Everyone knows that the strength of client, customer, and referral relationships is critical to achieving their goals each year. In fact, recent research indicates that 88 percent of business and sales executives agree that outstanding relationships are the key to their annual sales success. But no one has provided a simple approach for turning contacts and acquaintances into trusting relationships—until now.
Author Ed Wallace introduces a straightforward, five-step process that will allow you to maximize your most valuable and important business asset—rock solid relationships. From establishing common ground to offering valued advice, Wallace’s time-tested strategies reveal how to transform any business relationship into a valuable source for referrals, revenue, and long-term friendships.
Business Relationships That Last combines memorable anecdotes with a clear principle-based framework that shows you how to balance your hard business skills with the often-overlooked soft skills of relationship building. Rather than having to pursue your clients for orders, Ed’s Relational Ladder process will allow you to maximize the strength of your relationships, generate high-quality leads, and increase your revenue, all while providing unparalleled service to your clients.
It's the Little Extras!
Imagine that today is the last day of your sales cycle and you still have not made your monthly quota. This scenario was all too often a reality for me during my early years in sales. Now imagine that you have built such outstanding business relationships that you could contact any number of your clients and ask for their help with your quota shortfall. Imagine a level of mutual trust and commitment so deep that this request will be as easy for you to make as it will be for your clients to understand. And, finally, imagine they not only understand your need but also offer to fulfill it by signing a contract or placing an order earlier than they had planned.
My passionate belief after a twenty-five-year career in sales, executive leadership, and now business ownership is that creating business relationships that last is the secret to success. As I reflect on all of the amazing technological this time, from communicating via the World Wide Web to staying connected through our BlackBerry devices, I find one remarkable, simple constant: business is still driven by people and relationships.
Eventually, human beings need to interact with one another in order to work through all of the details associated with their organizations doing business together. Whether it be the use of a product or service or the acquisition of a new business, humans-with all of our knowledge, skills, goals, emotions, biases, and fears-need to collaborate to get things accomplished.
Developing business relationships that last with your clients sometimes seems like a lot of extra work, especially if you cannot ensure a predictable return on the investment from all of your efforts. I mentioned in the introduction that advancing such relationships can be like trying to hold on to sand at the beach; inevitably, it runs between your fingers. But even though lasting business relationships can seem as elusive as holding on to sand, learning and applying a process to help you "cup them in your hands" makes it much less challenging than you might think. To illustrate that point, I want to share with you a story about my friend Max, the greatest developer of business relationships I have ever known. Listen and learn from Max just how easy and natural developing quality client relationships can be.
A number of years ago, my sales efforts required that I travel a great deal. I didn't like being away from my family any more than necessary, so I became king of the day-trippers. It got so that I could leave my home on the East Coast around 5:00 a.m. for a meeting in Minneapolis or Des Moines and still make it back home the same day for a late dinner and to see Brett, our first child, for a few precious minutes before tucking him into bed.
The night before one of these trips, my car developed an engine problem. I asked my wife, Laurie, to reserve a taxi to the airport for me. As usual, when she got involved in helping me solve one of my problems, remarkable events began to unfold.
The next morning I waited anxiously for the car to arrive. At precisely 5:00 a.m. I noticed an old-fashioned British taxi, with stately, rounded exterior lines, running boards, and a large passenger compartment pull up in the front of the house. Even in the faint light of dawn I could tell the car was spotlessly clean.
In the short amount of time it took me to exit the house and lock the door, the driver had already exited the taxi and was on his way up the walk toward the house. He was a tall, lanky fellow with glasses and the sort of calm, kind face you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting. I was about to learn that he was not your average taxi driver.
He gave me a warm, "Good morning," and we walked together toward his parked taxi. I climbed into the passenger area of the car, settled into a luxurious leather seat, stretched out my legs, and felt a deep sense of comfort and relief. When the driver started the car, I noticed there was no noise-no scratchy dispatcher's voice barking instructions, no jangling music on the radio. A cooler within reach provided a supply of bottled water. It was amazing!
As we pulled away, the driver turned around to introduce himself. "Hello, Ed, my name is Max," he said with a smile.
"Glad to meet you, Max," I replied, wondering how he knew my name.
As we drove, he asked me a couple of questions about myself. Since I'm pretty much my own favorite topic, I happily offered plenty of information. He was a terrific listener, and I found myself sharing a good deal about my life with this person that I hardly knew. He had a special calm, sincere demeanor that made me feel comfortable opening up to him. He took special note when I told him about our new young son and how he had just started sleeping through the night.
When we arrived at the airport, I gave Max a more generous tip than I usually give drivers. I had so thoroughly enjoyed his company and the stress-free ride to the airport I asked him to schedule me for the following Tuesday.
Max hesitated and then said, "I'm truly sorry, Ed, but I cannot pick you up next week."
"What's wrong, Max, is it something I said?" I inquired, half-jokingly.
"No, nothing like that, Ed. I just have a great deal of fares-friends, that is-and they usually need to book three to four weeks in advance with me."
"For a ride to the airport at five o'clock in the morning?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes, I have a lot of friends," Max responded. "I just happened to have a cancellation last night before I got your wife's request for a ride."
"Okay, how about three weeks from today?" I tried again.
"That works. I look forward to seeing you then," Max answered, and he was off.
Three weeks later, on the morning Max had agreed to pick me up, I was running a few minutes behind schedule. I kept checking out the front window, hoping to catch him before he rang the doorbell. At exactly 5:00 a.m., I heard a gentle tap on the screen door. As I walked to the taxi with Max, I imagined how many people had probably ridden in his taxi over the previous three weeks, yet despite that large number, he had remembered I had an infant son who was most likely sleeping at such an early hour. Max's thoughtfulness and ability to remember details about my life impressed me.
