Long-term sustainable relationships are the key to success by Christopher N. Smith, Attorney at Law
The recent 50th anniversary of the passing of Sir Winston Churchill has spawned much discussion about the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom. Indeed such discussions are fitting. The remarkable cooperation between these two nations is not only based on shared interests but on common values and goals as well. The fundamental underpinnings of the relationship are mutual respect, reciprocity and personal interactions. The success of this relationship is something others can look to for inspiration in their own business relationships.
Much like realpolitik, business networking is simply based on current common interests. While there certainly is a place for such activities, such alliances can dissolve at the drop of a hat the moment the winds of change bring interests out of alignment. Relationships however are much deeper and when properly nurtured can weather the storms.
In examining the elements of building successful business relationships, a review of unsuccessful practices can be informative. In the hierarchy of approaches, predatory activities anchor the bottom of the food chain. Predators are only concerned with their personal interests and have no desire to reciprocate or build a relationship. A predator once stated “I need some fresh meat; I want to come down and meet with you, pick your brain, see who you know and get some leads”.
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Although disturbing, his approach was at least honest. He articulated his motives clearly. Whereas many that hold similar sentiments instead mask their intentions in order to obtain their goals. Perhaps such raw aggression pays short-term dividends for some but certainly such a strategy will not pay off in the long run. A predator will soon be discovered and branded as such. A string of people who will not take or return their phone calls will follow.
Failure to reciprocate is a far too common practice that can chill a relationship. Those who travel on the one-way street of self interest will soon find themselves at a dead end. If one seeks a favor, they should be willing to give one in return. Clues as to one’s willingness to reciprocate can oftentimes be detected early on. Does the person only speak of what they are selling and never ask what services or products you provide? If they do ask about your business, is their focus more on the type of customers and contacts you have with little interest on how you make a living? Do they ask you to give them business or business leads without offering to do the same? If the answer to any of the preceding questions is yes, you most likely have a user and taker on your hands. They are essentially time bandits. Hence a polite but effective escape plan should be implemented before one is drug into their vortex.
Simply building a relationship on the mutual needs of the moment is not sustainable. Business partners need to be able to trust and rely upon each other on a long-term basis. This is especially true in the field of suppliers engaged in global commerce.
During the great recession, many firms out of necessity looked beyond their shores for customers they could supply the ingredients necessary to produce goods. Wise potential customers would express concern and ask “You need us now, but how do we know you will not simply abandon us for your domestic customers once your economy at home has rebounded?” Although some of such concerns can be overcome with proper contract drafting, a contract is only as good as the people who stand behind it. It is therefore essential to treasure one’s reputation and be willing to provide references that can vouch for your reliability. One good business relationship can snowball into numerous ones.
The wonderful news is that people still matter. One cannot build a relationship with a system or computer. Nor can the art of conversation be totally eclipsed by the written word. For this, we should all be thankful.
Behind every successful business relationship is a successful personal relationship. Such bonds carry those who have taken the time and effort to cultivate them through both the good times and the bad. But a successful business relationship is not static. Those fortunate enough to have them should continue to nurture them and never take them for granted.
Let us all try to aspire to the model set for us by the Anglo-American relationship and build bridges together for the benefit of all. If someone calls looking for “fresh meat”, direct them to the butcher at your local grocery store.