Those of you who know me will know this is a common catch-phrase – that often raises a smile or two. In summary; the initial phases of a business relationship are best compared with a first date. While this may at first glance seem a light hearted ice breaker – this is a serious point. I first learnt it from the likes of top business consultant Dave Ferguson (Performance Toolbox) during extensive negotiation and relationship planning work I undertook in New Zealand in the 1990’s – and it has struck with me ever since. So what does ‘first date’ point mean?
If any prospective beau wants a first date to be successful, then there are certain things he has to have in place. Some funding and an idea of a place to go are required. This means some preparation and planning. And, it helps if you have someone to invite, and you have bothered to learn a bit about them. To be successful, that first night out needs to be delivered on time and run smoothly, the date needs to be feel rewarded and respected. However – after that first date, you can plan another, and another – until both parties have the trust & respect of each other.
The key to any relationshp success (and sorry to sound a bit Oprah…) – is focusing upon the understanding of what the others needs are, having good, clear communication and building a shared vision of the future. In key business relationships – long term success (be it procurement, marketing alliances or distribution channels) – is built on the same premise, yet in most cases executives focus too much on their own needs (which is neccessary, but easy to do).
As Tom Peters says, a good business relationship needs to be measured by your understanding of what the partner gets out of it. You can build a great relationship, measure what you get out of it, think how clever you have been to secure all that value. As soon as the partner leaves because they have not achieved what they wanted – you have lost the competitive advantages you have striven to build. And all because – you didn’t consider them.
So, firstly choose the right prospect, then understand their needs (as well as your own) – and aim to communicate effectively; build trust, respect and a shared plan. And it all starts with a good – ‘first date’. So – where’s that little black book of yours?