During my next several rides to the airport in Max's marvelous taxi, we talked almost entirely about my life. (Notice that I was no longer driving myself to the airport!) He asked about my work, where I was traveling to, my ambitions, my family. I could hardly believe how at ease I felt opening up to him. I was more comfortable telling Max things about myself than I was telling people I had known much longer.
The more time I spent with Max, the more interested I became in learning how he was able to make me-and most likely all of his customers-feel so comfortable. When asked, he told me a few things about himself, his business, and his day-to-day schedule as a taxi driver and small business owner.
His clients could not be easily categorized. They were local CEOs and their colleagues. They were sales professionals going to the airport and elderly people going shopping. They were groups of ladies going to the city for a day at the art museum, lunch, and a nice tour of the historic district.
I finally asked how he had developed such a long list of loyal customers, hoping he would provide me with a "secret to success" that most client-facing professionals dream about. "Simple, Ed," he answered, holding his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. "It's the little extras that turn fares into friends."
I thought about what Max meant by the "little extras." Sure, it was great fun riding around in his taxi; it was the only one of its kind in the area and attracted a lot of attention. But that was only a small part of what made Max a success-and he was a remarkable business success.
After a few minutes, I realized that his entire business philosophy was based on friendship, and the little extras that friends would do for each other. So I asked, "What are these little extras? Are they the on-time arrivals? The courtesy and warmth? Treating everyone equally? The impeccable upkeep of the taxi and the quiet environment it provides? The bottled water? Listening, remembering, and having a genuine interest in the riders' lives? The gentle tap on the screen door at five o'clock in the morning?"
Max answered, "Yes."
"Which one?" I asked. Just as the words were coming out of my mouth, I got it. Of course, how could I not get it? Max was skilled at identifying and aligning with each rider's specific needs and situation. But how did he do this?
I believe that Max woke up every morning thinking not that he was going to work but that he was going to spend the day with his close friends. This is obviously a very different approach from viewing business as a series of transactions in which both parties want something from each other. If we define friends as "parties who help one another," and if you consider everyone you interact with your friend, then adding the little extras in your business relationships would be as easy as including them in your personal life, which you do naturally.
On the simplest level, Max's job was to provide a ride from one place to another. Any driver could do that, and do it on time, safely, and courteously. But when you rode with Max, the quality of the relationship, the conversation-the whole experience-was so enjoyable, supportive, enlightening, and pleasant that you didn't want the trip to be over. He had mastered the art of taking his so-called simple business from a merely transactional level to the level of high-value personal relationships, to creating a memorable experience between human beings.
I had the good fortune to travel with Max for almost four years, and during those years I began to see how poorly I was managing my own business relationships. The most important perspective I learned from him was that if I lose sight of the fact that I am dealing with a real person-for instance, the real person on the other end of a call or an e-mail-then I miss the opportunity to enrich my business endeavors and life with the growth and learning that comes from true interaction with others. Many people have taken the notion of work-life balance to mean that you only need to focus on relationships in the "life," or personal, part of that equation. But as my early travels with Max illustrate, there is tremendous gain to be had from treating your business relationships with as much care.
THE PRINCIPLE OF WORTHY INTENT
In writing this book and working with my own clients to advance their key business relationships, I reflected on Max's philosophy about the little extras and my own experiences throughout my career. Whether I call it relational capital-which I defined as "the distinctive value created by people in a business relationship"-or "the little extras"-as Max liked to say-there is one overarching principle that drives ultimate success when working with clients. I call this the principle of worthy intent, which is the inherent promise you make to keep the other person's best interests at the core of your business
Keeping the client's best interest as your focus is the golden rule for client-facing professionals. This realization has stood the test of time as I advanced through my career from an inside sales rep to an executive, and it remains just as important for me now as a business owner. Those little extras that I connected to Max transformed his transactional activities (maintaining an impeccable taxicab and asking questions) into the relational attributes (such as listening and remembering) that really defined him and set him apart.
Max's relational attributes emerged through the way he internalized and responded to what I call his riders' Relational GPS-their goals, passions, and struggles. I develop the Relational GPS concept in greater detail later in this book; for now let me point out that Max understood that "asking questions" was important, but the way he processed and responded to the information his clients provided was the secret to his success.
Figure 1.1 depicts the transformation of a few of Max's transactional activities to the relational attributes that his clients attached to him and the experience of riding in his taxi.
Transactional activities can be provided to some degree by anyone in the taxi business, but relational attributes are powerful and lasting, although harder to develop. Relational attributes create business relationships that last because clients ascribe to you qualities that distinguish you among your competitors. The word differentiate has been used for quite some time to describe the way in which you set yourself apart from your competition. It's actually been overused to the point that it has now become a "commodity" to many. Plus, differentiating is not always clearly a positive description. Conversely, relational attributes create a "distinctive value"-not merely a differentiation. This distinctive value begins with your "worthy intent" toward your client's goals, passions, and struggles, and it sets you on the path to advancing your business relationships in a way that leads to your ultimate success in today's non-differentiable business environment. Relational attributes create the "distinctive value" that is reflected in the definition of relational capital.
Whether you are in your taxi or at work with your clients, the little extras make all the difference.
- Despite the pace of technology and innovation, business is still driven by people and relationships.
- Relational capital is the distinctive value created by people in a business relationship.
- The principle of worthy intent is the inherent promise you make to keep the other person's best interests at the core of your business relationship.
- Transactional activities, such as having an impeccable taxicab and arriving on time, can be easily duplicated and commoditized; the result is that less value is conveyed and business relationships are shorter term.
- Relational attributes like Max's ability to listen and remember personal details about his fares are distinguishable and transform a service offering into an enjoyable, more valuable experience between people.