Fair-Weather Friends?

A few weeks ago I interviewed a major British industrialist about “building relationships from the client’s side of the desk.” He had been the CEO of a leading British company for many years, and worked with many outside service providers and advisors during his career. I interviewed him in front of a large group of executives, exploring many different aspects of professional-client relationships.

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While most CEOs don’t directly purchase many products or services, they do weigh in on important decisions. And, if you have a relationship with them you can get access to important strategic thinking about the direction and priorities of the company.

Here are two things that struck me about his remarks:

  1. He truly valued trusted advisors. Long-term relationships with key experts in different fields were very important to him. “I’m probably unusual in this respect,” he kept saying, implying that many executives were more mercenary and aloof. But actually, most top executives I have interviewed (now in the thousands) have told me they greatly value close, trusted relationships with external providers.
  2. The key to several of his most important relationships had been this: The service providers acted like trusted advisors even when there was no business! They were there for him irrespective of the flow of fees. They added value in-between engagements. They came to see him and provided valuable insights and advice in both rain and sunshine.

If a relationship is important to you, it should be important all the time, through thick and thin. Those are the really enduring ones.

A corollary of this concept is expressed by relationship law fifteen from my book Power Relationships: “If you treat a prospect like a client, there’s a good chance they’ll become one.”

If a friend is only available when they need something from you, how do you feel?

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