February 9, 2021
One of the biggest but less-remarked upon challenges presented by lockdown has been the impact on professional relationships. As remote working stretches on for many, how do we maintain presence and profile with colleagues and clients, have conversations that spark new ideas or help us out of a rut and continue to develop our networks by meeting new people?
During a webinar I delivered for The Association of Consulting Actuaries between lockdowns last year*, two-thirds of the respondents to a poll reported that they would be working from home for the foreseeable future, despite government attempts to encourage people back to the workplace. Only 7% were back in the office full time.
With the vast majority of respondents working from home and quite possibly having to do so for much of this year, how is that impacting their ability to build and nurture relationships?
Participants in my webinar confirmed that the biggest challenges they faced revolved around difficulties building ‘the personal touch’ from a distance, along with the predictable issues with technology. Zoom or Teams Fatigue is definitely a thing!
It’s very difficult to maintain eye contact when you’re teleconferencing. To appear to look the other person in the eyes you have to look at the camera, which means that you can only see them in your peripheral vision. If you look directly into their eyes, you appear to them as though you are looking away and distracted.
Add in the loss of the physical clues we share through our body language when we meet in person and we can see that technology, while presenting considerable benefits, has many shortfalls in helping us to build rapport.
Recognising that Zoom and Teams fatigue is real, it’s important to vary the communication channels we use, going back to phone calls, SMS, WhatsApp and social media more to vary our touchpoints with our network. Even arranging socially distanced walking meetings where geographically convenient and when the weather is nice.
The nature of our conversations is changing too. In the poll I conducted, over half of the respondents (55%) reported having more ‘transactional’ agenda-driven conversations than usual. I think this reflects more transactional calls taking place and a loss of natural opportunities for small talk as we meet people for lunch or simply bump into them around the office.
Interestingly, almost half (45%) also reported an increase in the number of ‘relational’ conversations they were having. They seemed to be making up for the loss in natural small talk conversations by spending more time engaging in personal conversation during formal meetings but other groups I have worked with since have seen relational conversation drop substantially, meaning that those seemingly meaningless conversations that help to deepen relationships, build understanding and raise profile are missing from our interactions with others.
We’re getting an insight into the people behind the job titles. We’re seeing into people’s homes, laughing with them as their pets or kids demand our attention. As I edit this, I’ve just finished a call with someone while she was perched on her kids’ bunk beds and homeschooling her daughter, who wanted to say ‘hi’! We’ve become more accepting and more human and that’s pushing our transactional agenda further down the list of priorities.
Perhaps we’re compensating for the loss of human contact by changing the way we engage online. We can’t lose sight of our purpose but relationships are also key and a ‘blended’ mindset of engaging relationally as well as transactionally will help. As will picking up the phone without agenda just to ask people how they are.
One of the most important takeaways for me has been the importance of empathy in the way we engage. People feel tired, threatened and bored. They carry health concerns for themselves and their family, worries about their job or business, concern for the state of the country and more.
But they are not necessarily going to let you know that.
The truth is that we don’t know what’s happening in the lives of the people we’re engaging with. We could be launching into a transactional conversation with someone who has just returned from a hospital visit.
Empathy is key at the best of times, but right now it’s probably the number one quality we could demonstrate when building relationships with our network. Sure, get the business done. But show an interest in the individual you’re doing business with.
Andy Lopata is an expert on building, nurturing and leveraging professional relationships. He published two books in 2020:
He is also the host of The Connected Leadership Podcast
“We were delighted with the services that Bluebox offered us. Bluebox’s attention to detail through their Diamond Programme ensured that we were well prepared for when the business was taken to market and that the sale process itself was managed expertly.
We challenged Bluebox with finding the right strategic buyer and thereafter negotiating a deal that met our requirements. In helping initially to identify and to secure the deal with Mountville Mills they accomplished just that. Communication throughout was excellent and professional, managing each stage of the process. I would have no hesitation in recommending Bluebox to any corporate shareholder or private business owner looking to divest their business.”
Richard Millward, Former Client
“We were delighted with the services that Bluebox offered us. Bluebox were challenged with finding us the right strategic investor and, thereafter, negotiating a deal that met our complex requirements. In identifying and securing the deal with LGC they have done exactly that. The process itself was efficient and smooth, largely due to the excellent communication from the Bluebox team, who also demonstrated excellent experience at managing a very engaging auction process. I would be delighted to recommend Bluebox to any corporate shareholder or private business owner looking to divest a business.”
Helen Dickinson, Former Client
It has been a real privilege working with the team at Bluebox over this last year or so. Bluebox’s attention to detail ensured that we were well prepared for when the business was taken to market and the sale process itself was managed expertly. Starting the process, I had no idea exactly what this would entail and the volume of work that has been produced by everyone and the result reached today is nothing short of brilliant.
Hugh Morris, Former Client
We are delighted with the services that Bluebox was able to offer. They showed an intimate knowledge of a deal cycle, managed a tight auction process and were highly communicative from the start. I would happily recommend Paul and his team to business owners contemplating a sale of their business in the next 24 months. Experience is key and this has paid off for us.
Laurence Seward, Former Client
Aligning ourselves early with Bluebox, and entrusting the team to guide us through their process proved to be a highly rewarding investment from all viewpoints. Bluebox’s support significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years. The earlier the engagement the better so far as I am concerned.
