This past week I had two very different interactions that caused me to think about how my business interacts with customers. The two customers have some common characteristics. They are both successful organizations with dedicated staffs and competent CEOs. But there are big differences in the way they work with outside resources. Customer #1 is open to new ideas. If we offer suggestions about how to improve a project they listen. If we advise against a course of action they weigh the advice. Admittedly, they don’t always take it but it is considered. They always give us feedback and if there is an issue (ours or theirs) they are direct. Customer #2 loves to do the same thing over and over. They don’t like change. While they are pleasant to work with they sometimes ignore advice that will make a project better or save them money. You might wonder, as I did this week, why we work with Customer #2 because the relationship feels more like being a traditional supplier than a trusted advisor. That is not the kind of relationship that I want and it certainly does not allow my staff to do their best work. So why continue? It’s a fact—it’s much easier to grow your business with existing clients than to get new ones. But sometimes you need to take stock of the customer base and see if you still love them, or if it’s time to leave them. When I first started out, it was tempting to take whatever business came through the door. As an established business it’s important to consistently assess if the customer, like Customer #2, is still one you really want. Here are a few things to ask yourself. Do you really like working with this customer or do you find yourself avoiding them? Do you think they value your work? Is this customer well suited to your core capabilities? Is this client good for your business in the long-term? Do they treat you like a supplier or a trusted advisor? Do you care or is it not important? Supplier or advisor? Think about what is best for your business. I believe that relationships are key to success in business especially because we create products which direct reflect on the client’s brand. It’s important that we “love” our customers and these folks are easy to spot. They appreciate your efforts. They tell others about you. They send you flowers…really. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. They apologize when they ask you to do something that they know is difficult. They include you in discussions about their plans so you don’t get surprised by things that may impact their relationship with you, whether that is a change in their buying habits or their expectations. These are customers who care about your business and want to be sure that you are successful. They are true partners. And, with them you can be a trusted advisor.
Steve Zuckerman, Managing Director, Farlie Turner
To succeed in business and in life, you need to build authentic, trusting, and mutually beneficial relationships. It seems simple enough, but as busy executives and entrepreneurs, time is our most precious commodity. In the absence of a cogent networking strategy, we are at risk of attending unproductive events, meetings and conferences, and mindlessly squandering our valuable time. As such, we need to be very mindful about how and with whom we network.
The central component of an efficient and effective networking strategy is to build symbiotic relationships with reciprocally minded trusted advisors. Successful people rely on a handful of trusted advisors to whom they turn when they need insightful advice on how to handle complex and important situations. The trusted advisor acts as a consigliore to executives and business owners. As a result of the trusted advisor’s track record of delivering reliable, unbiased, and shrewd advice in the past, he or she has a unique level of influence. A trusted advisor’s opinion is highly respected and his or her advice is often followed. This paradigm is incredibly important because the trust and confidence that exists between trusted advisors and their contacts can be transmitted to you. If you are introduced to a potential business partner, client, or investor by one of its trusted advisors, there is an immediate inference of trust, credibility and confidence. Given this powerful dynamic, it is critical that you focus your networking efforts on building relationships with the elite subset of your network that qualify as trusted advisors. However, that is not the end of the story.
As important as it is to have extensive relationships with trusted advisors, it is equally important to be a trusted advisor. Being successful at networking, and in life in general, is about finding ways to help other people succeed and achieve their objectives. If you approach networking as a way to generate opportunities from other people without giving anything in return, you will inevitably fail, or at best, not reach your full potential. In building professional relationships, you must take a long-term view, focus on helping your friends and contacts succeed, be a genuine and trusted advisor, and give more than you receive. This is the essence of mindful networking and if you do it consistently, success in business and life will inevitably find you.
About the Author
Steve Zuckerman is author of Rain Power: A Young Professional’s Guide to Achieving Wealth and Happiness. He’s also an entrepreneur and Managing Director of Farlie Turner, an investment bank focused on selling middle market companies.