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BrainTrust Query: Three Universal Truths to Creating Strong Business Relationships

December 7, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from an article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research blog.

In all my years on the supplier side and now as a consultant, I have learned three recurring drivers of creating successful relationships with colleagues who are either co-workers or clients. These universally apply to external relationships, like a research supplier working with a client, or internal relationships, like a client service team working with operations or an insights manager working with marketing.

The three universal truths of strong business relationships are:

  1. Help your colleague add value to who signs their paycheck: Make it easy for your client to have an impact that adds value to the enterprise that pays their salary and by so doing, you will have added tremendous value to your client.
  2. Add to a colleague's prospects for career growth: Everyone wants their career to advance, to get great performance reviews, salary increases, and to be groomed for bigger and better things. An amazing engagement can do this for your client.
  3. Colleagues want to enjoy the ride: It is more important for you as a service provider to make it as easy as possible for your clients to work with you vs. more highly valuing your own efficiency and organization structure.

The last one is my favorite and perhaps most important of all. As a consultant, I try to be highly and immediately responsive as a delayed phone call back or a missed deliverables deadline can be fatal to a relationship.

Other ways you can help your client to enjoy the ride: be pleasant, personable and considerate, completely open and honest to reinforce that they placed their trust in the right person, and show them you are listening and valuing their input and opinions.

Think of this principle in the context of client service working with operations. Often the tension arises from client service feeling they are not getting what they need fast enough or that it is not correct. Operations then says that the specs were unclear and led to re-work. Each team becomes adversarial, thinking their job is harder, they are better at it, and they work longer hours because they are more committed. Clearly, in such internal tensions, no one is enjoying the ride.

Ultimately, both parties to a business relationship want it to be successful. You are on the same team! Keep these universal truths top of mind and success will be the outcome.

Discussion Questions:

What do you think is essential to strong business relationships? What is particularly critical in helping others 'enjoy the ride' in engagements with co-workers or clients?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Of the three drivers of successful relationships with colleagues mentioned in the article, which is the biggest differentiator?

Comments:

Not all suppliers are equally easy for retailers to work with, and it doesn't pay to put too much value on a smooth relationship. The smart retailer will acknowledge that he or she has more influence than the vendor in some partnerships, and less in others.

It's important to understand the "balance of power"—for example, a hot designer brand willing to sell your store exclusively may at first have the upper hand. It's equally important—although a cliche—for both sides to pursue "win-win" outcomes, even though getting there may strain the personal ties between retailer and vendor.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

1. Don't "talk," "do."

2. Share knowledge.

3. Show your appreciation. It's hard to overuse simple words like..."Thank you."

I have done my part to share what I believe on this thread, now thank you! ;)

Fabien Tiburce, CEO, Compliantia, Retail Audit & Task Management Software

Great article, Joel. I would add honesty and transparency. Being a person of good character creates trust, and trust creates the opportunity to explore solutions together without hidden agendas.

As a consultant, it's important for a client to enjoy the ride. Assignments must help the client. At the same time, it's important to not sugar coat reality. Don't leave something unsaid because it paints a less-than-rosy picture.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

A perfect time of the year to offer these insights Joel. Though the team motto in our society is "Every man for himself," it's good to be reminded of the universal truth that what you give to others comes back to you—especially if you do it without expectation. While you've put it in a corporate context that foundational truth has been known and taught since the beginning of time and is contained in most Holy Writings. Some day we'll actually understand how it all works.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

Essential in relationships: mutual objectives, mutual trust and mutual growth. Once you learn the details of a single victory in business, it is hard to distinguish it from defeat.

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

One of the key points essential to strong business relationships is trust. Colleagues can obtain value and enjoy the ride, but all of it works better if there is a high degree of trust in the relationship. Trust must be earned, particularly in the beginning of a relationship, and continuously reinforced through actions to forge and keep a successful business relationship.

This is true in supplier/customer relationships as well as with colleagues within organizations.

