The Business of Building Relationships

business-relationshipsGuest post contributed by Holly McCarthy

No man is an island, and neither is a business. To survive and grow in the current business environment we must ensure that we maintain strong relationships with not just our customers, but also with our suppliers and other business partners as well. More than the profits we make, it’s the goodwill we earn that’s remembered long after we’re gone and only the business remains. Relationships in a business context are not that different from those we maintain personally or socially – they involve mutual trust and respect. Here’s how you can build business relationships that will stand you in good stead through the ages: 

  • Offer credit and discounts: When you’ve been in the business for a while, you tend to know instinctively who you can trust and who you cannot. The ones that are trustworthy tend to be more loyal when you offer them trade credits and discounts. Credits allow them to put off paying you immediately for the goods or services you provide while discounts allow them to save money.
  • Honor trade credits: Similarly, if you’re at the receiving end of trade credits from your suppliers, pay up according to the promised schedule to avoid unpleasant fallouts and unnecessary altercations and misunderstandings.
  • Look inwards: Successful business relationships are not just those that are built with people who are externally connected to your firm; in fact, your most valued relationships should be those that you form with your employees. They are your family at work, and by keeping in touch with their needs, problems and issues, you earn their loyalty and dedication. By staying abreast of the projects they’re working on, their performances, and their general demeanor at work, you have firsthand knowledge of almost all the employees who work for you.
  • Stay in touch: What most people who’re aloof or selfish don’t understand is that people don’t like to feel that they’re being used. So if you call someone and keep in touch only as long as they can do something for you, you run the risk of being labeled selfish. Business relationships are not like their social counterparts in that you don’t have to call just to touch base, but there is a way to keep in touch even without the social niceties. If the services of a valued supplier have not been used for a long time because of some reason or the other, it’s best to call and assure them that you will need their services sometime in the near future.
  • Build your people management skills: You may be the shrewdest businessman around, but that doesn’t mean you’re the most-liked. It’s a well-known fact that the goodwill you earn is more valuable than the profits you make as a cutthroat shark, so build your people management skills and learn to interact with suppliers, vendors and customers in a gracious manner.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of construction management degrees. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com.

16 Things I Wish They Had Taught Me in School

sunriseIf you have ever checked out the blogroll here at cofebuz.com you have probably been to Henrik Edberg’s The Positivity Blog. I like to think of his blog as a motivational blog, while I consider cofebuz a business blog. Henrik continually comes up with some great material that I highly recommend reading. One of his “most popular posts of 2008” was the blog 16 Things I Wish They Had Taught Me in School. As I read through the list one of these “things” caught my attention:

#4 – First, give value. Then, get value. Not the other way around.

“This is a bit of a counter-intuitive thing. There is often an idea that someone should give us something or do something for us before we give back. The problem is just that a lot of people think that way. And so far less than possible is given either way.

If you want to increase the value you receive (money, love, kindness, opportunities etc.) you have to increase the value you give. Because over time you pretty much get what you give. It would perhaps be nice to get something for nothing. But that seldom happens.”

I find it interesting that Henrik captures the essence of what we regularly discuss when it comes to success in business. I believe that this is due to the fact that it is impossible to separate relationships and business. In the past I have struggled with an “It’s Just Business” philosophy only to realize later that there is no such thing as “Just Business.” Take a moment to read the other 16 Things I Wish They Had Taught Me in School, it is a great read!

Business Networking at your Company

peopledigital1Networking is “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” Notice that it isn’t something that happens solely at ‘networking functions’ or even something that happens just with people that don’t work at your company. Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships that make life easy and more productive for both parties, even with others in your company.

Redefine your perception of Networking

My good friend Mark has an old computer and as a result he often places requests in to his IT department for service. The problem is that every time he calls they come and do yet another ‘quick fix’ that never fully eliminates his computer problems. When Mark first started working at his company 3 years ago the IT department tried to be helpful, but after three years of constant calls, the IT staff is no longer motivated to help Mark. While the IT department has to provide a minimum level of service, (quick fixes) they, like most IT departments, regularly face a lack of time and resources, meaning that their best service is reserved for their best customers.

Solving the IT problem

What would happen if Mark started helping the IT department? Instead of complaining he started cleaning up his server space, stopped installing programs from the Internet, supported them in meetings, respected their time, took them out to lunch, thanked them when they helped him, and generally did everything he could to help them out. Just as it does with others outside your company, this type of action creates the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship, and in this case, probably a new computer.

Successful Business Relationships include Networking

Mark’s problem is the same as faced by thousands of others every day. It might be your accounting department, marketing department, coworkers, or administrative staff, but in each case it is usually a relationship problem.

Think about your relationships around the office; are people quick to help you succeed because you are always helping them succeed? If not, try the proven method to build a relationship: put yourself and your needs aside and simply focus on helping the other person, you’ll be amazed at how they want to help you in return.

