Establishing business relationships can be every bit as confusing and frustrating as it is essential. There are several kinds of potential stakeholders you need to account for, and each connection requires some degree of individual attention and effort.
Still, some underlying principles can be applied in the context of almost any kind of business relationship to make the process of establishing one a bit more straightforward.
Here, we'll go over what a business relationship is, take a look at the various forms it can take, and review the fundamentals of how to build business relationships.
What is a business relationship?
The term 'business relationship' can cover several kinds of engagements between a company and the various stakeholders that influence it. A business relationship can be as ground-level as the relationship an organization has with a customer or as significant as a partnership it has with another corporation.
The concept of "business relationships" is pretty fluid — as there's no single, definitive entity that a business can enter a relationship with. Virtually any stakeholder that has some kind of bearing on a business's success or operations can have one with that company.
Individual customers, employees, legal partners, other corporations, and a variety of other parties all sway how an organization plans and executes its overall business strategy. In turn, a business can participate in a series of business relationships with all of them.
Let's take a closer look at the various types of business relationships companies generally have to account for.
Types of Business Relationships
1. Customer Relationships
Sound customer relationships are the foundation of any viable, productive business — having direct sway over how your business functions and grows. Without satisfied customers, you can't generate sustainable revenue, and you sell yourself short by losing out on referrals. All your business relationships are important, but the ones you have with your customers are absolutely essential.
2. Business to Business Relationships
The ability to maintain and establish relationships with other companies can be a major plus for any business. Cross-promotion, co-marketing, co-sponsoring conferences, or other collaborative efforts can help both your and your partner's businesses reach new prospects, project credibility, and bolster authority in your space.
3. Legal Relationships
As you can probably assume, legal relationships are relationships you maintain with the people handling the legal aspects of your business — the attorneys and other legal professionals you work with.
You need to establish an element of mutual trust with these contacts. They're handling a key facet of your business that you probably can't deal with on your own. They have vital expertise that you most likely don't, so keep them close — productive relationships on this front often come in handy.
4. Employee Relationships
The relationships you build with your employees are some of the most important ones you can establish. In a lot of ways, they have the most impact on your immediate success. If your employees are disgruntled or resentful, your operations are bound to take a significant hit — that's why earning and retaining your employees' trust and loyalty are central to keeping your business running as effectively as possible.
5. Financial Relationships
If your business doesn't handle its finances in-house, you need to establish tight, productive relationships with whoever does. The connections you maintain with accountants, bankers, outside investors, financial advisors, and other financial professionals all have the potential to either enhance or impede how smoothly your business runs.
How to Build Business Relationships
- Lead with an exceptional product or service.
- Supplement your product or service with an exceptional customer experience.
- Keep up with key contacts.
- Look for ways to add value.
- Ask for and incorporate feedback.
- Be a consultative, educational resource.
- Deliver on promises to build trust.
1. Lead with an exceptional product or service.
Productive business relationships aren't rooted strictly in goodwill and friendliness. They require a substantive, effective foundation — and that typically comes in the form of a sound product or service.
Other businesses don't want to enter into a corporate partnership with a company that can't sustain itself. Employees don't want to work for a company that no one wants to buy from. And obviously, you can't develop customer relationships without customers.
All the business relationship-building acumen in the world won't get you anywhere if no one wants to do business with you in the first place. You have to focus on your offering — first and foremost — then you can start working on your relationships.
2. Supplement your product or service with exceptional customer and partner experiences.
Once you have your product or service squared away and have started developing your business relationships, make sure you're doing everything you can to service the contacts you're working with.
Exceptional customer and partner experiences are central to forging and sustaining constructive business relationships. When your contacts feel valued, they'll be inclined to return the favor. If they raise issues or concerns, make sure you address them quickly and thoroughly.
Invest in your support and customer success infrastructures. Try to have knowledgeable, personable reps on hand who can reliably handle problems your customers might have. That kind of service's value is twofold in the context of business relationship-building. Not only does it help you maintain your existing relationships, but it also lets you generate new ones through referrals.
3. Keep up with key contacts.
In all likelihood, you're not going to have the bandwidth to consistently connect with every contact you have a business relationship with — so you need to be selective with the ones you routinely stay in touch with.
Some contacts are more valuable than others. You're going to link up with certain vendors, clients, customers, and partners that stand to offer you more than most. That's why you need to identify and prioritize your most productive business relationships — and stay on top of those connections.
You don't have to inundate them with emails or phone calls — that can come off as overbearing or desperate — but you still can't go too long without checking in. That could be as simple as complimenting a piece of content they've published or commenting on career milestones they post on LinkedIn.
One way or another, let them know you're keeping them top of mind. Your contacts want to feel valued, so show them you're not taking them for granted.
4. Look for ways to add value.
A productive business relationship isn't purely transactional. It shouldn't be confined to "I give you X, and you give me Y — end of story." You always need to look for ways to add additional value to the arrangement.
If you sell a product or service to a customer, their experience with your business can't end with the sale. You need to add value through exemplary customer service, contact with your customer success team, or any other avenues you can take to ensure that their experience with your business is the best it can be.
Or let's say you establish a corporate partnership with another leader in your space to co-sponsor an industry conference — if you go that road, the relationship shouldn't end once the event wraps up. You would want to find ways to get more out of your arrangement by taking actions like offering co-marketing opportunities.
No matter what the nature of a business relationship might be, there are always ways for both parties to get more mileage out of it. Bear that in mind, and find as many chances to provide additional value to whoever you're working with.
5. Ask for and incorporate feedback.
The most effective business relationships are rooted in mutual trust, sincere listening, and productive back-and-forth. Regardless of who you're engaging with, you need to be willing to hear their ideas and entertain their concerns.
That's why asking for and incorporating feedback is essential when trying to sustain these kinds of relationships. Customers want to know that you're legitimately invested in improving their experience with your company — the same goes for corporate partners and employees.
You don't want to come off as cold, callous, stubborn, or arrogant. You need to demonstrate that your business is committed to growing and consistently improving — and letting the people you work with in on that process can go a long way.
Actions like distributing customer surveys, giving customers a forum where they can air their issues with your business, and consistently touching base with partners about what you could be doing better all show that you value them and their input. And once you have that feedback, try to identify trends within it — and leverage that insight to improve how you do business.
6. Be a consultative, educational resource.
As I mentioned earlier on this list, business relationships should never be purely transactional. Relational value doesn't begin and end with monetary value — so treating every relationship like a sale isn't in your best interest.
You want to be a helpful resource for the parties you engage with — that's why prioritizing education just as much as you would selling is central to establishing long-lasting, productive business relationships.
Publish and distribute helpful thought leadership content. Quickly and comprehensively address questions your partners raise. Engage with contacts on social media — and take any other actions to serve the parties you connect with in a consultative capacity.
All of those activities can contribute to effective business relationship-building.
7. Deliver on promises to build trust.
People are more inclined to respect and connect with people who keep their word in any context — and business relationship-building is no exception. You never want to over-promise and under-deliver with customers, employees, partners, or any other parties you engage with.
Make sure you set rational expectations in your business relationships — don't set overly lofty objectives and insist you'll reach them without knowing for a fact that you will. That's a recipe for disappointment, frustration, and distrust.
If you promise customers you'll deliver a new feature for your product by a certain date, make sure that timeline is viable. If you tell your employees they can expect to see a wage increase within the year, be sure you can afford the increase in operating expenses. If you tell a partner you can co-sponsor a conference, ensure that it aligns with your budget and schedule.
You don't have to sell yourself too short here. You still want to make significant contributions to your business relationships, but you don't want to lose clout and undermine the trust you've established with the other party. Make appropriate, feasible promises, and deliver on them consistently.
Business relationships are the lifeblood of many — if not most — companies' success. If you want your business to thrive, you need to have a pulse on how to connect with customers, employees, corporate partners, and other stakeholders who influence how smoothly your business operates.