In the classic musical "Fiddler on the Roof," a frazzled father, Tevya, turns to his wife and asks her, "Do you love me?"
She replies, "What do you mean? I have fed you, darned your socks and borne your children." "I know, but do you love me?" he persists.
These days -- in business as in marriage -- it is often not enough that a relationship is productive. We all seem to want quality of life in addition to a living.
The client-supplier relationship is a good example. These relationships often involve the sharing of personal, confidential information and feelings, and may, in fact, last longer than the average marriage. So maybe it is worth another look before you leap.
It is standard practice to qualify a prospect on the basis of time, need, authority and money, but why not by corporate culture as well? We all find it easier to work with some companies over others, just as we prefer working with some employees instead of others.
In fact, as a result of outsourcing, the supplier-customer relationship should -- and will -- start to mimic the employee-employer relationship.
Suppliers should assess their prospects' corporate culture in much the same way individuals do when deciding to accept a company's job offer. I'm not recommending pre-relationship psychological testing; however, you may need to run a relationship check similar to a credit check.
People still buy from people (as opposed to companies), so some level of compatibility is essential. Customer-supplier relationships fail most often because expectations were not set, agreed upon and met.
Take a few moments to decide whether you are picking good long-term partners or "one-time sales stands."
- Does the decision-maker communicate like you do?
- Does he or she share some basic values with you?
- Does his or her company make decisions like yours does?
- How are disputes resolved, if they are resolved?
- Is it a conservative or progressive environment in terms of risk-taking, communications, problem solving, partnering?
While sales goals have to be hit, they are rarely accomplished through the first order. Developing an ideal customer profile before closing that first deal will help ensure that more will follow. Take a few minutes when moving qualified prospects through the developed or proposal funnel stage before closing them. It will enhance the chances of successful long-term partnerships.
This profile can easily be added as part of your qualifying customer or pre-proposal questionnaire.
In Japan, when they are preparing an executive to work in the United States, he is told, "In America, everyone always asks, 'How are you?' But no one really cares to know the answer."
A little harsh, but too often true.
Once a business relationship is established, do you work on keeping it healthy? Again, the marriage analogy holds true. The leading cause of break-ups, both marriage and customer, is lack of communication. In marriage, this leads to irreconcilable differences. In business, a customer's (or a supplier's) expectations cease to be met.
To keep a good business relationship healthy and on track:
- Call for no particular reason and say hello.
- Ask for advice on an unrelated issue.
- Get together for a cup of coffee, a beer or with your kids if they are close in age. (In these harried days, everyone is trying to find ways to maximize their time).