In my last blog, we looked at why relationships are important. Now let’s briefly look at how we build them. Business relationships do not differ from personal relationships because relationships are personal. Only you can build them and own them. Your company can’t; your friends can’t. They are yours and only yours.
So building relationships in business is much the same as building the ones we develop out of work. We should treat them in the same way. Relationships start as acquaintances, which are characterized by occasional contacts. At this stage, it is not clear they will lead anywhere. They start by a meeting in the street, at a social event, or by an introduction from another friend. Similarly, in the work environment they start as an introduction or at a meeting that you probably asked for. We learn people’s names and share questions such as “Where are you from?” “Where do you live?”, “Do you have kids?” “How many and what ages are they?” “What do you do?”
Acquaintances then progress to Casual Friendships, which can develop quickly, even with initial contacts. The relationship progresses as you mutually discover common interests, activities and concerns. As the relationship evolves so a trust develops and you discover each other’s goals, wishes and views. This level has been described as an “oneness of the soul.”
Casual friendships normally progress to a Close Friendship and the relationship can then be described as Companions. We can have many Acquaintances and Casual Friendships. However, Companions requires that both persons tend to share the same life goals and these are discussed and become specific in their description. More time is spent together and each person is very comfortable in each other’s company. Silence is not quickly filled with words as it’s not necessary.
The last and ultimate level of relationship is becoming Partners. This tends to be an intimate relationship. At this highest level of relationship, both people are prepared to generously invest in one another’s lives with the goal of helping each other mature. Friends in this place have the freedom to correct one another and point out each other’s blind spots. Of course, this level seldom occurs in a business environment. When it has, the results are often mixed and conflict of interest issues are often raised!
So how do we move through these various stages and how do we build relationships? Meaningful relationships are rarely formed across a desk or meeting table. That is too formal and inflexible. Move the normal environment. Make things more personal. If eating out is the preferred first step of moving the environment, dinners and lunches are all very well, but they are still normally in a business environment. What about a lunch or dinner on a boat, on a barge, or at a dinner theatre? Better still is to establish what interests your customer has and then invite him or her to join you in that environment, whether that be a sports, music or other type of entertainment event. This gives you both the opportunity to move from Acquaintance to Casual and/or Companion relationships by enjoying each other’s company with something of genuine mutual interest.
Charles Battle was very active in Atlanta’s bid to host the Olympic Games in 1996 and is credited with changing the way Olympic Committees hosted and entertained as well as being instrumental in ultimately getting the event to Atlanta. He served as Managing Director for International Relations of the Atlanta Committee. He is now working as an International Advisor to the Pyeongchang, South Korea Bid Committee who are seeking to win the right to host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. He said of building relationships:
“Building relationships needs to be done in a way that adds value so as to ensure that it happens and is maintained.”
He apparently also said:
“You don’t need elegant, expensive dinners – invite people into your home.”
The most effective way to build relationships is to bring value to the relationship. This is best achieved by looking at things through the eyes and minds of the customer. What are they trying to achieve and how can you help them in that quest?
Even the small things can help. One of my clients had received an iPad and was taking it out of the box when we met. I also owned one and had come across “25 and 50 tips for the iPad.” I suggested I forward the links and they were very keen. I went ahead and did so and the following day I received a lovely e-mail thanking me profusely for remembering to do it and how much it helped her get up and started on her proud possession!
Another example, is remembering people’s birthday. The most important gatekeepers in any company are the Administrative Assistants. They can get you or prevent you from getting meeting with key people. They are the unsung heroes. Recognize them and resect them. Admin. Assistant lunches and flowers on their birthdays are great ways of doing just that.
It isn’t always lavish presents or social events that build relationships. It’s most often the small things that add value and are the most effective and most remembered.