Mike Minett, Former Client
We began working with Bluebox in early 2015 through their Blue Diamond Programme, as we were contemplating an exit. We found that the process focussed our minds on the key areas of growth in the business, and prepared us well for the inevitable rigours of due diligence. During the sale process itself, the advice offered by the Bluebox team was invaluable. We found them to be helpful, straightforward and honest.
David Stokes, Former Client
When selecting our adviser, it was extremely important that they had access to international buyers and were experienced in cross-border M&A. The team at Bluebox proved to be invaluable by identifying a strategic acquirer from America who was not known to us and by negotiating an excellent deal for all parties. I was also impressed with the process management from Bluebox, which ensured that the deal was closed in a timely fashion.
Jeff Weinstein, Former Client
When I first engaged with Bluebox, I was hesitant as to the benefits of using an advisor to firstly, find a buyer for my business and secondly, to get a deal over the line. However, now that the deal has completed with KPM, I can honestly say that the finer negotiation points handled by Bluebox and their overall management of this process has been nothing short of first class. I would be delighted to recommend Bluebox’s services to any entrepreneur contemplating the sale of their business.
Bill Ballard, Former Client
Bluebox worked closely with us over the following six months and helped us to implement some key initiatives which made InferMed a more attractive acquisition target. Once we decided to sell the business, the Bluebox team were very diligent in ensuring that no stone was left unturned. They negotiated expertly on our behalf to ensure we got the best deal possible.
Alan Montgomery, Former Client
The pre-sale planning programme that we signed up for with Bluebox made us develop our strategies and focus on the bigger picture. It proved to be a very rewarding investment from all viewpoints and significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years.
Nigel Parsons, Former Client
I have experienced first hand the value that can be created through highly structured pre-sale planning. It amazes me that it is not something that everyone does. It is so disappointing to see around 90% of transactions collapse before they complete and pre-sale planning will not only enhance your price, but also significantly enhance your chance of a closed deal.
James Caan, Investor
We worked incredibly closely with our advisers who provided expert knowledge of the sale process with which we were not familiar. We were truly delighted with the results.
Marten Nielson, Former Client
We appointed advisers to manage the sales process after we had received a number of unsolicited approaches for the business. I was incredibly impressed by the immense value that could be created by expertly negotiating with a group of already interested parties.
Paul Duckworth, Former Client
I was delighted with the service that the team offered and their real attention to detail. The deal was not without its complexities and it was reassuring to have such experienced advisers assisting me throughout the negotiations.
Peter Bennett, Former Client
Truly delighted with the way my sale process was managed. The fact that the team I worked with achieved such a great multiple is testament to their experience and their ability to create some true competitive tension.
James Averdieck, Gü, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided invaluable support in negotiating this complex transaction. Their access to international purchasers, and exceptional knowledge of cross border M&A ensured that the deal was concluded efficiently, achieving a highly successful outcome for us all.
Jon Parslow, Former Client
“We selected Bluebox after a fairly long round of evaluating potential advisors because of their scientific, yet challenging approach to maximising value. During our initial meetings they showed us how far short of “ready” we were and consequently we completed more preparation in the early stages which meant we were equipped for what was to come. We were delighted with our choice of Corporate Finance partner. I do not hesitate in recommending Bluebox for any SME to consider.”
Simon English, Former Client
Bluebox provided invaluable advice in managing the negotiations with incoming investors. Their skills in handling these discussions were evident from the outset and the vital interface that they provided between the incumbent team and the incoming investors was truly beneficial.
Henry Braham, Former Client
Bluebox have a professional, dynamic and experienced team that is greatly assisting me with my focus on my exit within the next 24 months. Their structured approach is very refreshing and their ‘Blue Diamond’ programme is adding immense value.
Matt Evans, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided me with a seamless service from the start of the engagement until our deal was completed. Attention to detail was commendable and their understanding of corporate M&A very impressive. I could not recommend them highly enough.
Victor Lewis, Former client
Having tried to sell my business previously – and failed – I was only too aware of the importance of pre-sale planning. This is a talented team offering a service that most people find out about, but too late.
Simon Hulme, Former Client
Bluebox are a quality outfit. Their access to International acquirers and relationships with the highest quality domestic investors was impressive. My shareholders and I received excellent service from start to finish and it was refreshing to be dealing with a senior team throughout the sale exercise.
Michael Clapper, Former Client
I cannot recommend the team at Bluebox highly enough. Their expert guidance throughout the entire sale exercise resulted in my shareholders securing an excellent deal with which the entire team was delighted.
Mark Rodol, Former Client
I’m really pleased with the service Bluebox provided. The team demonstrated excellent knowledge of the process to follow and led negotiations for the hospital in a way that allowed us to ensure we received appropriate value whilst focusing on reputational risk. Communication and service were of a very high standard.
Steven Davies, Former Client
With Bluebox’s expert advice we were able to find the right buyer that will benefit our business strategically. We’re delighted with the outcome and look forward to starting our new chapter
Clive Hillier, Former Client
The advice offered by the Bluebox team throughout the process was invaluable to the shareholders. We strongly believe that participating in Bluebox’s pre-sale planning programme was a significant driver behind the success of the deal. Their project management and negotiation skills throughout the sale process itself resulted in an exceptional deal being delivered to all parties involved.
Harpal Singh, Former Client