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Small Business Resources

Small Business Rules to Relationship Building

Sales people and their managers take on many different, highly specialized roles.  Usually, this works pretty seamlessly and intuitively.  Running a small business, though, requires that we have to learn to manage each process efficiently, and sales is so often misunderstood.


Advertising and Marketing are different than Sales.  For Sales you need a product and a customer; Advertising and Marketing try to find the customer; once you have the customer, or once the customer is considering your product, then Sales kicks in.


Some sales are high volume, low differentiator, less-is-more transactions.  Here you want to streamline and facilitate, and Amazon and Walmart are the best players.  The more your business depends on a single client, though, the more attention you need to pay to the relationship.  If one client is at least 30% of your business, then that client needs a manager and it should be a principal in the firm.  If an industry sector accounts for a significant amount of business, then a specialized account manager who knows the industry makes sense.


When you hire, you should reflect on who knows the industry AND who can get some loyalty from their clients.  Customers become clients when you start helping solve their problems; focus on resolutions.  Resolution-oriented people are often very social and positive – small business owners usually are too busy for social and positive!  In the 1990s there was a trend to hire college graduates from the lower halves of the graduating class.  Companies like Home Depot (managers) and Enterprise Rent-A-Car were looking for: a) someone who could graduate college, and b) someone with a hard work ethic who could handle people.


Often the best scenario is to ask the client who you should hire.  If you ask that question enough, some surprising opportunities may arise.  New relationships and loyalties could abound by doing the client a favor and hiring someone they prefer.


Relationships are built either through commiseration or through teamwork.  Commiseration can get really expensive and even dangerous, especially after wine gets involved, but commiseration is extremely efficient.  Shaking hands at industry events and complaining about taxes is actually somewhat therapeutic… folks realize you are in the same boat and see what you struggle for and what you value.  The Apostle Paul instructed his disciples to go out and mix with the people; if half your customer base is angry and miserable, you need to adapt your profit-making-machine to be able to deal with it.


Small business can’t afford waste, so some simple rules to relationship building are:

  • The earlier the cheaper: coffee trumps wine
  • The earlier the more attention captured: diner trumps sports bar
  • Productive people tend to be earlier people
  • Consistency over time is more convincing than sporadic urgency

Listening instructs us, serving endears us; find out what makes your client gripe and then help them with it, but don’t overdo it.  Know when to stop, take “yes” for an answer.


Team builders can swing from dramatic wins to emotional losses.  Pace yourself if this is you and always have an escape prepared.  Plan B sounds too dramatic… just have a fall-back or fall-around position to make sure you have a place to recoup.  Stewardship of reserves, both in capital and emotion, and prudence on change, will require mountains of time.  Like a Navy SEAL, be prepared to adapt to the battle that you walk into rather than the one you planned.