Developing Deep, Meaningful Relationships With Other Businesses
Businesses rarely operate in isolation. Instead, they rely on an entire network of relationships to deliver products. Some companies still operate under a traditional “chain” model of production. This is where a supplier or vendor sells inputs to a company which are then combined and sold on to another company or the end user. This is the arrangement commonly found in the steel industry, for instance. That is, the steel industry buys in iron ore from a primary producer, turns it into steel using its factories and labor, and then sells it on to other manufacturers further down the chain of production.
There is another kind of relationship, however, that’s now emerging, partly in response to the digital economy. Rather than being a chain of production, many companies now operate in a network of mutual relationships, where they both buy and sell from other businesses. For instance, a company might offer consulting services but might need to reach out to another company to provide specialist help in a particular area in which it lacks expertise. Likewise, those other companies might rely on the first company for some of their capabilities too.
Businesses, therefore, are in a state of what has been dubbed “coopetition” – that is, competing with each other, but also working together when it suits the needs of their customers.
But although there are economic forces pushing companies to cooperate more closely with each other, that doesn’t mean that there’s no human element. In fact, the businesses that succeed are usually those that are able to form the best relationships with others. So how can you do that in your business?
Find Shared Goals
Ultimately, businesses are just people. As a result, they respond like people. And as any marketer will tell you, the best way to get people on your side and interested in your product is to find shared goals. Companies with shared goals often share similar cultures and are able to work closely together.
Find out what a potential partner values. Do they want honesty? Integrity? Authenticity? Then express these values yourself to gain their trust. The closer your values to theirs, the more likely they will be to want to build a relationship with you.
Always Offer Something First
Many people in “startup mode” try to gather as many resources as they can to themselves. As a result, they just go out and ask potential partners for stuff – product promotion, development assistance or market access. But this is all very one-sided and means that the relationship doesn’t get off on the right foot.
Reciprocity is a powerful tool in human relationships. When you give somebody something, they automatically feel indebted to you. Thus, if you want to get people working closely with you, it’s best to give them something first, for free.
But what exactly? Sometimes, your time is enough. Perhaps they’re having a problem with one of their systems, and they need your help. Or maybe they need your expertise to develop a product. Whatever it is, make sure that you’re the first to make a move. Then you are in a stronger position to ask them for what you need in the future.
Go Into A Relationship With An Open Mind
If you go into a relationship with another business with particular expectations, you can sometimes get into trouble. The reason? Our preconceived notions of people aren’t always accurate. You might approach a company, thinking that they’re the best in the business and know exactly what they’re doing. You ask them to work with you on some aspect of your business, but you later find out that your perceptions were wrong. Now you’re stuck in a contract with them, and there’s not much you can do to get out of it.
Building relationships with businesses is all about having an open mind. Being able to understand that everybody has weaknesses – and sometimes unexpected strengths – is crucial for forming long-term, sustainable relationships.
Manage Connections Diligently
Business relationships depend on trust. But if one party isn’t holding up their end of the agreement, then things can turn sour pretty quickly. For many companies, though, keeping track of all their obligations to others can be a challenge, especially if they have multiple suppliers and partner relationships. Businesses, therefore, should use 3rd party risk management software to automate these processes and to make sure that things don’t go wrong just because of something as simple as administrative errors.
Focus On The “Fun” Factor
At the end of the day, businesses are just groups of people, united by a common goal or vision. And because they’re just people, it’s important to have fun. There need to be more to life – even corporate life – than making money and solving problems. People need to experience joy.
But joy is also a tool. It’s something that when shared helps to bring people together. You can bring fun to your relationship with other businesses in any way you like. Meetups in bars, days out to gigs, live entertainment, and even weekends away are all ways to help bring your team closer together.
For people to really trust you, and to build close relationships, you have to express a degree of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a sign that you’re authentic and that you want to take your relationship to the next level. It’s a sign that you’re ready to be open and aren’t afraid to put your cards on the table.
Vulnerability is a double-edged sword. Just as in personal relationships, it’s great for bringing people closer together, but it also ups the ante. Being open and honest with somebody about your foibles can backfire. They can reject you, or move onto a new relationship without those issues.
If you’re considering deploying vulnerability, be careful. It’s usually something that’s best reserved for top-level relationships between organizations. You want a personal relationship with other CEOs, but it might not be something that you need to pursue across the whole of your business.
When Making Referrals, Be Thoughtful
Although you might have a close relationship with another company, that doesn’t mean that every referral you get should go to them. Every client is different, and so every referral needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. Companies that just send over clients without thinking often end up damaging their relationship with other companies, not helping it. By failing to vet potential clients, companies are actually setting their partners up for failure.
Think about it from your perspective. If you were a business loan company, you wouldn’t want a business partner to send over every deadbeat client they found. Not only would it be a hassle to administer, but you’d also probably lose money. Businesses want their partners to have their back. They want them to find them clients who really can pay up and deliver value to their company. If you can deliver these kinds of clients on a regular basis, you’ll help your relationship with the business enormously.
Prove Your Loyalty
Finally, it’s essential to make sure that you prove your loyalty to partner businesses. But how do you do that?
The first thing to do is to make sure that the company culture is conducive to proving loyalty. Companies in which there are a lot of gossips don’t usually do very well on this front. Unnecessary conversations are not only annoying, but they also tarnish relationships. The next thing to do is to make sure that your company consistently supports its partners. Look for opportunities to prove that you’re willing to help them in a bind.