In all my years on the service provider side and now as a consultant, I have learned that there are three universal truths for creating successful relationships with colleagues – either coworkers or clients, both internal and external.
The three universal truths of strong business relationships are:
- Help your colleagues add value to the company that signs their paychecks
- Add to a colleague’s prospects for their own career growth
- Ensure that colleagues enjoy the ride (least obvious and possibly most important for long term relationships)
Let’s unpack these a bit.
1. Help your colleague add value to the company that signs their paycheck
People are being paid to do a job. It is their responsibility to deliver value to the organization. You become a central figure in a chapter of this book. Through excellent work, you enable your client to have an impact that adds value to the enterprise that pays their salary and by so doing, you will have added tremendous value to your client.
2. Add to a colleague’s prospects for career growth
Everyone wants their career to advance – to get great performance reviews, to receive compensation increases, and to be prepared for bigger and better things. I remember working with Kraft in the early 90s, (General Foods at the time), and hearing about “the beverage model”. I kept asking, “What’s this beverage model I keep hearing about?”
The model was actually a road-mapped series of projects that included marketing mix modeling and Hendry market structure analysis that had a huge impact on growing their beverage businesses (primarily Capri Sun, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid) and became a template throughout the organization for how to improve marketing spend decisions for greater ROI. Anyone associated with creating this model certainly got a career boost. The head of that research group went on to create a very successful consulting firm that was eventually bought by McKinsey. Be the supplier or consultant who delivers this kind of value to someone’s career.
3. Colleagues want to enjoy the ride (my favorite!)
This is perhaps the most important and least obvious of all. “Not enjoying the ride” can negate the advantages your offer might otherwise have. My first lesson on this was when I was running a leading competitor to BASES, called ESP (Estimating Sales Potential). One client we shared had just awarded a study to BASES instead of us and I asked him “why?”. His response was, “Joel, we prefer ESP as a model but BASES is just much easier to work with.”
Another example: I was head of analytics and statistical support for a large supplier who was doing a big shopper insights project for a leading CPG marketer. I was brought it as an advisor by the client service team who was having a tough time keeping the client happy. As I dug into the issues, the client said, “Look, we’re getting what we’re paying for, but I’m just not enjoying the ride.”
Avoid these missteps in your client relationships
Some ways you might think you are doing a good job while your client is getting very frustrated:
- Explaining your org structure to a client and what you have to do to respond to their request. Clients don’t want to hear about your org structure and who does what. They want frictionless access to answers and deliverables.
- Juggling workloads that work for you but cause you to miss a client deadline. The dog should never eat your homework!
- Explaining to a client that you were too busy with other clients to respond to their call or e-mail. Every client wants to feel they are your only and certainly most important client.
- Supporting the rigid structure of your offering by being inflexible in the face of a custom client request.
- Not being transparent to protect the IP of your product. This has two parts. First, a client doesn’t want a black box! They cannot dissect and diagnose inconsistencies between your data and signals they are getting from other sources (that’s right, you are rarely the only source of truth!). Besides, they cannot sell your system and findings internally unless they understand and can explain it. Secondly, if a mistake was made, ‘fess up! The worst thing is for a client to make the discovery themselves. You will have undermined trust and a relationship is more than a project approval transaction, it is the client trusting the provider with their career.
Ultimately, both parties to a business relationship want it to be successful. Just don’t forget what a successful relationship really means.