How To Create Strong Business Relationships

With the right care & attention, you can ensure that your business relationships bear fruit.

One of my favourite business quotes is from Kendrick Shope:

“All things being equal, friends buy from friends. All things being unequal, friends buy from friends.”

The same principle applies even if you’re not in sales mode. Relationships – friendships – are one of the must-have tools in running a business, and learning how to cultivate strong, healthy relationships will take you far.

Here on the blog, I’ve given some guidance on how to best leverage a personal relationship during a negotiation, in ‘How To Negotiate With A Friend’. And it’s led to some questions along the lines of:

"That's lovely...but what if I don't have a friendship? What if we've already had a falling out?"

Today, we'll take a look at a 'relationship lifecycle' of sorts, and identify three relationship stages, your goals for the relationship, and how to achieve them.

A Budding Relationship

In this case, you and the other person haven't worked together before, or if you have, it was a limited interaction. You haven’t been brought together by social circles either. Because of this, your approach to asking them to help you in your business is probably founded on cold data from your research, and first impressions of exploring their social media and website. You’ve got a decent sense of their personality (at least…their public persona) from your reviews, but aren’t entirely sure how that will translate into a business discussion.

Goal: The main focus of your interactions is to get to know them, build a rapport, and create the foundation for moving this relationship into the Fast Friends stage.

How: There's no need to rush into a relationship. Treat it like you would a first few dates - warm it up. Engaging socially will help build rapport. If you’re local – getting together for a coffee can be a good ice breaker, or introducing yourself at networking event if you’ve got the courage. The best part of this modern age is that even if you’re not in nearby cities, you can connect on social media to start fostering the relationship. Interact on Twitter, share and comment on their articles, and meet for a virtual coffee via Skype.

"Relationships are as much about offering, as they are about asking."

-Tweet this!

Fast Friends

After you've worked with someone for a while - either on several smaller interactions or a larger, more intensive discussion, negotiation or partnership, you're likely pretty friendly. You know about their vacation plans with family and wouldn't dream of interrupting with a work call - but know that if you absolutely had to, they'd forgive you (but maybe still heckle you about it when you saw them next). Professionally, you know style, likes and dislikes, can predict pain points and know what benefits they get most excited about when it comes to a business deal. Your relationship is a two-way street at this point, and you’re both on the look out for ways that you can help each other – it’s now about offering just as much as asking.

Goal: When engaging with your friend, your main goals are to maintain and strengthen your connection. Personally, this may take the form of learning more about each other’s private lives, and professionally, being better able to predict their needs and increases your mutual willingness to collaborate.

How: The best approach here is to be consistent (no pulling back or being cold in your interactions) and leading by example. A great way to do this is to help them achieve a business result that they can get excited about – enough so that they’re happily sharing the news of how cool it is to work with you. How you help them achieve a ‘win’ is just as important as that end result. If you know that they've got a love for numbers, provide some great data that they can use and share. If they’re keen on efficiency and are time crunched, keeping your communications with them succinct and timely will help.  As a Fast Friend - they'll likely be willing to do the same for you.

Tip: Social activities aren't just for budding relationships. Whether it's a round of golf, dinner or even a trip to the shooting range, keep developing those personal connections.

On The Rocks

Sometimes, there's trouble in paradise. Perhaps you started off on the wrong foot. Or maybe you were once Fast Friends and a particularly difficult discussion or endeavour has created a rift between you. (Sigh…this is the downside of mixing personal and professional. And all the more reason to stick with the how-to of Fast Friends above.) Either way, your comfort level with one another both personally and professionally is likely quite low. There's a lack of trust, stilted conversation and tempers flare more quickly than they should. In other words…this isn’t the best of times to be asking for them to help you with something in your business.

Goal: Relationship rescue is the order of business here. While you may not be able to restore a Fast Friends situation overnight, aim towards getting back to the Budding Relationship phase.

How: As with romantic relationships, it helps to 'forgive quickly and have a short memory'. If there was a specific event in the past that has created the rift, it can be a good idea to clear the air so that you can both move forward. This’ll be a tough one – and it may even involve fessing up and apologizing for something you’ve done. Once that's done, move ahead in rebuilding the relationship slowly - look back to the Budding Relationship section for some ideas.

Where are you in the relationship lifecycle? Where would you like to be? Is there a relationship rescue success story you can share?