I'm writing the start of this blog in the parking lot of our closed family collision repair business. While it’s been over 15 years since the sell of the property, I still find myself here from time to time to gather my thoughts. At the time of the closure I was unsure of the reasons for our “loss”, and too young to take over. As all children do, I idolize my parents for the business they created and the principles on which they ran that business daily. A few years, later we would learn that the slips in the business were the foreshadowing of our current family foe, Alzheimer’s.
Now as I build my own brand, I wish I could turn back the clock and remember all of the lessons my father had to share. More then anything I wish he could share in this venture with me. This year one of his sayings keeps coming to the forefront of conversations. In a humorous play on Jethro from the television series The Beverly Hillbilly’s, Dad would always remind the shop staff to focus on the 3 R’s of business: Relationships, Reputation and Repetition.
Though time and technology has changed the delivery and application methods, these basic principles are still the foundation of a great business.
For time sake, we’ll segment this into three postings trying to provide as much detail as possible.
It’s critical that you understand the importance of building relationships for business, but it’s more important that you understand the best ways to do this.
Famous Amos, the cookie man, said, “Picture everyone with M.M.F.S. on their forehead…. it stands for: Make Me Feel Special.” That in a nutshell, is the business mantra for 2013. Relationships in business are NOT about you, your company, your product, your quality of work or certifications on your wall; it’s about them.
The principle of relationships applies to all areas of your business, not just customer service. As the business climate and social expectations of business change even successful advertising campaigns have become relationship invitations.
Let’s think of relationship management as a bank account. What is your balance? Each time you show interest in others over yourself, you make a deposit in that account. As those deposits build they have the potential to accrue interest and gain value. Simple economic principle, so why do so many business owners get this wrong?
Deposits must be beyond your interest, meaning how they relate to your business. Everyone is important and you need to cultivate every relationship you can. I’ve seen many associates discount some individuals because they were not perceived to have a business connection to their company or be high-ranking enough. The problem is, you never know whom those people are friends with and how it will impact you over time. The best example of this: I had just been hired in the insurance industry and was sent to home office for claim school. Each day the company bus picked us up from the hotel to take us to class and carried us back each evening. Our bus driver was a young female that a few of the gentleman in class decided they would place some unwanted attention with. What did it matter; she was just a bus driver? Turned out that bus driver was the daughter of a company executive working a summer job. That afternoon there were three empty seats in my class and three new openings on the job board. The message for our class was, we insure bus drivers how you treat everyone is how you treat a customer. Invest in everyone you meet from the gas station to the cab driver, you never know.
So let’s say you meet a business customer at a networking event. When you greet the person what do you say? Good deposits show interest and importance in the other person. This means you need to train yourself to remember details about the people you meet and follow up. I keep a networking journal from every event I have attended. It allows me to keep track of the information that people share. For example, if during NACE a business contact shares that they have a baby due in March, I make a note. At the end of March I would send a short e-mail following up about the birth. At the next meeting when I see this contact, my first communication with them would be about the child and asking for some coveted baby pictures. That is three solid deposits in my bank account with that business contact. You need to establish a system of tracking your contacts by company and by segment of the industry. It also needs to allow you to make some notes and follow-up reminders. This can be done with most PC contact applications or the old fashion way of index cards and a daily planner. Regardless of what system you choose, use it!
The big take-away here is that business relationships have nothing to do with your business. They are about how you relate to others. Do you know someone that always talks about how much they know, how important they are to the industry and how lucky you are to know them. Do you want to do business with this person? If they were in trouble, would you help? Are you this person?
Remember the old adage “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” If you don’t make deposits, but continue to withdraw funds, you’ll overdraw your account and drain your business of vital relationships.
# Networking Tip- Law of Three. When you meet someone ask three questions about him or her before you discuss yourself.
I know several people in our industry that are brilliant, but due to poor relationship management skills, they never open accounts and often close the bank. The flaw here is some people approach meeting others as a finite window in which to share their message. I have watched as people launch into their “elevator” speech only to see that person throw their card away as soon as the conversation ended. Worse yet, I’ve watched as individuals have approached leaders within corporations to tell them everything they feel is wrong with their company. In these cases your account with this person will always be closed, as this self centered impression is what they will filter future interactions with you through. If you have an elevator speech, throw it away. It is preventing you from interacting with people on a real level. When you meet someone, you are most likely looking for a chance to deliver that speech, instead of listening to others. If your waiting for your opening, your not building relationships.
Focus on depth and quality of your relationships to build a strong network over time. Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not enough that people are aware of you; they need to have some level of familiarity and interaction so that you actually have a connection with them.
You’ll know that your network is becoming valuable when you hear someone say, “I was just talking about you.” That small statement means you are in the forefront of your colleagues and customers thoughts. And after all that is what any business wants to be, a customers first thought.