Although the focus of this article may be on business relationships, much of what follows applies to all relationships. The subject is an important one; after all, if we treasure our possessions, job, reputation, or power more than our relationships, all will suffer. In fact, the quality of our lives will be determined by the quality of our relationships. Moreover, we need relationships to be whole, for as Elliot Richardson (1920~1999) said, “To be a complete person is to be a part of others, and share a part of them.”
Building better business relationships is about building better business. Businessmen and women need to ask themselves whether their relationships are strong enough to weather the storm of hard times. In today’s competitive marketplace, solid relationships are far more than beneficial; they are the key to staying afloat, the key to survival.
Customer (Client, Prospect) Behavior 101
All businesses will lose some of their customers, but to keep the loss at a minimum, it is necessary to understand customer, client, and prospect behavior. According to a famous market research study, businesses lose customers for the following reasons:
1% of them die.
3% move to another location.
5% switch their business to a friend.
9% are ‘stolen’ by a competitor.
14% switch because of product quality or price.
68% end their relationship because they are not appreciated and respected.
Clearly, the major reason why businesses lose customers is because they (the customers) feel that the business no longer cares about them. Two out of three customers feel the company they dealt with was interested in their money and nothing else. From the customer’s vantage point, what good are the products, services, and information offered if their questions go unanswered and their requests for help fall on deaf ears. As John C. Maxwell put it, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Relationships must be looked after. They are never to be treated indifferently, or taken advantage of, or thought of as something which simply attends to itself. If they are neglected, they will fail to remain as they were or are, and they will worsen. People are not stupid. They want to do business with people or organizations they know, trust, and respect.
If you run a business and customers are not complaining, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are satisfied, for research reveals that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain; they simply do business elsewhere. Although they don’t complain to the business they’re unhappy about, most do to nine or ten of their friends, who in turn pass it on to their friends. And 13% of dissatisfied customers complain to 20 or more friends and acquaintances.
When it comes to the 4% of unhappy customers that do complain, 95% of them will remain as customers if their problem is quickly resolved. What’s more, if they are impressed by how well you solved their problem, they will tell five of their friends. Compare this with satisfied customers who normally say nothing, or at best speak to one or two of their friends. This being so, you should never be afraid of problems, for they are blessings in disguise, providing you with the opportunity to prove yourself and win your client’s praise by coming to their rescue.
If you are a business, customers will praise you; say nothing about you, or complain about you. But how they react depends on how you treat them. Now let’s look at some tips on how we can build better business relationships.
Tips on Building Better Business Relationships
1. Accept people as they are, idiosyncrasies and all. Yes, the things we share in common make our relationships enjoyable, but it is our differences that make them interesting.
2. Here’s some commonsense advice from the witty Quentin Crisp (1908~1999): “The formula for achieving a successful relationship is simple: you should treat all disasters as if they were trivialities but never treat a triviality as if it were a disaster.”
3. “Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them.” (Benjamin Franklin, 1706~1790)
4. If you make people feel good about them, they will want to do business with you, but if you make them feel bad about them, they will look elsewhere.
5. Here are two valuable insights from Stephen R. Covey (1932~2012, author of “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People”): “The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human relations techniques (the Personality Ethic) rather than from our own inner core (the Character Ethic), others will sense that duplicity. We simply won’t be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence.”
“The ‘Inside-Out’ approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self — with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves precedes making and keeping promises to others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves.”
6. For any relationship to succeed over the long term it must be based on a win-win partnership. Always make sure that both parties equally benefit, for when they do, why would anyone want to end it?
7. The people you deal with form a network. Get to know them, their needs and interests. Whenever you learn of something that will help one of them, immediately pass it on. By providing this service you will become a valuable resource that no one will want to part from.
8. This tip is the reverse of #7. That is, although your aim is to become a valuable resource for members of your network, don’t forget that they, too, can prove to be a significant resource for you. Tap into them from time to time to glean the latest information, tips, referrals, and ideas that can help you. This practice will help strengthen your relationships, but don’t overdo it, lest you become a pest.
9. Follow up on all your promises and commitments. Stay in touch via email, telephone calls, and face-to-face visits when possible.
10. Always be prepared to form new relationships. Carry business cards and memorize a spiel that quickly informs others of the products, services, or knowledge that you offer. Japan Camera was the company that introduced One-Hour Photofinishing to North America. This came about because the General Manager of Japan Camera, John Asa, introduced himself to a stranger at the airport while waiting for a flight. The stranger he spoke to was the President of Noritsu, the Japanese manufacturer that invented One-Hour Photo Minilabs. This industry was new and unrepresented in North America. Because John Asa was prepared, in the brief amount of time he had before his flight, he forged a relationship that resulted in his small business growing into a chain of 140 stores across Canada.
