The importance of business relationships cannot be underestimated, especially for small businesses. The closeness that you develop with clients, associates and even suppliers builds a strong trust that can sustain your business. It also gives you an emotional bank balance that you may need to dip into on occasion, which can come in very handy (even with suppliers).
For such valuable business assets, relationships are often not given the same time, planning, structure, discipline or budget that other types of marketing are given. Yet if you look at the return on investment, the numbers may tell you where your resources should go.
Think of your business relationships as you would a romance. In order for them to reach any kind of potential, it takes time and effort. They need to be nurtured and nourished and given time to grow. If you think of your business relationships as business romances it may help. Here are the stages:
Courting. You have just met, feel that there may be potential and are interested in what the other has to offer. You will probably meet for coffee or lunch, hear about their business and get some idea of what the other is about.
Usually the relationship ends here. Most of the time there is an expectation that one meeting is enough to generate new business. The reality is that in such a short time you will only get a general outline of the other person’s real values and performance with clients. Your date, when you don’t call back, will forget about you.
For those referrals that may arise, the relationship can be easily broken. One snippet of negative feedback is likely to result in you being dumped.
Newlyweds. The newness is subsiding and reliability is developing. As the relationship develops you have enough confidence to work alongside your new partner. By now you have made the effort to meet a few times, may have a number of clients in common and are getting a good understanding of how the other operates. Your confidence is increasing and you know exactly which clients of yours that the other is suitable for: price, service delivery and cultural fit.
You are likely to recommend client to your partner as the opportunity arises but may not actively seek them.Your interaction is at least semi-regular and your are probably starting to become friends as well as associates. Problems can be dealt with, but extra effort needs to be made.
Old married couple: You have worked together for an extended period, have many common clients and know each other’s businesses intimately. Most likely you will be singing praises and actively seeking clients for each other. There is a deep cultural alignment. You have frequent contact.
When problems do arise you will be able to have open, frank discussions about the inner workings of each other’s business. You may even find yourself defending the other business to a mutual client.
What to do
Your aim should be to have as many Old Married Couple relationships as you can, as these are without doubt the greatest benefit to you and your business. Getting there takes time and discipline, particularly in the early stages. Once you are courting, use reminders and tasks to keep the contact regular. Send articles if you find something of interest to them. Send gifts, cards and birthday wishes. Most importantly – treat their clients like a precious gift. If things go wrong, their name and reputation can be damaged, sometimes badly. You must go above and beyond for their clients.
Dr Warren Harmer