For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. To some people, this is sage advice telling them to find and maintain business contacts. Others use the cliché phrase to explain away their frustration that in some unfair way, someone else with more contacts got the job, the promotion or the deal. Is it fair? Is it even true? Either way, what can you do about it?
I’ve been putting a lot of thought into relationships lately. Sales people know that building relationships is important. We know that if you have a good relationship with suppliers, you might get better deals; with a customer you make more sales, and so on. So if you don’t have a relationship where and when you need one, you need to build one as fast as possible. Since most people agree relationships are built on trust, if you can quickly build trust, you can more quickly build a relationship. This is not something you can fake, as most people have enough instinct to sense a trust-faker. If you suspect that someone is trying to manipulate you into a business relationship, trust your instincts. If based on integrity, the fastest route to trust is to first extend trust. Given the opportunity, most people will be trustworthy and will reciprocate. Next, make and keep promises. You might be thinking you need to build trust to get someone to buy from you and how can you keep a promise until they agree to buy from you?! It is not the Catch-22 you think. Make a simple, easy promise; to do some research, return a call, keep an appointment, get a quote, provide a sample, or deliver a service-style that meets your brand’s experiential promise. This is where the relationship begins; as astonishing as it sounds, if you can under-promise and over-deliver on the simplest and earliest contacts, you will often be ahead of even the most sophisticated competitors.
Keep in mind that promises aren’t always easily identified by you, but they are by others. Your advertising, your image, your logo, your reputation and your price levels all create expectations, or promises. Sometimes they are made outright and sometimes they are implied and sometimes they are imagined and perceived by others unbeknownst to you. Regardless how your contact came to have your promise, if you consistently deliver on those promised expectations, you will have a trust “savings account” that you be able to “spend” when needed on better deals, faster sales, forgiveness for future errors, preferred status and given the benefit of any doubt by your customers, suppliers, employees, partners, or investors. We can evaluate ourselves (check the balance of our trust savings account) by asking what would happen to our business if an unthinkable disaster occurred. Are our standards beyond reproach? Does our community of stakeholders trust us enough to stand by us no matter what? This is how we check the balance in our “trust savings account”. We make small deposits and withdrawals from our trust savings constantly. Thankfully, the exact balance is only truly known when disaster strikes; we hope to never really need to know and never to become overdrawn. If your account is very small, any little error has the business effect of a larger disaster.
Businesses and the people who run them sometimes think they can “manage” their relationships through emotionless technique as if people were some sort of predictable software program. Following a disaster, the communication experts create press releases; the prettiest spokesperson delivers explanations and positive spin on anything they can. This seldom works. The best method and time to manage disaster is the same method and time to produce more and better relationships with all your contacts. The best way to build all your resources for good times and bad is through building – no, earning trust from the very beginning of the relationship. It’s not who you know, it’s how well they know you.
Last week, I witnessed a disaster beyond imagination at a small business. It involved the death of an infant at an in-home day care. I have never been so close to anything so sad and so personally tragic that the business owner could not even contemplate or comprehend that aside from the personal grief there was also a legal and financial aspect to the situation. Long before anything was known of the situation aside from the startling news feed “death at a day care - more at eleven”, long before to the licensing agencies and the local police concluded the death was the unavoidable result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, while the local TV news teams were still scouring the neighborhood looking for anyone to say something controversial or negative about the child-care provider, the business’s fate had been sealed. Unanimous and unwavering support, confidence and absolute love poured out of every crack and crevice in the community. Even the parents of the deceased infant lobbied the licensing agency to make sure the day care remained open to continue caring for their older child who had also been entrusted to the center for two years. Every client not only remained loyal and supportive even before knowing the circumstances, but past clients heard the news and came to lend their support. I wonder how many larger day cares, public schools or even churches could garner such trust as this amazing woman who spent the last eighteen years selflessly serving her customers, nurturing their children and earning their trust, all to squeak out a month-to- month living.
This single mother, turned stay-at-home-mom, superhero-business-owner, school sports volunteer and part-time community college student could be charging thousands of dollars per day to advise fortune 500 companies on the basics of building client relationships. I’m glad she’s not because she’s doing more important work as she helps shape the minds of little humans. I teach business concepts, yet once again, I’ve learned priceless lessons from my baby sister, the superhero last week. I love you sis – you continue to motivate, impress and inspire me.
If you think you have too much sophistication, education, experience, age or wisdom to learn from the most humble person with a good heart, you may be missing out on the most valuable business lessons available; more importantly, you may be missing out on a richer, more fulfilling life.
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website, www.klineseminars.com, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.