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Virtual Relationships for Investment Attraction

Building relationships is a cornerstone of any process in economic development.  The first rule of Investment Attraction Sales 101 is to stay “top of mind” with your prospects.

The best way to build relationships has always been face-to-face.  Today, however, the costs in terms of both time and money for attending meetings in person are increasingly prohibitive.  Organizations’ resources are seriously constrained.  The recent filing for bankruptcy protection by Jefferson County, Alabama, is a sobering reminder of the difficult economic climate in which EDOs will have to work for the foreseeable future.

Time management, then, becomes an inescapable part of building virtual relationships.  That requires discipline more than anything else.  The Internet has become the world’s Grand Central Station for building business relationships, but you can’t wander through it without following a defined path.  There’s just no time.

To build and maintain lasting virtual relationships, EDOs need a communications plan and the discipline to implement it.  Today’s software tools can help in many ways.  A variety of tools should be incorporated into the daily schedules of EDOs and should be constantly accessible through their investment attraction websites.

CRM Systems

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems built into websites are invaluable for efficiently tracking companies, contacts, opportunities and activities.  They can keep track of, report on and analyze large numbers of prospects at various stages of the decision making process.

A prominent CRM used in economic development is www.salesforce.com.  It can be configured specifically for EDOs by setting up appropriate categories, fields and reports, all of which can be shared easily. As an example, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (www.positivelyminnesota.com) reports that it has used Salesforce CRM.to centralize information and foster collaboration across multiple business units and external partners.  The tool gives a consolidated view of communication touch-points; staff now have shared access to contact history across all business units on any company they intend to visit.  No more multiple client contacts by various people in the organization unaware of each others’ activities.

Social Media

Where CRM systems are great for tracking and reporting, the role of social media is outreach and the generation of new prospects.  Popular social media channels include Twitter, Linked-in and Facebook. They provide a way to find and build relationships with prospects in an informal way, where the prospect can choose how much they wish to engage with you.

But it can’t be emphasized enough that social media success depends on having strategies and plans that are well understood by the entire organization, and designed for the benefit of those with whom you wish to develop relationships.

“Don’t broadcast, connect,” advise Vancouver-based media consultants Shane Gibson and Stephen Jagger in their book Sociable! How Social Media is Turning Sales and Marketing Upside-Down.  “Engagement is how we make other people feel and the lasting impact that we have on them and their success.” 

This is good advice.  Virtual relationships through social media depend on listening to the people in the networks and contributing something of value to that network.

 The City of Brampton knows this.  A city of 450,000 in south-central Ontario, Brampton launched a social media strategy in early 2011 designed to make it easy for people to find out what’s happening in the local business community.

 Brampton’s Economic Development Office (EDO, www.brampton.ca/en/Business) set about building relationships by providing value to those using its social media tools.  For example, at the 2011 Brampton Outstanding Business Achievement Awards in April, the EDO combined Twitter and YouTube to simultaneously show videos of winning companies as they were being released.

With its new value-added strategy, the EDO reports that it has been able to generate investment leads,
promote business events and share information with a global audience.  Almost 10 per cent of social media traffic has been from outside of Canada, with the majority of that from coming from beyond North America.

As Brampton’s experience shows, social media can have the advantage of bringing the market to the economic development organization.  Virtual relationships can develop from this inbound traffic but care must be taken to stay consistently focused on building engagement through adding value. 

E-mail and Telephone

Your virtual relationship strategy should also incorporate outbound initiatives.  E-mail campaigns provide a way to keep in touch through regular information sharing and can be tailored to specific sectors or target audiences.  Again, such campaigns should focus on providing value to the readers.  Fortunately, e-mail distribution provides one of the most effective ways of measuring the value to clients of the relationship activity.  With appropriate software you can tell how many e-mails were opened, how many people clicked through to links and so on.

 And don’t forget the old-fashioned telephone! It’s becoming an unusual way to stay in touch, but as long as calls are friendly and useful and not too frequent, the phone certainly still has a place in the virtual relationship maintenance program. With long distance tools such as Skype, costs can further be managed by using new technologies with proven concepts. 

Organized Relationships

Building and maintaining relationships has always been time consuming.  What’s different today is that time must be invested each day in the most efficient way possible, and that means that virtual relationships must be developed using a regularly organized schedule involving various tools.

The key is to have the right software, configured appropriately, have a communications plan and then have the discipline to implement it.

Please comment on this article, give us your feedback or provide a topic idea for a future article!

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One Response to “Virtual Relationships for Investment Attraction”

  1. January 23rd, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Peter Jones says:

    I completely agree, building relationships virtually can be tougher compared to face to face. But with tools such as social media it makes the process a little easier. It will take time to build these relationships and companies need to make sure they put time aside for building these relationships.

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