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Relationships in the Time of Uncertainty

Published: Apr 07 , 2020
Author: Julie Shen

No, don’t worry, I’m not talking about your significant other. On the other hand, yes, worry — I’m talking about your business relationships. 

You may have thought that you have a good relationship with your clients, but it’s now time for a litmus test.

Who’s taking your calls?

Better yet, who’s responding to those calls (and emails)?

Who’s willing to work on, and even create, new solutions with you, instead of just demanding discounts and concessions?

Of course, it’s easy to assume that since we’re in the midst of a crisis, we’re not getting responses to our calls or emails. But it’s in times of crisis that clients with whom we’ve created the right relationships actually return our calls, because the basis of a real relationship has already been established. 

A few months ago, while I was working with clients, I brought up relationships in the context of negotiations. We started to discuss the dynamic of a negotiation as being either collaborative or competitive. But when speaking of a collaborative negotiation, there’s a deeper question that we have to ask ourselves: Is the relationship with the other party superficial, or is it — or can it be — deeper than that? Can it be meaningful? Being collaborative may not be enough. Certainly not now. We already know that clients work with people they like. Competitive relationships rarely lend themselves to establishing good, lasting, real relationships. 

Collaborative relationships should be about creating a win-win environment, not about simply making concessions to get the deal done. Collaborative relationships open a door to real relationships and can give you an opportunity to connect in ways that don’t merely skim the surface (i.e. discussions about budgets, volume, delivery schedule, scope . . .). Collaborative relationships answer the question “why?”: Why is the other side being aggressive? Why won’t they answer this question? Why is a particular point so important to them? Knowing the answer to so many of our questions can bring the relationship to a more real place of connection, which can amount to a big payoff in today’s environment. 

What’s the content of our conversation? Are we chatting about the weather? Sports? Kids? How much we love corporate travel? Are we making just enough friendly small talk to check off the box labeled “made a personal connection,” and now we can go on to qualifying them? 

Recently, someone on another client’s sales team brought up how uncomfortable they would feel making a personal connection with their customer. I found that surprising. After all, not five minutes prior, they referred to this same customer as a strategic partner! But what do they really know about this strategic partner? Of course, I’m not referring to asking inappropriate questions about their personal life. Still, I would ask them this: What do you actually know about them and their business?

Yes, yes, I know . . . For many, talking about the Dodgers creates a much more comfortable conversation. (We were robbed! But I digress . . .) When the economy is booming, and we don’t even have time to take all the incoming orders, sure, talking about sports is an easy and comfortable way out — or to get to the PO. But this is a time when we see those “partnerships,” those relationships that we’ve built that only skimmed the surface . . . stay right there . . . on the surface. On the other hand, this is also a time when relationships built on something deeper can produce not only increased sales, but also potential new, creative revenue streams exposed through the journey of conversation.

In other words, this is precisely the time to rethink our connection with our clients, both internal and external. This is a wake-up call to create real relationships that will thrive during the good times and, at the very least, weather the bad times.

As for the Dodgers, I’m still hopeful . . .


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Julie Shen
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