My good friend, Tracey Murphy of HR Track (www.hrtrack.co.uk) is a dedicated networker and she has a little axiom that she uses to say that she likes to do business “with people I know, like and trust”.
That works for me. It seems to encapsulate all that is good and appropriate in defining a relationship in business.
There isn’t, or shouldn’t be, any distinction in that statement between customers, suppliers, stakeholders, staff, community; in fact anyone with whom we are in contact during the normal business day.
It is worth picking it apart slightly to examine the specifics. As far as customers are concerned the verb “know” is really significant. Marketing methods have changed dramatically over the past few years and are still changing. There is less face to face contact and this can be a problem.
The old methods of the blunderbuss approach with vast mailings no longer work as they did and in any case are becoming vastly expensive. Far better to identify those companies with whom we want to do business and then work on them to build a relationship.
This implies a good deal of desk research which is comparatively simple these days to identify the important people in the target businesses, their size and performance record, product range, and so on. What it means is that we can build a dossier about the company before actually meeting them and that is a great start in knowing them.
A stage further is the face to face meeting to develop that knowledge and to get a view on whether it is a business with whom we really do want to deal. That is a start on the road to liking them which is, I believe, a vital component. It may seem something less than businesslike but we are human beings as well as business people and we much prefer to deal with people that we actually like.
Suppliers are another case in point. Why should we not develop relationships with them to encourage them to want to deal with us and to offer great service? I recall a client (Richard) who was a manufacturer of electronic equipment and who held a suppliers’ conference every couple of years.
At one of these he made the point that he would prefer suppliers to refer to their components by his part number rather than theirs. One of the suppliers stood up and said that their software system would not be able to do that at which Richard smiled gently and said, not to worry, that there was another suppler in the room who could do what he wanted so supplies would still be available.
That resulted in a very quick amendment to software and Richard had dual supplies which is precisely what he wanted.
A small thought. There is no better way to develop a close relationship with a good supplier than by paying them on time and even early. Your Finance Director might not approve but regular supplies from a trusted supplier can be lifeblood.
In the end, good relationships built over a period of time with promises being kept, good quality of the product and great service being given at all times will eventually lead to trust and that will be mutual.
Of course, the same applies right throughout the piece with whomsoever we come into contact. Trust can only be developed in an atmosphere of visible and proven honesty and probity; a genuine desire to please and to fulfil needs with a consistency of approach which guarantees satisfaction.
It is not easy to reach this nirvana but the result is well worth the effort. In the end, of course, we are talking about a consistency of values and culture which can only be driven into the business by the leader.
Why not start the process with a suppliers’ conference (and pay them on time)?