How to build strong relationships Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Capital Media Group LLC has grown from an idea in 2002 to a business posting revenue of $60 million in 2008 thanks to the efforts of Tony Somers and six other owners.

They did it, in large part, by focusing on building strong relationships with a small number of companies.

“You go to the supermarket and there’s two bottles of water, and one is 99 cents and one is 89 cents,” says Somers, president of the wholesale distributor of removable data storage products. “The average individual will buy the 89-cent bottle of water because they are the same. When you’re in a commoditized world, which we are, that’s difficult to be able to differentiate ourselves. I think the big thing is our people and the owners and the relationships they’ve built with customers.”

Smart Business spoke with Somers about how to build customer relationships familiarizing yourself with your customers’ companies and delivering on your promises.

Understand your customers. The key is, what’s going to help somebody’s business, help them grow their business. If, ultimately, you’re bringing them an opportunity to add greater profitability, greater efficiency to their organization then, by definition, they should look to you as someone that they see as a valued partner.

If all they see you as is another me-too, then they’re more than likely going to say, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ You might get orders, but you might not develop that long-term relationship.

It’s key that you understand their business, whatever their business is, and make sure that whatever the offering, you give them slots into the model, that you’re not trying to fit a round peg into a square hole sort of thing.

You have to, first and foremost, get to whoever the senior decision-makers are within that company. Often, buyers aren’t owners of the company or part of their executive or directors team, and their objective might be just to get the lowest price possible.

If that’s the case, the best way to get to a company is to get to the people that are, A, running it or, B, started it and are owners of it because no one is going to know the business better than those individuals. They could be in finance, they could be in sales, they could be in marketing operations. But the more you get to know the owners or the senior decision executive people within that organization, the more likely you’re going to be aligned with whatever their goals are.

To just call and say, ‘I have a great price for you’ to anybody in that company may get you an order, but it probably won’t build you a relationship.

(It’s) time, persistence, face to face. Calling someone over the phone is not very easy. You do have to, from time to time, go out and sit down with that owner and say, ‘Listen, I know we’re not on the day-to-day basis probably going to be doing a lot of business, but your team will probably be interacting with my team. I want you to know our objective is to try to make sure we’re aligned with whatever your objectives are, but let’s make sure that we are. So please give me the vision of your organization, your company, and make sure that we can all fall into that model in a way that’s conducive to what your success is.’

Deliver on your promises time and again. No good or strong friendships are just based on the first impressions, they have to be built up over a set period of time; certainly it’s not going to happen overnight.

You have to be able to provide your customer with something that they feel they haven’t as of yet seen from someone else. Again, when you’re in a commoditized world like we are, that’s not easy. I would think the only way to do that is to develop that relationship, and again, time is the only way that’s going to work.

You’ve got to be able to say, ‘We’re going to do this,’ whatever this is. ‘We’re going to make sure it happens that way,’ whatever that is. And then once you make that delivery, make sure you follow up and say, ‘Did it work that way; did you get what you wanted?’

Then after two, three, four, five, six times, however many times it takes, you hope the customer then says, ‘OK, I know practice makes perfect; it’s not just a fly-by-night operation. It’s somebody that will give me that consistency on a every time I need it sort of basis.’

In my opinion, it’s probably going to be more than likely something that evolves, as opposed to just happens.

Maintain an honest relationship. If you’re going to say, ‘I’ll have it there Friday’ … make sure it’s there Friday. If you can’t have it there Friday, make sure you follow up on the original commitment and say, ‘OK, I know I said Friday; it’s now going to be Monday.’ Don’t just walk away from the commitment you made and cross your fingers with the hope that it goes away.

If you’re going to make a commitment, live and die by it. If you’re going to miss that commitment for whatever reason, be honest about it.

How to reach: Capital Media Group LLC, (614) 729-6800 or www.capitalmedia-group.com