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BD 101: Developing Relationship-Building Skills to Win Business

BD 101: Developing Relationship-Building Skills to Win Business

Proactive relationship development is imperative for strategic progress and winning work, particularly as it relates to positioning the next generation for success. It allows the firm to take control of its future and create options among highly desirable types of clients and projects.


An 85-person design firm wanted to develop more business in a key market sector.

Our client hadn’t won a major building project in a key market sector in many years, and yet had strong expertise and capability in that area. They remained interested in practicing in this market sector, but were not proactively developing the necessary new business relationships.

Engaging in proactive client relationship development did not come naturally to this group (and some thought of ‘sell’ as a four-letter word). They were a bit reluctant about what would be required of them to be proactive, and uncertain about whether they could be successful. Relationship building required a leap of faith. Also, they were somewhat unaware of how the marketplace perceived them and what clients valued and respected most about their work.


The best way for a company to distinguish itself is by understanding the client’s needs better than the competition does.

We worked with the firm to approach business-development as dialogue with the client designed to better understand their needs. We refocused how the team talked with potential clients, moving from a rehearsed pitch of their abilities to a  conversation about the client.

We began by coaching them on how to engage in conversations designed to discover interests and values they shared with their target clients: talking about what they care about (their work, what they do, and why they do it); talking about the client’s stories; and discovering shared interests. Through this process, the firm was also able to develop strategic relationships and understand how they were perceived.

We worked with the group over time with one-on-one iterative coaching and feedback. Each participant was encouraged to work on articulating key messages and developing options for responding and furthering key relationships.


Today, the firm is winning new projects in this key market sector by employing these business-development techniques.

After a number of small wins, the company won a significant project with a major client. Each person on the interview team connected strategically with his or her peer in the client organization and genuinely understood their needs. Rather than one or two people working independently, the whole team was involved. After the interview, and despite some very tough competition, the new client commented, “There was no way we couldn’t hire them—they understood the project and our needs better than anyone else.”

The firm continues to initiate and foster strategic connections—moving relationships from “unknown” to “highly trusted” and “like family.” Moreover, they are advancing their firm’s strategic vision by winning work with clients who are key to a successful, sustainable practice, one that positions the next generation for success.

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