You often hear that “It’s not what you know but who you know.” There is some truth to this. It is human nature to favor people who are friends, who have helped you in the past, who are recommended by friends or by people you respect, etc. That is not to say that they will give you a job, place an order, or do other favors if they think you are incompetent, unprepared, or lack integrity. Good relationships can open doors and can offer you new opportunities. Strong relationships can last a lifetime.
Good relationships are the key to effective networking. Networking is an activity/word bandied about as essential to business success. I would not go that far. Let’s first talk about what it is and isn’t.
Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the developing of contacts or exchanging of information with others in an informal network as to further a career.” If furthering a career includes helping you to secure an introduction, get an order, acquire information, etc., then I am okay with it. Networking is not just collecting business cards, no more than starting a business makes you an entrepreneur.
If you do not have this birthright advantage, fear not. You can build your own network of positive relationships by earning them, which makes them more valuable. Relationships are portable. They follow you wherever you go or what job you currently have.
I do not have a list of things you can magically do, and, presto, a good relationship is born. The best way I know to build solid long-lasting relationships is to always “Do the Right Thing.” Many times you’ll be tempted to veer from this maxim, particularly where money is concerned. I like Bill White’s comment in his book From Day One: “Network more effectively by giving not getting.”
Believe in the Approach
This attitude and belief cannot be faked on a sustained basis. You must believe it. Besides helping you in your business, you will sleep better and have a more fulfilling personal and family life.
Doing the right thing comes naturally to many people, and they do it without giving it much thought. However, we live in a complex world, and the right thing may not be clear or be the same for everyone. You can’t constantly think of things to say to build trust. Treat all people fairly and with respect, and trust should follow. In building a business it must start from the top and requires thought. Trust fosters, and is mandatory, for good relationships.
Trust takes time to earn but can be lost in a moment. There seem to be generational differences in what constitutes trustful behavior in a business environment. There are many actions that people will call distrustful while others will shrug it off as just business. Trust building is an accumulation of many actions, mostly small ones.
Here my list of trust building ideas in no particular order.
▪ Listen to people you deal with. (Listening is an acquired skill.)
▪ Do not sell a product you know is bad.
▪ Be honest at all times.
▪ Look people in the eye when you talk to them.
▪ Set an example by your behavior. Give it a lot of thought.
▪ Don’t be embarrassed to make a profit.
▪ Admit mistakes right away. (Not easy.)
▪ Don’t over promise; resist that temptation.
▪ After admitting a mistake, immediately move to correct it and pay for remedies.
▪ Reprimand people who break their word to you — clearly and decisively.
▪ Pay bills on time. If you can’t, call and tell why and when you will pay. (Be sure to give a date you can meet or beat.)
▪ Try to set down specific rules of ethical and moral behavior for company — review them regularly.
▪ Give credit where credit is due.
▪ Keep people informed.
▪ Acknowledge what you don’t know. Don’t BS.
▪ Specify the relationship you expect.
▪ Push quality. Demand quality.
▪ Problems create opportunities to build trust. Attack problems.
▪ Speak candidly to customers and employees even when it’s something you know they don’t want to hear but it’s in their best interest.
▪ If you receive a check made out to you that doesn’t belong to you or are paid too much, the sender should be notified immediately. Don’t wait for their auditors to discover the error and contact you.
▪ Keep your promises.
▪ Thank you and please can go a long way.
▪ Try to be fair. The attempt is important.
▪ Pay attention to the details of the business.
▪ Don’t betray confidential information. Buyers will press you for information about their competition. Don’t fall for the trap.
▪ Be prompt in your appointments, your follow-ups, and your promises. Make your deadlines.
▪ Treat little people well. (Big ones seem to be easy.) Good assistants eventually get promoted.
▪ Go the extra mile with your customers and employees.
▪ Don’t duck or procrastinate dealing with a problem.
▪ Don’t knock others.
▪ Answer calls on troublesome issues.
▪ Ducking calls creates a new problem, sometimes more onerous than the original one you ducked.
▪ Present solutions, not just problems.
▪ Show respect to every person you deal with no matter their position.
▪ If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it — then research the answer.
▪ Be knowledgeable about your product, marketplace, new developments, and competition. Share much of this wisdom.
▪ Remember what your parents told you: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
▪ Inform customers of problems as soon as you know and before they find out.
▪ If for whatever reason you can’t take on an assignment and give it the attention it deserves — then pass.
I’m sure you can add to the list. Don’t expect immediate return or, in fact, any return for doing the right thing. It should be a way of life for you. However, you’ll be surprised at all the good, unexpected things that will come your way. If people trust you, they will have confidence in you. That will lead to their wanting to do business with you.
A personal example: at a major trade show we were exhibiting games from the Toy/Game company I co-founded. We had nine booths, which made us one of the major exhibitors. The largest retailers in the country attended this show as well as thousands of small retailers. The problem for the sales manager or president was if you were working with a small retailer and a major national buyer entered your booth, you wanted to drop or hand off the small buyer you were working with and rush to apply your charms and sales skills on this major buyer. Many people did just that. However, it was not the right thing to do. This happened to me at one show when I was working with a small gift store. A major executive at a large chain walked in. I continued to work with this small retailer and missed the opportunity to personally work the big account.
Now fast forward 10 years. I sold our game company to a major needlework company. After one year, they asked me to be president of the needlework company, which was struggling with an alarming drop in sales. After a review of all their accounts, particularly the ones with big declines, I decided to meet these particular accounts to determine the cause of the sales decline. I phoned the president of one of these, a major national catalog house. In speaking with him, he recognized my name and asked me if I at one time had a game company? When I answered yes, he enthusiastically thanked me for the way I treated him when we first met. It turns out he was the owner of that small gift store that I refused to abandon for the big hitter. I frankly had no memory of the incident. He invited me to come visit his operation. I did and met all his key people who informed me in detail of all the problems they had with our company. We were able to correct these problems to their satisfaction. The end result was a dramatic sales increase that exceeded their previous high point. All this was triggered by doing this one right thing 10 years before. As some would say, “What goes around comes around.”
This Relationship chapter overlaps and is intertwined with other chapters like Mentors, Suppliers, Public Relations, and Licensing.
Relationship Building/Networking should become a natural part of your life, requiring no hard thinking. Not only will you be rewarded if you do it the right way, it will be part of your continuous learning. Furthermore, it will cost you nothing.