Relationships are dead.  Long live relationships.

What happened?  It used to be that you could use those tried and tested techniques to build a relationship with your customer or supplier and the business would look after itself.  If you needed something extra you’d play golf or go to dinner and they’d help out, and vice versa.  Now, it’s all P&L’s, annoying processes and efficiency controls.

The world has changed.

Business is hungrier, more consolidated, more competitive.  Faster communication makes information more comparable and systems are designed to ‘process-ize’ everything, reducing human interaction.

As the business world changes, so must you.  Buyers are now Category Managers, Salesmen are Customer Business Managers, etc., etc.  And if you think about it, it makes sense and empowers you.  Rather than being an ‘order taker’, or ‘delivery planner’ (with respect to these committed team members) sellers and buyers have to think broader; to manage businesses.

I’ve read many articles on LinkedIn and elsewhere about how Sales leaders still value those who can build relationships, and totally agree that these skills are as important as ever.  In many ways more so, as they have to be more sophisticated, building trust rather than some of the superficial relationships that we’ve all seen.  We need business managers who can build deeper, more valuable relationships, that create mutually beneficial long term dependence to survive the ups and downs. 

So what are the keys?

Professionalism

The basics are essential: delivering on time in full, great customer service, doing what you say you will.  Actions speak louder than words: those who think that 95% is good enough are sorely mistaken.  And it’s not just sales teams, customers must deliver on your commitments too, or focus will be directed to your competitors.

Bring Value

Business partners expect more.  To build a stronger connection you must bring more to the table: expertise, insight, opportunities, tailored ideas and priority over your partner’s competitors.  Category management, digital knowledge, innovation and ideas from other markets and industries are all examples of this.  And the opportunity to be first is huge.

Trust

The danger with change is that it breeds uncertainty (and fear).  It’s often easier to use the stick than the carrot, and competitiveness takes over: we see it everywhere.  It’s much harder to create than to destroy; to criticize than invent.  But over time the truly great rewards come to those who chase progress and support those who innovate: who trust.  Building real understanding and alignment to enable trust to develop is risky, but over time pays back handsomely.

Summing up

The old cozy relationships are changing.  Embrace it, enjoy building on them, re-forming them, and creating new ones.  Don’t wish for the good old days (which when we take off our rose-tinted spectacles were often not that great after all); take a few risks and create your own sparkling new future.

As the British SAS say: “Who Dares, Wins”.

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