11. Become a master communicator. And the most important part of communication is listening. Of what value are all those good questions you’re asking if you’re not listening to the answers? Important as it is to listen to what is being said, far more important is to be alert to what is being revealed by body language and tone of voice, for the words we use merely represent about 10% of the message, while the tone of voice represents about 40%, and body language, about 50%.
Here’s an example. Apprehensive husband asks wife, “Is anything wrong?”
“No!” she shouts. (Verbal content, worth no more than 10% of the message.) But the tone of her voice reveals 40% of the message, which is, “Yes, I am upset.”
While shouting her answer, her arms were crossed against her chest; she rolled her eyes upward in mockery, and sighed in exasperation. Her body language (50% of the message) revealed something was upsetting her, despite her denial.
In summary, 90% of her message (tonality + body language) said, “Yes, something is wrong.” And 10% (the verbal content) said, “No, nothing is wrong.” This simple example points out the importance of understanding all aspects of communication.
12. Don’t allow your relationships to grow lukewarm. Although it may not be necessary to contact some relationships more than once or twice a year, contact them more often than necessary just to say hello and keep the partnership warm.
13. Because of the Internet, we can now form relationships and conduct business without meeting in person. But, whenever possible, meet face-to-face, or the next best thing, communicate via Skype. We can never grow as intimate in email as we can in face-to-face meetings. Why? Because 90% of the message (tonality and body language) is missing.
14. Before trying to sell your ideas, do some research. Nothing is more frustrating to a prospect than being cornered and forced to listen to a sales pitch that they have no interest in. That’s why asking questions and listening is so important. We build relationships by serving others, not by boring them.
15. Major factors for effective relationships are trustworthiness, consistency, and sincerity. Regularly display genuine interest in others and take the time to follow up and get better acquainted.
16. Share links that you think clients may find useful, but make it personal, not part of a bulk mailing. Briefly describe how you believe it may be helpful. But don’t overdo it. There is a fine line between a friendly tip and a pest that is clogging a businessman or woman’s inbox with useless links.
17. When building a relationship, ask plenty of questions. What are their needs and aspirations? What problems are they dealing with? What are their strengths? What are they interested in? And when sharing your ideas, immediately get them involved by asking a question everyone loves, “What do you think?”
18. When working with clients, get to know as many people in the organization as possible, not only the boss, but his or her assistant, secretary, staff, receptionist. One day they may become a valuable ally or useful resource.
19. Keep your network informed of changes in procedure, changes in your position and responsibilities, and ask about any changes taking place at their end.
20. In today’s digital age, everything is electronic. If you want to say something special such as Happy Birthday! or Congratulations on your promotion! email messages are apt to get lost in the inbox clutter, or not stand out very well. Here’s where “snail mail” can be helpful. During a lunch break, buy an attractive or humorous card and mail it.
21. When speaking face-to-face or on the phone, your enthusiasm and passion can be contagious, but it must be contained because you have to respect the tight schedules your clients are working with. In a word, don’t take up more of their time than necessary. On the other hand, if a client wishes to speak and you cut them short, your behavior will be considered curt and abrasive. However, if you don’t have the time, explain why very politely.
22. Keep yourself in circulation because countless new opportunities are outside of your current network. Join clubs and associations, volunteer to give presentations, attend trade shows, and, yes, talk to strangers while you’re waiting for your next flight.
23. Have patience because it takes time for business relationships to blossom. Before getting the results you seek, a great deal of negotiation and preparation may be necessary.
24. Don’t take your relationships for granted. Express your appreciation for their business and ask if there are any ways you can improve. Treat them as a valued team member and welcome their input. Their suggestions may nip in the bud any potential problems and prevent a future rift.
25. Don’t forget to give back. If you have been helped along the way, received advice and favors, do the same for others. Relationships are for mutual growth and gain, so do your part. Share your knowledge, experience and advice while encouraging those who have yet to reach your level of success.
26. Take advantage of the latest technology. Desktop computers, tablets, and smart phones make it possible to stay in touch and relay information at a moment’s notice. Computer contact managers, calendars, and reminder software will help you control your time, remain on top of all appointments and upcoming events, and remind you of the birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates for members of your network.
27. Be willing to reach out and go the extra distance. If you are actively building relationships, don’t expect everyone to come to you; be willing to meet them on their home ground. But don’t waste their time. First do research and make sure the both of you will benefit by forming a relationship. If you can clearly present a win-win situation, the likelihood of success will be that much greater.
28. Whenever you attend a social event, be sure to mingle. You will never know in advance which of the attendees presents the greatest opportunities. It may be the first person you meet or it could be the last, so be sure to meet as many as possible. And don’t forget to get their contact information and follow up.
Now that we have some tips to work with, use them to make your relationships a growing part of your life; not a life of growing apart.
POWER QUESTIONS: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas