involved in a consultative capacity earlier on in the product, service, and solution development process. In addition to helping you better steer decision making, and allowing you to see how solutions perform and are used by others in context faster, providing critical feedback that can help enhance these efforts? These exclusive and invitation-only initiatives can also help you engender tremendous goodwill by making partners feel more appreciated and that their opinion truly matters. After all, active listening is a key skill to exercise when seeking to build or grow any relationship and creating more opportunities to work together presents more opportunities to bond, build rapport, and create a sense of shared mission and purpose.