Build Relationships Not Walls!

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What is the key element of business success?

Now there’s a question that could lead to a multitude of different answers: A great product; a positive cash flow; a solid business plan; financial backing; an inspiring and hardworking owner; location, location, location … all of these are important and many businesses have failed because one or more aspects were not in place. I submit, however, that the key to your business’s future lies with people. A business may be a separate legal entity but it is created by, built by, supplied by and supported by... people. Your business began as an idea that you had. As a would-be entrepreneur, you had to sell your idea to potential investors, suppliers and potential customers. While your business plan was important, the people to whom you were selling the idea were effectively buying you and your dream. This was the beginning of a relationship. Regardless of whether you are a sole proprietor or a fast-growing chain, the business is literally in the hands of the people who supply it, run it and buy from it. It follows then, that it makes good business sense to build positive, long-lasting relationships with all your stakeholders.

A logical starting point for evaluating a relationship value chain is with your suppliers. Too often, business owners fall into the trap of increasing their profit margin at the expense of their suppliers. If we squeeze providers into a situation where the terms and payment schedule are detrimentally one-sided, we risk an antagonistic relationship. In the event that we need their cooperation in a quick turnaround for a customer or their understanding should cash flow becomes a challenge, this is going to be unlikely. Suppliers are an integral part of any business and a supplier who feels valued is a potential ally. Employees are the next main link in the chain. A happy, healthy and stimulated workforce is a productive one.

Employees who feel included in the business and its success are more likely to work harder and to be creative in tackling problems. The culture of any organization is largely a reflection of the managerial style of its leaders. Do your employees feel valued, listened to and respected? Or, is the environment one of mistrust and frustration, keeping people apart? One of the advantages of having a smaller workforce is the relative ease of developing and nourishing positive relationships and flatter reporting structures. People work for money, but loyalty and willingness are built through relationships. Similarly, customers are increasingly looking for the relationship touch when it counts. This may be as simple as wanting a smile and a greeting at the checkout, or being able to speak to a real, live person when the gods of technology mess with their online shopping experience. We can spend a fortune on advertising and brand building, but if we don’t deliver the kind of service the customer is looking for, they can and will shop elsewhere.

The growth in social media engagement between businesses and customers is indicative of the need for responsiveness. In a 24/7 world, this is perhaps one of the big challenges for small business - how to be available to communicate with your customer, when they don’t keep “normal office hours”. Feeding into the relationship chain, are the family, friends, and colleagues who directly or indirectly support the business. The “old school tie” network may be a dying breed, but we cannot underestimate the power of strong business networks when it comes to finding investors, mentors, or in gaining access to potential buyers. Networks are only as good as the effort we put into them. It is vital, therefore, that small business owners develop their relationship building skills and truly practice an open door policy with all stakeholders.“Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.”― James C. Collins,

 

 

