How To Build Business Relationships Online

Businesses have adapted to a hybrid way of speaking to people face to face and engaging with them online, and it seems unlikely there will be return to in-person or offline communications exclusively. When building relationships with anyone we do business with now, we need to be able to switch between the two ways of engaging and communicating to ensure that we adapt to the situation we are in. This can be daunting, as it’s likely many of us prefer one scenario over another. It is worth noting that whilst we previously spent much of our time meeting people in-person, that the shift to building relationships online still works by drawing on the same principles we used offline – with some minor adjustments.

The challenges of online relationship building

Online relationships are not new, as there were a certain amount of online relationship-building pre-pandemic in the form of webinars and other means of online training. In 2020 however, the way we built relationships became almost exclusively online. We were all much more forgiving in this beginning stage and accepted distracting elements such as the untidy bookshelf in the background, family members moving in and out of shot, and inept use of what was then new technology. It was far easier to communicate with someone you had an existing relationship.

However, that was 2 years ago and we are now frequently in scenarios where our first interaction with new groups of people is likely to be online.

The positive of online relationship building is that 80% of the conversation is the same as it is in-person and we can draw on our pre-existing relationship building skills. The challenge is the 20% of the conversation that is different and exclusive to building relationships online and it’s this portion where some of us are falling short.

In an online environment, we don’t get the same level of time to build trust and rapport which is key to building relationships. Time constraints, when only a certain time has been allocated for a call, can sometimes cause us to dominate the conversation because we’re clockwatching and have limited time for persuasion.

Change the dynamic

To ensure you have control before you begin an online interaction, it’s important to consider:

What does the tech look like?

Using the right technology when building an online relationship can really change the impact you have and ensure that your message still comes across without you being let down by technology. There are the obvious considerations such as having a professional background, ensuring the lighting is good and that the camera angle is correct. The other aspects are ensuring you use technology to keep the listener interested – such as slides and using visual content that helps support and reinforce your message while still considering the listener.

There is software out there that will help create compelling content for online presentations such as PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote but it is about how this is used effectively. It is important to increase interaction with your participants through breakout rooms, chat boxes, polls and of course Q&A.

Always remember that this is your facilitated conversation – you are leading but you need to bring others into the conversation to build the relationship.

Speak More Effectively

In a Dale Carnegie guide on public speaking called “Speak More Effectively” there is a wealth of information and tips that will help you speak in front of anyone and engage them. Here are the first 3 of 8 principles it offers when preparing to deliver a talk:

  1. Make brief notes of the interesting things you want to mention.
  2. Don’t write out your talks. Why? Because if you do, you will use written language instead of easy, conversational language; and when you stand up to talk, you will probably find yourself trying to remember what you wrote. That will keep you from speaking naturally and with sparkle.
  • Never, never, never memorize a talk word for word

You can click here to read the other tips, but essentially the essence for starting out your call is be prepared, but not scripted.

Use the People Pyramid

A good example of how to build strong relationships is the human pyramid.

Like anything that is built to last, strong foundations are imperative, which in a relationship begins with building trust. We build trust by asking questions, listening carefully to the other person’s needs and points of view so that we can develop understanding and gain knowledge.

Once those foundations have been laid, we can move to the influencing level, because we have developed the knowledge and built the necessary rapport, which makes the other party confident that we are credible in what we are talking about, ultimately enabling us to lead the direction of the conversation.

It is important that we do not try to lead right from the outset of a conversation, because it can come across as arrogant. We must get the bottom stage correct in order to move through the levels and the right to lead at the top.

Building online relationships can be different in the way we need to engage the other person/people but if you utilise technology correctly, you can still emotionally connect with your audience.

Online or offline the principle remains the same – make the initial call about the recipient, create an environment of collaboration, understanding their world, challenges, and business needs. That way we strike the right balance between meeting other’s needs and providing the suitable solution.