In business today, it is impossible to over emphasize the importance of building and maintaining relationships with your customers and vendors.
I am going to outline an example that have been specific to our business that I think probably do a better job describing the impact of relationships.
eMonarch is a Cisco SMB Select partner who has sold very little Cisco gear in the last 24 months. I mean less that 5K worth of their products. However there are three folks at Cisco in the local office who NEVER fail to answer my questions, work with me to understand what Cisco has to offer me and never treat me or eMonarch like a tiny partner.
Now we have a "relationship" with another security vendor who is in the small business space. We sold a lot of their gear when we first became a partner and we got a lot of attention. But once we converted our current customer base to their solution, our sales dropped off and they dropped off the planet! Now no phone calls, no emails, nothing!
So our response? Cisco is getting all of our networking, telephony and security business. Both companies make great products but because of the steady work of the local Cisco channel team, we will sell Cisco gear. Cisco has earned the opportunity for me to put them in front of our customers. And it is not because of the Cisco name but simple because of the investment these people put into developing a relationship with eMonarch.
What is remarkable about this example is that here is a very large company (Cisco) that is putting the effort into building a relationship with a small company in Tulsa, OK. Now to be really honest, I know all the credit goes to the three gentlemen here in the local office. But I see the effort and commitment to helping eMonarch be a success and it will pay off.
Vendors can play a critical part in your business success and it does not have to be just vendors where you source product. The office supply company (Admiral Express), the office building, the CPA, and the list goes on.
But where I think the real key is, is that the relationship has to be a win-win. It cannot be a "what can we get out of them" relationship but rather "How can we help them achieve their goals" kind of relationship. The local office supply company should not be getting beat up on price but rather I should commit our business to pushing all our office supply purchases to them. I want them to be successful because I know they will be around to help me. If I am only out for the lowest price then I should not be surprised by poor service and no commitment from them to help me out.
As the customer, we need to focus on making sure our vendors get what they need from us. How can we help them grow their business? Ask them! Find out how you can help them get more customers. If you really like what they do, then offer to send a letter to your customer base introducing them.
As small businesses we should be partnering with our vendors and not just "doing business" with them.