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

Lots of good advice in this article. In my own consulting and master-broker practice, I love working with clients that understand and practice the science of human nature, social skills, building real relationships, and understanding the intrinsic culture and even the politics of the retailers with whom they are doing business. Great suppliers have great products but also know what they don't know and learn how to approach this business the right way knowing full well that this is indeed a business with real people on both sides that have real motives and actualities.

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David Biernbaum, Senior Marketing and Business Development Consultant, David Biernbaum Associates LLC

Joel's guidance is a reminder for all of us. Regardless of our professions, we should always be helping make our customers experiences easy, fulfilling and enjoyable. If the journey isn't an enjoyable experience even though the results were achieved, it'll be highly unlikely anyone will want to take a second ride.

These same 'universal truths' are as valid for our customers wherever we ply our professional trade within the entire brand/retail/agency ecosystem. This is yet another set of core guidance that is common sense, but not common knowledge.

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

Another point to add to the conversation is keeping your contact up to date with what is happening in their particular industry. Knowledge is valuable to success.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

I'd add another: care about family. Take the time to learn more about your contacts' home lives, and let them know that you truly care. That's a bond that's hard to break.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

The key is working with both co-workers and clients.  Respect. Practicing the rule of reciprocity. Helping them achieve the things that they want to achieve.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

There is one word that is essential to building strong business relationships: Confidence!

Confidence creation is a key to any customer (both internal and external) feeling comfortable about doing business or working with you. Confidence comes from trust, accountability and dependability.

If you want loyalty, there has to be confidence. It's part of my loyalty formula, which is:

Great service + Confidence = Loyalty (potentially)

There is an old saying that people like to do business with people they know, they like and they trust. That's all about confidence.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Strong business relationships and enjoying the ride are predicated on reliability and consistency (in addition to the listed factors). A client/customer wants to truly be certain they will get what they expect.

No surprises on meeting deadlines, commitments, etc.

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David Zahn, Owner, ZAHN Consulting, LLC

Strong business relationships are defined by a level of commonality of interest and trust. It is critical in a client—focused business that both parties be actively engaged in the success of both parties. While that may seem obvious, many larger organizations have moved to a vendor—type relationship where driving price savings is a key metric of success, regardless of what that price decline might do to the partner organization. The extreme example of that is Walmart, which has been documented as driving prices so aggressively that suppliers run the risk of going out of business.

In addition, trust is a key factor in building long-term relationships. Sharing information in order to arrive at the best possible solution actually helps to deepen the relationship with both parties. Companies that are excessively safe keeping do not enjoy the benefit of having a partner think about their business aggressively with full information.

I understand that this business environment requires a level of price competitiveness in order to achieve success. At the same time, I believe that level of price competitiveness is best achieved when two organizations collaborate well together with a common goal.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, LiftPoint Consulting, Inc.

I like Shep's call out on confidence (not to be confused with arrogance). I would add integrity, competence and consistency. Most of my client engagements involve multiple teams and, increasingly, several companies/entities and third parties. It's unrealistic to believe that everyone can or should be won over and quite a bit of testing happens all along the way.

Service providers who consistently and confidently demonstrate competence and do so with integrity (non-political, purity of intention) stand out at the end of the day and over the long term.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

The elements that Joel mentions are all helpful to building client relationships, but there are two more that are even more important:

1. Earn their trust: Especially critical when the relationship centers around an intangible service. Clients have to trust you to be good stewards of their resources and that you will look out for their interests. Often the most critical factor to earning exceptional levels of trust is how you behave when things don't go according to plan.

2. Tell them things they don't already know: Clients hire outside professionals for their perspective. Service providers who rise above the crowd are the ones who are able to bring clients new insights or show them new ways of looking at their business or their customers.

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Martin Mehalchin, Partner, Lenati, LLC

Good article and of immense importance in today's world of focusing on short term results vs. long term mutual success. The best and most sustainable organizations focus on the long term. In doing so, they allows their people's best nature to come to the fore—honesty, caring, empowerment, adding value, and more.

Even in the world of the short term, however, if you are in a role that intersects with the same people from year to year, only trust drives sustainable success. Read Stephen Covey Jr.'s "Speed of Trust" for an excellent primer on this subject.

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

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