Business Relationships – a Marriage Made in Heaven?

Last month I had the pleasure of giving a brief talk to the Henley Business Partnership networking meeting in the gorgeous setting of Phyllis Court in Henley. The talk came just days after the long-suffering Mrs B and I had celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, so I used the topic of long-lasting relationships as the theme. I thought I would share the ideas with you in this newsletter. In a ten minute talk, I focussed on three key lessons that businesses could take from a marriage that lasts:

It’s about BEING married, not GETTING married

In 1994, when Mrs B arrived (late, I feel compelled to mention) at the front of the church, weddings were much simpler. In 2018 it seems a major logistical exercise to organise invites, locations, outfits, favours, seating plans, first dances, speeches, hen and stag dos, rehearsals, foreign weddings, hotel venues, fancy lighting and so much more. A huge amount of planning, attention and money is invested in the big day. And then it seems people just expect the marriage to happen, with no work at all. Bev and I had a far simpler wedding to get married, and then focussed more attention on being married.

In business, we can invest a huge amount of resource in starting relationships – marketing campaigns, prospecting activity, special promotions, sales commissions and much more – but then those businesses seem to forget to focus on serving those clients – they’ve moved onto the next sale, rather than making the most of this one.

I have a client who has trebled their business in about five years. They have worked hard to win new business, but the core of their growth has been retaining 98% of their customers year-on-year, way above the industry average. Knowing that new customers this year will be customers for many years to come, if they serve those customers right, has given my client a winning formula. But customers don’t show loyalty without some work on my client’s part. They make sure they lead the market in customer service and provide the little extras that make the difference. That client trebled in size in five years, by placing emphasis on being with customers, not just getting customers. And by hiring a brilliant business coach, of course…

Remember your vows – for better or worse

In a long term relationship it is a question of when you hit a rough patch, not if. You can do all sorts of things to reduce the risk, but the likelihood is that there will be some “worse”, as well as some “better”. At times like that you need, as a couple, to put the current turbulence into the context of the overall relationship and do what is needed to stabilise the ship. Both parties have to bend and bow at different times to flex with their spouse’s needs. We’ve had better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health, and we’ve made sure we support each other until the calmer waters come back.

In business, mistakes happen. In long client relationships it is probable that someone will miss paying an invoice, or a supplier will mess up an order. If you’re the “wronged” party do you go off the deep end and demand all sorts of compensation, or do you realise an honest issue and work with the other party to resolve things sensibly? If you’ve screwed up, how do you make things better?

Another client reviews quality constantly, and their intent is to meet every order right first time, on time. But when they fall short, they see an opportunity to really impress a customer – by the way they work to put it right. The MD often says that an initially disappointed customer can become their best advocate. Is that true in your business? What do you need to change to make it so?

Have a vision for your future, together

Mrs B and I were early in our careers when we got married (in fact, I was still unemployed as it was a week after graduating!) and since then we have forged careers, changed careers, bought, renovated and sold homes, made decisions about having a family, planned lots of travelling and more recently really focussed on our forthcoming early retirement. Throughout our 24 years we have evolved our plan, but we’ve always had a plan – a reason to stay together and be excited about the future.

Do you have a shared vision with your colleagues in your business? Do you discuss with them what their aspirations and dreams are, and align them with your vision for the business? One client of mine saw a young staff member as a future leader of the business and had very high hopes for them. But they never discussed it with the individual, and the young staff member left to pursue other opportunities. Would they have stayed if the shared vision had been explained to them? We’ll never know. If you have key people you want to retain, develop and promote, talk to them about their future and have a vision together – give them a reason to stay. Don’t wake up one day and find a Dear John letter because you were inattentive…

In the discussion after my talk, a few of us indentified a further key ingredient in making a relationship (personal or business) work: luck. I accept that is a very important factor (Mrs B is SO lucky to have landed me…), but that is not really in your control. The three factors above are – and will help you make the most of any luck you do have.

My own reflections

As I reflect on my 24-year marriage I realise that the recipe for success is like so much in my life:

  • have a vision, translated into a plan

  • take daily actions to make the plan come true

  • leave the dish to simmer for a couple of decades

  • enjoy the rewards!

My coaching helps clients get similar things in place (and it doesn’t usually take decades) for their business, their relationships, their money or their life generally. I have a couple of vacancies for new clients at the moment, so if you’d like some of that recipe in your life, get in touch soon.

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