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25 comments
    I've built my businesses on the strength of relationships that I have with people be they suppliers or clients and firmly believe that it's probably the one course that could be included in Business related curricula in tertiary institutions. The one comment I would make is that as business owners you needs to assess each relationship to assess which is the best way to manage it. Some people deal well with personal face-2-face engagements while others prefer digital interactions. That being said it's also critical to know when and if you can switch between the two. To explain at some point if it's possible it may be necessary to move a digital interaction across to a personal one. This is especially helpful when you have an irate client using a public platform to vent.
    Suppliers are an integral part of our business. We literally cannot survive without them and yet so often the supplier relationship is fraught with unrealistic expectations and even unfairness. If you are a start up business the supplier generally has the power and is quick to impose terms that will not help your cash flow. If you are established the power shifts and the supplier may have to accept your terms - to his cost. A more relationship based approach would surely work better in the long run. It is in everyone's interest for the business to succeed so working together to make this happen is logical and potentially mutully profitable. How have you handled the supplier relationship?
    South African sick absenteeism rates are between 3.5 and 6% - more than double the international norm. The estimated cost of absenteeism is R16 billion annually! (http://www.humancapitalreview.org/content/default.asp?Article_ID=578&ArticlePage_ID=1244&cntPage=2) Employees who want to come to work because it is a fun or interesting or caring environment are less likely to be affected by absenteeism presenteeism late coming etc. Happier employees are healthier employees and - music to an employer's ears... they are more productive employees. Taking the time to listen to and engage with employees is an investment likely to pay off in an improved bottom line.
    There is a reality TV program called Grand Designs that follows the building and renovating of houses. In one episode a family is undertaking a very complex build in the heart of London and they push the building contractor incredibly hard. There are big smiles at the price they are getting until one day they arrive on site and the builder has gone bankrupt. They are left with a half-finished house as the rainy seasons starts they have spent more than they got and now they have to find someone to take over. The moral of the story is that if the deal you are getting from the supplier is “too good to be true” it probably is. Win-win is the ultimate goal.
    Having employees who want to come to work every day is a lofty goal and definitely worth striving for. But there are days that even I as the business owner feel like taking a “sickie”! The reason that I don’t is because I know there are people counting on me and who care for me and I am motivated to keep going. When employees feel like anonymous entities and believe that nobody notices if they are present or not motivation is much lower. “Build relationships” and good things happen!
    A mistake we often make is adopting the marketing speak using phrases such as: target market Segmentation share of the wallet etc. Conspicuous by its absence is the word CUSTOMER... the person. True customer centricity requires that we start with the customer and end with the customer. The products we make and sell the way we sell them the place we sell them and the packaging thereof should all be determined by the customer. Henry Ford with his they can have Any colour as long its black comment would not last long at all in today's market. As a company we made the mistake of assuming certain things about our customers wants & preferences... and we paid a heavy price in poor sales.
    @andrewctn you're so right! A sickie is so tempting but we have the vision & passion to see past it as business owners. The key is in making people feel valued and valuable. It's often in the little things: the thank you's and the well done's and the go home early - it's Friday & you deserve it's.
    Aggreed every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves in a way that is meaningfulto them.
    Agreed every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them.
    Agreed every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them.
    When I have neglected my networking either because I couldn't afford the time or had little energy - I have seen the result in less sales. Networking does take time and effort but as with everything else the more you put into it the more you get out. The richest people in the world build networks. Everyone else is trained to look for work. Robery Kiyosaki http://time.com/money/4166743/networking-tips-introverts/
    @Arctic1 your point is well made that we need to adjust our relationship approach to the other person... especially with the customer. As more customers use multiple platforms to communicate with us we need to respond in kind.
    “Consumer” is another dangerous label for our customers. It is a very one-directional word implying that whatever we put out as a company will be “consumed” without question. “Client” or “customer” is a much more relational sounding term. It may be semantics but sometimes what we call things is more important than we realise. The worst term of al is “user”. The only other industry that calls their customers “users” is the drug cartels!
    The Spped of Trust is a truly insightful book about the power of trust in relationships and conversely the destructive effect of a lack of trust. It explains the impact and the requirements for trust in all relationships personal or business. http://www.speedoftrust.com/How-The-Speed-of-Trust-works/book
    Here's another good resource: a book called Networking for those who hate networking. https://www.amazon.com/Networking-People-Who-Hate-Underconnected-ebook/dp/B00F9FKZLU/
    I agree every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them.
    I agree every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them.
    I agree every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them.
    I agree every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them.
    I love your üsers comment - can I steal it :)
    Jim Collins highlights the importance of people and relationships which is a sign of the business age we are in. In the agricultural era power was in owning land. Once steam power and electricity emerged power shifted to the industrialists who owned capital and factories. In the information age it was the time for financial and digital companies who had access to hard to get information. Now information is democratized. You can take a Harvard course from your living room. Yet trust and relationships are at an all-time low. This has become the truly valuable asset in today’s world. Trust can take years to build and moments to break. How do we guard against ourselves or anyone representing us “blowing” what has taken so long to create?
    Every employee needs to know that he or she is valued as an individual. No one wants to feel like a faceless interchangeable pawn in some larger game so make sure all the members of your workforce are given opportunities to express themselves.
    Every employee needs to feel that they are valued!
    Great Article!
    Building a relationship with your clents is very important because when they always have something coming up you are the first person that they will recommend on their board meeting or anywhere with their other clients. There have been a company that i was working for and the mananger had a great interaction with their clients you would see even when they were in cornversations that is not just about the business but they have a strong relationship between them that even if there would be an intervening opportunity between then it would be hard to break the relationship that they have. And i remember there was another company that was located in the premises for the company we were working for they therefore moved to another location and guess what they wanted the Services from the same company because of the relationship that they had with them.