It’s Not ‘Just Business’

The phrase “It’s Just Business” has become an accepted way to dehumanize important decisions.  The reality is that, in our relatively small industry where relationships are everything, it is impossible to negate the importance of relationships when faced with difficult business decisions.  We cannot suddenly stop making important business decisions, but neither should we selectively disregard the importance of relationships when making those decisions.  To succeed in the long run we need to make people, not business, the primary focus of our decision-making process.

Making Sound Business Decisions
This past year our company celebrated its 30th anniversary with an open house to which we invited as many of our previous employees as we could track down.  We were surprised by what we found: most of our previous employees were still working locally; many were leaders of change affecting our business everyday; and dozens were now our clients. 

Looking at how these former employees have continued to impact our company has reinforced the importance of these long-term relationships.  Sound business decisions should consider not only immediate needs of the company, but also the company’s future, which is based largely on a culture of trusted relationships.  Business decisions made with the “It’s Just Business” philosophy embrace the faulty premise that the company is more important than people.  By making decisions that are best for people we strengthen our companies and build teams that believe in our decisions and leadership even after individual team members depart.

An Industry Built on Relationships
In his blog, Mark Buckshon, President of Construction News and Report Publishing, states that, “You will achieve the highest results if you think longer-term and in the context of giving.” His statement is especially true in our industry, which is a leader in recognizing the importance of relationships as the key to our successes and failures.  It is important to note this as we make business decisions, knowing that others in our company and industry will evaluate our motivations and, based on their observations, will develop trust in our leadership accordingly.

It’s Just People
Many companies have succeeded at making people the center of their decisions.  Some examples include: the company that tries to find new jobs for employees facing layoffs; the manager that mentors an underachiever instead of firing the employee; and the owner who respects seniority when promoting a young project manager over an experienced individual by changing a title or adapting team structure.  Undoubtedly, this people-centered approach to business decisions can be more difficult in the short-term, but most successes are built on long-term, not on short-term gains.

It’s Just Smart Business
Perhaps it is time to give up our “It’s Just Business” slogan and instead focus on the value of every relationship – current and past employees as well as clients.  Next time you are making an important decision think about the potential long-term benefits of maintaining strong relationships. 

This article, written by Tim Klabunde, was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Marketer, the leading marketing publication of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry.

Marketing Generosity

“Perhaps the most important lesson in business I’ve learned in the past few years is that, when it comes to marketing, it is not what you take, but what you give, that counts the most.”
Mark Buckshon
Construction News and Report

If you have been reading this blog for the past year, or if you have attended my seminars on Networking or building a Rainmaking Culture, you have probably noticed that the key to being successful in business and marketing is giving, not getting. In his recent posting Marketing Generosity, Mark Buckshon writes about some of the practical ways you can build success by leveraging this age-old marketing technique.

Why it Works
If you ever wondered why focusing on others instead of yourself is such a powerful approach, there is a simple answer: Selfless giving is the foundation for relationships. It builds trust and allows others to know that everything you do isn’t centered on the almighty dollar. Mark’s posting is not only worth reading, it is worth taking the time to think about what you are doing to market generously.

Principles of Service-Centered Selling

Mel Lester’s recent posting on his E-Quip Blog is a great reminder of the importance of relationships in the sales process.  Here is a brief look at his posting Uncomfortable With Sales? You Should Be:

Principles of Service-Centered Selling
“Service-Centered Selling is the application of service excellence to the way we develop new business for our companies. Remember, great service happens in the context of a strong relationship with the client. Selling is essentially how we initiate that relationship. It’s courtship. Naturally the way we start the relationship sets the tone for how it will develop. If we want the client to value the service difference we offer, we should begin demonstrating it during the sales process. That difference likely then becomes the key factor in our being selected for the work.”

Note that how you begin the relationship “sets the tone” for how you will be viewed throughout not just this contract, but also future work.  Are you the “low cost” fix, or the “high quality” solution?  Take a moment to reflect about how your sales process sets the tone for your business, are you laying the foundation to achieve your business goals, or are you just getting another job in the door?

Please note that E-Quip has been added to my blogroll.  Thank you Mel, I look forward to reading more great posts!

It’s Just Business

The phrase “It’s Just Business” has become an accepted way to dehumanize important decisions. The reality is that it is simply not wise to devalue the importance of relationships even when faced with difficult business decisions. We cannot suddenly stop making important business decisions, but neither should we selectively disregard the importance of relationships when making those decisions. To succeed in the long run we need to make people, not business, the primary focus of our decision-making process.

It is a small world
This past year our company celebrated its 30-year anniversary with an open house to which we invited back as many of our previous employees as we could track down. We were surprised by what we found. Most of our previous employees were still in the industry; many were leaders of change affecting our business every day; and dozens were now our clients.

Sound Business Decisions
Looking at how these former employees impact our company reinforces the importance of these relationships. Sound business decisions should consider not only immediate needs of the company, but also the company’s future, which largely depends on a culture of trusted relationships. Business decisions made with the “it’s just business” philosophy embrace the faulty premise that the company is more important than people. By making decisions that are best for people we strengthen our companies and build teams that believe in our decisions and leadership even after individual team members depart.