Goodwill is the oxygen of all great business relationships

Much is made, quite rightly, about the need for skills, the power that deep knowledge brings and the importance of motivation, focus, positivity and other attitudinal ‘must haves’, that help drive and underpin success.
There is also however, something else in the mix, that the very best in any walk of life appear to possess by the spade full.

It might be argued that there is something intrinsically dry, mechanical and cerebral about skills and know-how.
Let’s face it, machines are programmed with and can acquire more of both – more than any human being could ever match in pure data/specific capability terms.

Artificial Intelligence is fast becoming orthodox – mainstream even. But the fact remains, there is something well, artificial about A.I. Empty, unfeeling and one dimensionally functional.

What I believe makes the very best of the best stand out, is their innate ability to create intimacy and a common bond with those that they are interacting with – something of a window into their inner thinking and feelings that ultimately makes us all human.

In our increasingly automated world where we ‘buy’ with a stroke of our fingers in the App Store; it’s too easy to think, behave and interact in a purely transactional way – the singularly ‘something for something’ nature of our business dealings.

I would suggest that, regardless of market, product or service – adopting an approach this is either brand to brand (ABC Limited to XYZ plc) or function to function (seller to buyer) leaves little or no room for the rapport building that cements all of our most meaningful relationships.

When the deal is done – contracts signed, goods supplied and received – how then to continue to build and develop the relationship?

The Bank of Goodwill and emotional intelligence

Try this analogy – it works for me and has done for over 25 years.
Imagine that your business relationships (and even your personal relationships) are a joint bank account.
On day one – you have a zero balance. Not in credit nor overdrawn.
The relationship begins the very moment you make contact – however this is done, phone, mail, meeting, networking event, online – whatever.
Long before any goods or services are exchanged – you’ve entered into an emotional contract with your would be customer (don’t flatter yourself – they’re not a client just yet – I’ll explain later).
This is when the depositing and withdrawal of goodwill begins – and will continue throughout the relationship.

Expect the account to be credited for the following reasons…..

  • Your professionalism, knowledge and general credibility.
  • Your willingness to invest time and energy into helping the client – without the need to nail an invoice to everything you do.
  • Your ability to see things from their perspective – feel what they feel and factor this into your approach.
  • Your generosity of spirit – seeking to support/assist the client beyond your basic remit/core offering.
  • Focusing on the win/win.
  • Having the emotional intelligence to build rapport and trust.
  • Being proactive – sharing information, links, material that you know to be of value to the client.
  • Being able to anticipate and address potential issues before they arise.
  • Being the person that they can trust to help them achieve their goals and objectives.
  • Being in contact with a constructive and progressive agenda when there are no lives deals being done.
  • Being someone who takes an interest in lives of others beyond the professional dynamic.
Many, many more – but you get the idea.

Conversely, expect withdrawals and depletion of goodwill for some of the following cardinal sins….
  • Being that god awful fair-weather friend – on the blower like a bezzy mate with a blunt instrument approach, pitching in your latest ‘amazing candidate’.
  • You’re AWOL for months – because there’s nothing doing or you’re badly organised so you ‘forget’ or because you’re just unprofessional and don’t care enough.
  • Getting exposed or compromised in the clients eyes – something you should know and you don’t – something you ought to have done – but you didn’t.
  • Not meeting the clients’ expectations – could be anything ranging from dress, to performance, to behavior, conduct or even something by omission.
  • Being greedy or just chasing a buck – you see the client as the means to get rich, meet your targets or fulfill a need.
  • Not listening to understand – jumping in, off message and working to your own agenda, not theirs.
  • Failing to invest the time to build intimacy and an understanding of what makes your client (a fellow human being remember) tick.
  • Not aligning around values and ethos – sure, you’re a great operator – but your politics or prejudices alienate and offend.
  • You take things for granted and let your guard down.
Again, we’re just scratching the surface….but you get the gist

Get things right – and you’ll be a goodwill millionaire, get it wrong and you’ll be bankrupt and on skid row before you know it.

Try the following two sanity checks:

1)        Customer to Confidenté

Write down your long list of people you’ve done/are doing business with – back as far as you can recall - if you’ve been in the game for a few years – you’ll presumably have lots to go at.

Now classify and characterise as follows:

Customer = someone you occasionally do business with. Ad hoc and you’re one of many supplying the client. 1 point.

Client = formally recognised and long standing working relationship – you have the lions share, perhaps even exclusivity with this person. 3 points.
Advocate = they actively promote you and what you do, you can give out their name for new prospects to call without prompting or consent. They’re big fans and ambassadors for you and your business. 25 points.
Confidenté = you have a close, personal relationship, share personal time together, maybe recreational maybe other business interests. You’re in the trusted inner circle. 50 points.
Less than 300 points? You might be adopting the gourd sellers attitude in the Life of Brian – best revisit your approach.

 2)        Sanity check two - So, what’s next?

Taking your client database – users, in-actives and orphaned (I hate that expression BTW!) and ask yourself the following questions of each:
  • When was the last constructive meeting, with a clear agenda and targeted outcome with senior decision makers and influencers?
  • When is the next scheduled meaningful meeting with key stakeholders?
  • What do we know to be the real opportunities to add more value and make serious advances in the relationship?
  • What are we doing to meet others in the business – centers of influence, users, stakeholders and movers and shakers?
  • What is our next planned move to protect, consolidate and defend this client?
  • What are our top five service improvement initiatives?
  • What is our next concerted effort to evolve the relationship to the next stage?
  • What is our planned strategic move designed protect the business and maintain growth should we lose this account?
If you’re happy with your responses to these questions – great. If you’re not – at least you know what to do next!
Maybe the goodwill bank account and relationship sanity checks will provoke some fresh thinking and perhaps an improved approach to building better relationships.

What I find particularly reassuring about all of this – is it’s so easy to do but so often neglected or left to chance.

I wish you happy relationship building and may you all become goodwill billionaires!

Steven Street
Group Managing Director