YOU OFTEN HEAR THAT “it’s not what you know but who you know.”
There is some truth to this. It is human nature to favor people who are
friends, who have helped you in the past, who are recommended by
friends or by people you respect, etc. That is not to say that they will
give you a job, place an order, or do other favors if they think you are
incompetent, unprepared, or lack integrity. Good relationships can
open doors and can offer you new opportunities. Strong relationships
can last a lifetime.
Good relationships are the key to effective networking. Networking
is an activity/word bandied about as essential to business success. I
would not go that far. Let’s first talk about what it is and isn’t.
Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the developing of contacts or
exchanging of information with others in an informal network as to
further a career.” If furthering a career includes helping you to secure an
introduction, get an order, acquire information, etc., then I am okay
with it. Networking is not just collecting business cards, no more than
starting a business makes you an entrepreneur.
If you do not have this birthright advantage, fear not. You can build
your own network of positive relationships by earning them, which
makes them more valuable. Relationships are portable. They follow
you wherever you go or what job you currently have.
I do not have a list of things you can magically do, and, presto, a
good relationship is born. The best way I know to build solid long
lasting relationships is to always “Do the Right Thing.” Many times
you’ll be tempted to veer from this maxim, particularly where money is
concerned. I like Bill White’s comment in his book From Day One:
“Network more effectively by giving not getting.”
This attitude and belief cannot be faked on a sustained basis. You
must believe it. Besides helping you in your business, you will sleep
better and have a more fulfilling personal and family life.
Doing the right thing comes naturally to many people, and they do
it without giving it much thought. However, we live in a complex world,
and the right thing may not be clear or be the same for everyone. You
can’t constantly think of things to say to build trust. Treat all people
fairly and with respect, and trust should follow. In building a business it
must start from the top and requires thought. Trust fosters, and is
mandatory, for good relationships.
Trust takes time to earn but can be lost in a moment. There seem to
be generational differences in what constitutes trustful behavior in a
business environment. There are many actions that people will call
distrustful while others will shrug it off as just business. Trust building is
an accumulation of many actions, mostly small ones.
Here is my list of trust building ideas in no particular order.
- Listen to people you deal with.
(Listening is an acquired skill.) Do not sell a product you know is bad.
-Be honest at all times. -Look people in the eye when you talk
-Set an example by your behavior. Give it a lot of thought.-
-Don’t be embarrassed to make a profit.
-Admit mistakes right away. (Not easy.) -Don’t over promise; resist that
- After admitting a mistake, immediately
move to correct it and pay for remedies.
- Reprimand people who break their
word to you-clearly and decisively.
- Pay bills on time. If you can’t, call and
tell why and when you will pay. (Be
sure to give a date you can meet or
- Try to set down specific rules of ethical
and moral behavior for company—
review them regularly.
- Give credit where credit is due. Keep people informed.
- Acknowledge what you don’t know.
- Don’t BS. – Specify the relationship you expect.
- Push quality. Demand quality. – Problems create opportunities to build
trust. Attack problems.
- Speak candidly to customers and
employees even when it’s something
you know they don’t want to hear but
it’s in their best interest.
- If you receive a check made out to you
that doesn’t belong to you or are paid
too much, the sender should be
notified immediately. Don’t wait for
their auditors to discover the error
and contact you.
- Keep your promises. – Thank you and please” can go a
- Try to be fair. The attempt is important. – Pay attention to the details of the
- Don’t betray confidential information.
Buyers will press you for information
about their competition. Don’t fall for
- Be prompt in your appointments, your
follow-ups, and your promises. Make
- Treat little people well. (Big ones
seem to be easy.) Good assistants
eventually get promoted.
- Go the extra mile with your customers
- Don’t duck or procrastinate dealing
with a problem. – Don’t knock others.
Answer calls on troublesome issues.
Ducking calls creates a new problem,
sometimes more onerous than the
original one you ducked.
- Present solutions, not just problems.
- Show respect to every person you deal
with no matter their position.
- If you don’t know the answer to a
question, admit it . . . then research the
- Be knowledgeable about your product,
marketplace, new developments, and
competition. Share much of this wisdom.
- Remember what your parents told you:
”Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you.”
- Inform customers of problems as soon
as you know and before they find out.
- If for whatever reason you can’t take
on an assignment and give it the
attention it deserves . . . then pass.
I’m sure you can add to the list. Don’t expect immediate return or in
fact any return for doing the right thing. It should be a way of life for
you. However, you’ll be surprised at all the good, unexpected things
that will come your way. If people trust you, they will have confidence
in you. That will lead to their wanting to do business with you.
A personal example: at a major trade show we were exhibiting games
from the Toy/Game company I co-founded. We had 9 booths, which
made us one of the major exhibitors. The largest retailers in the country
attended this show as well as thousands of small retailers. The problem
for the sales manager or president was if you were working with a small
retailer and a major national buyer entered your booth, you wanted to
drop or hand off the small buyer you were working with and rush to
apply your charms and sales skills on this major buyer. Many people
did just that. However, it was not the right thing to do. This happened
to me at one show when I was working with a small gift store. A major
executive at a large chain walked in. I continued to work with this small
retailer and missed the opportunity to personally work the big account.
Now fast forward 10 years. I sold our game company to a major
needlework company. After one year, they asked me to be president of
the needlework company, which was struggling with an alarming drop
in sales. After a review of all their accounts, particularly the ones with
big declines, I decided to meet these particular accounts to determine
the cause of the sales decline. I phoned the president of one of these, a
major national catalog house. In speaking with him, he recognized my
name and asked me if I at one time had a game company? When I
answered yes, he enthusiastically thanked me for the way I treated him
when we first met. It turns out he was the owner of that small gift store
that I refused to abandon for the big hitter. I frankly had no memory of
the incident. He invited me to come visit his operation. I did and met all
his key people who informed me in detail of all the problems they had
with our company. We were able to correct these problems to their
satisfaction. The end result was a dramatic sales increase that exceeded
their previous high point. All this was triggered by doing this one right
thing 10 years before. As some would say, “What goes around comes
Relationship Building/Networking should become a natural part of
your life, requiring no hard thinking. Not only will you be rewarded if
you do it the right way, it will be part of your continuous learning.
Furthermore, it will cost you nothing.