How to Build Strategic Relationships Inside (and Outside) Of Your Organization
For most corporate leaders, strategic relationship building is a key part of the role. The right...
For most corporate leaders, strategic relationship building is a key part of the role. The right relationships — carefully managed and nurtured — can help you achieve your objectives and make a real difference to your organization.
And it’s not just the relationships with external stakeholders that matter. Your internal stakeholders, staff, or colleagues play an important strategic role, too.
Keen to be more strategic with building relationships but don’t know where to start? This overview provides an introduction to strategic relationships, along with four examples of relationships you might need to build and nurture. Finally, we share 10 practical tips that will help you build better, deeper relationships with the people that count.
What Makes a Relationship Strategic?
Most leaders know the importance of building good relationships with their colleagues inside their organization. And many are aware of the importance of building relationships and engaging with external stakeholders. But not everybody goes about building those relationships in a strategic way.
So, what makes a relationship strategic?
Being strategic implies a more in-depth thought process behind your actions. It means you’ve considered your goals or objectives, the alignment of your business decisions, and how a relationship might impact your organization’s ability to move forward. It means you’ve thought about things like strengths, weaknesses, risks, and obstacles. And it means you’re doing things efficiently, being proactive instead of reactive, and taking consistent action.
Although building a strategic relationship might take some more upfront time, planning, and effort, it’s far more likely to pay off in the long run.
Relationship Building Examples
There are many types of strategic relationships you may need to build, depending on your organization and goals.
For example, you will most likely need to build relationships within your team, or at least key staff members. Building strong internal stakeholder relationships can support collaboration, mutual trust, knowledge-sharing, and many other benefits that contribute to the success of your organization. You might take an intentional approach by scheduling regular lunchtime catch ups, or by simply initiating meaningful conversations in the breakroom. But you can also use official channels like work email and collaboration platforms to request feedback, share knowledge, and publicly express appreciation for your staff.
Another example is your supply chain partners. Your supply chain likely includes some of your more critical stakeholders — without their timely products or services, your organization would quickly fall apart. So, building relationships with key people in the supply chain is a good strategic choice.
Some leaders will also need to build relationships with major customers — as any decisions you make could impact their business (and the inverse is also true). By developing a close relationship, you can more effectively manage their expectations, ask for feedback, and keep them updated on potential changes that may affect them.
Many organizations will also benefit from building relationships with decision makers such as government representatives and industry leaders. Because these individuals have the potential to influence outcomes for your business, it makes good, strategic sense to work with them closely. You may be able to offer them ideas and shared resources that help them achieve their goals (e.g. growth within their region or industry), and they may be able to keep you abreast of any changes that could impact your operations.
10 Tips for Building Strategic Relationships
1. Start Now
Relationship building takes time — and the longer you do it, the greater the potential rewards. Building close relationships with stakeholders (e.g. suppliers and customers) might even be an important first step before you enact other strategies in your business. So, start taking action today.
2. Develop a Relationship Strategy
It’s not strategic without a strategy! Start by putting together a relationship strategy (which may closely resemble a stakeholder engagement plan) that includes:
- The specific outcomes you’d like to see from your relationship building activities
The types of relationships you’d like to build
- A general idea of who you’d like to connect with or deepen your relationship with
- What resources you can commit (especially your time)
- What methods you plan to use to initiate and nurture your relationships
- How you’ll track your relationships and measure your success
3. Map Your Relationships
One of our favourite ways to build strategic relationships is to do stakeholder relationship mapping. This type of visual stakeholder mapping can allow you to see the complex web of relationships between the people you’re connected to. It’s a great way to spot common contacts between someone you know and someone you’d like to meet — if you ask, they may even give you an intro!
4. Tailor Your Communication
Each person you connect with will have different interests and communication preferences. So, make note of any issues that are relevant to them and how they prefer to communicate. That way, you can make your communication tailored to their interests (and a lot more effective).
Also — consider the cultural differences and accessibility needs of different people. For example, one study found that Chinese and Indian business managers prefer to use more interpersonal strategies when initiating a business relationship, but New Zealand and South African managers preferred more impersonal communication strategies.
5. Use Effective Engagement Methods
Although there are many ways to build strategic relationships nowadays, engaging with people face-to-face remains the most effective way to build trust.
Of course, it’s not always possible to engage with all your stakeholders in this way — it might be highly effective, but it isn’t efficient to meet face-to-face when you’ve got a lot of relationships to manage. It’s also not practical if your stakeholders are distributed across multiple locations. But if possible, try to prioritize a face-to-face conversation with each of your key stakeholder relationships. And then use your other engagement methods (video/phone calls, emails, SMS, newsletters, etc.) to regularly stay in touch. Speaking of which…
6. Stay in Touch
Make a habit of keeping in touch with your key partners and stakeholders. This could be as simple as a monthly email or a quick message every couple of weeks. Even if you don’t “need” them yet, staying in touch will help to keep the relationship healthy. Then when you do need to ask something of them, you’ll be in a good position to do so.
7. Track Your Relationships
Tracking your relationships is critical for a number of reasons.
Firstly, you don’t want to lose track of someone! It takes a lot of time and effort to build a relationship, so keeping track of who you’ve connected with and any conversations you’ve had is worth doing so you can continue to stay in touch.
Relationship tracking is also important for continuity. And organizational learning and knowledge transfer are sometimes considered the most valuable assets in today’s companies. What if you or someone else in your organization is unable to work for a time? Or if they moved on to another role? Tracking your strategic relationships ensures that this value isn’t lost and that someone else within the organization can pick up those relationships and continue to build them.
Finally, if you’re not tracking your relationships, you won’t be able to measure your progress and determine if you’ve been successful or not. Ideally, you should be tracking how many people you’ve connected with, how often you’ve reached out to them, and how they’ve responded.
8. Provide Value
Although you’re taking a zoomed out, strategic approach to your relationships, it’s also important to zoom in and pay attention to the individual people you’re building relationships with. Be sincere, keep their interests and goals in mind, and ensure that you’re providing value. By placing your focus on providing value, you’ll build relationships that are based on trust and respect — and these kinds of relationships lead to better outcomes in the long-run.
9. Apply the Insights
By building strategic relationships and tracking them, you’re developing a valuable resource for your organization that can support your broader strategic initiatives. Keep this resource front of mind when strategizing and planning. It might spark new ideas for partnerships or you might discover a source of knowledge or resources. And it will remind you to consider how decisions could positively or negatively impact each of your key business relationships.
10. Use Relationship Management Tools
You’ve probably heard a lot about CRMs, and you’ve almost certainly used a spreadsheet to track information, but there’s a newer tool that’s designed for more than just managing customer relationships. Simply Stakeholders is designed for tracking and managing all kinds of business relationships. Our software includes features like…
- Stakeholder analysis & mapping
- Relationship mapping & tracking
- Issues tagging
- Task & project management
- A full history of your interactions & communications
- + more!
Discover more tips about building and managing relationships in our previous articles: