Every savvy business person will tell you, “It’s all about relationships.” What not everybody realizes, however, is that there are several types of business relationships that provide value to you, and they do it in very different ways.
The most obvious relationship—and the one most people are thinking of when they say, “It’s all about relationships”—is the one that provides direct financial value: the customer relationship. You have a product or service, and the customer or client pays you money for said service or product.
But there are other, equally valuable types of business relationships.
Not everyone you know is a potential customer or supplier. Certain people simply don’t need what you offer (or offer what you need). Others are past customers, and some will be customers in the future. But the important thing to remember is that even if you are not in a customer relationship with a person, they may know other people who will someday need your service or product. If you have maintained a good relationship with those people, you have an excellent shot at getting business on their recommendation when the time is right. This is what is called a referral relationship. Nurturing these potential referral relationships will help keep your business top-of-mind when the moment comes for a sale to be made.
Another type of business relationship is the mentor-advisor relationship. This kind of relationship can take years to develop, so be patient and consistent with the maintenance. Whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, the relationship can help grow your business and benefit your personal career path. There are plenty of ways you can be valuable to each other; from potential future job placements to future business referrals.
Be careful not to grow apart from your mentor. Take advantage of tools such as LinkedIn to keep the relationship in what psychologist George Levinger calls, “the continuation phase”, where it’s being consolidated for the long term.
Co-worker or recruiting relationships
The co-worker or recruiting relationship gets a lot of lip service from a lot of companies, but consistently attracting talented people who can improve your company is easier said than done. Lots of time and effort can be saved by going directly to people you trust for recruitment referrals.
Think about who you know who can refer or recruit great people. Who do you know who would be a great candidate themselves? Keep a list and maintain relationships with those people, even if you aren’t hiring now. Someday, you will be.
Subordinate or employee relationships
Another familiar, but often overlooked relationship is the subordinate or employee relationship. There’s more to it than the employee doing a job and the employer paying them for it. Nurturing this relationship can lead to happier employees, which results in greater productivity and less turnover. The continuation phase of this relationship can be tricky, especially in larger companies with hundreds of employees, but it’s critical nonetheless. Certain people advance from employee to peer, and good peer relationships can benefit you when the time comes. Certain people will leave your company, but that doesn’t necessarily signal the end of your relationship. It can continue as a referral relationship, a mentor-advisor relationship, or a recruiting relationship—if you’ve taken the time to nurture it while it was an employee relationship.
How structured relationship building and nurturing can help
Digital tools can help maintain the various relationship types. Some digital tools can be used quite effectively to establish certain relationship phases described by Levinger, including the acquaintance phase and the continuation phase. The human factor is still critically important, especially in the build-up phase—nothing can replace eye contact and handshakes (or their digital equivalents), and direct, one-to-one communication in real time. Nevertheless, asking for a little help has its place in nurturing and maintaining all of the business relationships described here.
Recognizing the value of these different relationships, and understanding when and how much attention to pay to each one is crucial. We can give you pointers on how to nurture and make the most of all your business relationships, so give us a call.