October 24, 2019

Playbook Strategies for Business Relationship Development

October 24, 2019

Mark Lacy, CPA

An Ignite Blog By: Mark Lacy, CPA
Lead Client Service Partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP


The anticipation before game time for my favorite teams is probably when I’m most excited. The anxious anticipation is what it’s all about for me. My friends and I have dissected the game plan and convinced ourselves a win is possible … probable!

There’s no doubt that one of my favorite hobbies is attending and watching sports, especially at the college level. Whether I’m at the game or enjoying it from the comfort of my own home, sports give me energy and a way to interact with family and friends around something we are all passionate about.

The anticipation of the game is engaging and keeps me connected to something greater than myself. You never know what will happen, but I am full of excitement and armchair advice in the pregame. Frankly, that is sometimes as much fun as the game itself.

Business relationship development is in many ways similar to the excitement, and also uncertainty, of being a sports fan. It’s about having faith in your yourself and your team that you’ve trained your hardest and are as prepared as possible. It’s planning for and being ready to follow through with the essential strategies in your playbook for relationship development.

At first you may not be able to predict the outcome of your efforts, but with the proper amount of effort, forethought, and planning, you can trust that you’ll be successful in one way or another; whether its big (securing a new client or contract) or small (as simple as making a new connection or learning something new).

With the advances of technology creating a shift in focus to more strategic and advisory roles for accountants, relationship building skills are becoming more and more critical. Training ourselves and our incoming accounting talent on emerging technology will benefit clients and the teams we work with. In order to successfully implement and advise with the help of those technologies, we must also have the skills necessary to know our clients, what their needs are, and then deliver valuable insights and services so that they can ultimately be more effective.

So, what strategies should be in your playbook for business relationship development?

Playbook Strategy: Know the Difference Between Networking and Deeper Relationship Building
It’s true that some people have the innate networking gene. Even if you are an introvert and don’t have the gene, the beauty is you can develop those skills over time. Developing these skills is necessary in order to find success building deeper levels of connections.

Networking is the initial step in making a meaningful connection. Relationship building is taking the next step and going beyond an acquaintance. It’s reaching out after exchanging business cards or having a conversation. It’s creating trust and deeper connections by knowing who they are, what they want and how you can make them more successful. Ultimately, trust is the building block for the ultimate goal of offering up your talents and your organizations services on those priorities.

Playbook Strategy: Build Trust
Trust plays an essential role in solid relationships.

One of my favorite resources to really help understand the building blocks of trust and teams is The Lencioni Trust Pyramid, developed by Patrick Lencioni. His book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ shines light on the five levels of a highly functioning team. The bottom layer and most important is trust. You can only move through the stages of success (and thus develop deeper connections) after you construct this solid foundation of trust. Read more about Lencioni’s management theory here: https://www.toolshero.com/leadership/lencioni-trust-pyramid/

How is trust built? Certainly, over time, but there are simple ways to do it: Always seek to foster honest ties with your clients and your teams. Learn what makes them tick, where they grew up, ask about family,  what sports they enjoy watching/playing, or their favorite vacation spot. I know personally that I want my team and the clients I work with closely to know about me and my background, my family and what’s important to me. Ask yourself: how would I feel if I was about to enter a business deal with an individual that didn’t ask questions about me personally? Would you trust that they had your best interests at heart if they don’t know you or care to get to know you?

Maybe you weren’t born with that innate networking gene. Start by just listening. Use follow up questions to understand what they enjoy or better yet what  bugs them.  Don’t underestimate the value of active and empathetic listening.

“People only trust one another when they know one another. Trust is a must in all high-performing relationships and teams.”
– Mark Lacy, CPA

Playbook Strategy: Make the Most of Your Time
How, with time being such a scarce resource, can we deepen existing partnerships and make new connections?

I recently met with an old colleague and we discussed the reason we’re all working so hard. Time. Everyone has to plan to free up time for ourselves, our clients, and our teams.

“Time is all we truly have, and with so many distractions from technology, emerging trends and social media, time becomes very precious.”
– Mark Lacy, CPA

It’s all about planning. My current role requires quite a bit of travel. That travel can create interruptions in meeting with clients, and as we unfortunately know, we can’t be everywhere we want to be, every day!

For me, breaking down the time barriers of connecting in a fast-paced world is all about planning. Technology can be a distraction but can also be incredibly helpful. For example, texting is faster than email. Ten years ago, texting a client might have been considered taboo or ‘too close for comfort’. But now? I find myself advancing (already strong) client relationships by using text rather than email. People generally read a text way before an email. We live in a very busy world and you must find creative ways to make time for people, because making time for people creates that needed trust.

Playbook Strategy: Mentor Your Team for Success
Counsel younger team members on the benefits of developing business contacts and give them examples of how it will assist them in their own professional growth.

Encourage them to get up from their computer and go talk to clients, people on their team, in the community and at networking events. Plot out definable action steps with them to evolve important connections. Ask your mentee: what are you going to do to develop a relationship with this person? Encourage them to start at a granular level with a relationship development plan and timeline.

Give them tips on how they can pre-plan to create more effective connections; your business will see new opportunities when all members of your team have a clear path and understand the planning necessary to foster positive working partnerships.

“Some people hit it off naturally, but you can’t bank on that happening.”
– Mark Lacy, CPA

Playbook Strategy: Delegate Relationship-Building to Your Team
Mentoring your team is key and relationship management can be delegated to your people. For busy managers, this can be a time management life-safer. All of my team members create a relationship development plan with clear timelines, ideas, and expectations. Coach your people on spending time with clients and contacts to make their job, and our job, better and easier.

Before You Hit the Field Check That Playbook!
In the accounting profession, regardless of which area of accounting you find yourself in, we are all servant leaders. We are all consultants at some level. And unless you have empathy for those you are engaging with, unless you really understand their needs, challenges, and how you can deliver value to them, you’re missing out on greater opportunities to play a role in each other’s success.

You never know when you might have a big win, or a unique or unexpected result will come from your connections. Seek enjoyment from every contact. Find energy from being with others and always be open to learning something from everyone you meet.

The Ignite blog is an official publication of the Kansas Society of CPAs. Copyright 2019.