Building business relationships

Stairway to heaven – that must be the infamous song, my friend said, referring to the 1971 classic from Led Zeppelin.

No don’t be silly I said teasing, it’s all about relationships and how you build a successful relationship over time by investing in the other person.

So a bit like meeting a new girl for the first time and then ending up marrying her, and all the interesting bits that come in the middle, said my mate.  Well at least we were getting closer than that 1971 classic.

Well nearly I said, but not quite what I am referring to is building lasting relationships in business, where you sit down one day and say ‘I would really love to have that company as a client of mine’.  To do that I am going to have to work really hard to get the senior decision maker to have a meeting with me and then convince them to build a relationship so at some point in the future that company will buy from me!

Yes I can see that now said my mate and when you think about it its really like meeting a girl for the first time because there are lots of similarities:

Step by step process up the stairway


  • Meet a girl you really like the look of in a bar
    Identify a prospective company/client you want to work with


  • Swap numbers and arrange to meet again for drinks/meal
    Agree to a meeting with prospect and start to ask questions to understand their Business


  • Have another date and meet her friends
    The prospect agrees for you to meet colleagues and have an insight meeting


  • You might then be asked to meet the parents
    The prospect may ask for a presentation


  • You may then feel really brave and it might be time for a meeting with her ‘father’ to ask for the ‘Prize’
    This in turn could be the very important pitch or proposal to the Executive Board of the company


  • BINGO and we have the YES!


When you look at the similarities my mate was right, from the very start of the first encounter you are ultimately looking for that dream relationship, which is not a one hit wonder, built on a very flaky relationship, but something that will stand the test of time.  Usually over that period there will be disagreement and debate and even some wrong doing and mistakes on both sides, but ultimately the relationship lasts and becomes stronger for it.

Quite simply you do not meet a girl and on the first date after a glass of Chardonnay persuade her to meet you at the church the next day for the marriage ceremony, reason being you may well get a slap or at the very best it would be a very embarrassing first meeting.

So why do people in business expect to walk into a senior decision makers office and come away with a commission or piece of work after 1 hour, when you have no relationship with this person and more often than not, they already have one, if not more trusted advisor or supplier – How dare you!  What cheek! They would undoubtedly be saying.

Let’s look at a far more professional and comfortable way from both parties, built around developing those relationships, the bedrock of which I feel unreservedly is TRUST.

We must recognise that there are a series of steps along this journey and the time taken to complete and gradient of the journey will vary on all occasions, the one common fact is that the time taken should be dictated by the prospective client and not you.  What you must avoid at all costs is to try and sell your wares or advice too early. So avoid pouncing,  and if on the first meeting you see an opportunity, then bite your tongue until it bleeds and until you both feel that you have understood the prospects requirements and you have convinced them of that fact.

The time element is extremely important and for those physicists amongst us it is far easier in terms of energy expended, to avoid trying to push or pull someone or thing up an incline if they are pushing against you.  We have to move in unison with every step being together in full understanding from both sides as to what the next steps are so as to gain full commitment. We don’t want to use cattle prods or tazar guns or similarly do we want to be installing pulley’s and ropes etc.

Ultimately the end gain is to get the Yes, be it in the marriage or the client commission, and in both cases done properly.  In the right timeframe and with the chosen person we should find that actually getting the Yes is the easiest part of the process, why? Because of the following:


  • No pressure has been applied by way of a pounce
  • The process has been comfortable for both in terms of timelines
  • Not once has the prospect felt ‘pushed’ or ‘pulled’
  • You both feel as though you really truly understand each other and the core values and drivers inherent in the decision making process
  • You have also met and been accepted by other members of the organisation, who may have a part to play in the decision making process
  • A special trust has been developed over time which will allow the relationship to last in the future, but this will require constant re investment and deposits being put into the emotional bank.


The key point around trust, is it is imperative to create longevity, which ultimately enables not just the initial motivation to buy but constant energy to re buy.

If we look at how we achieve this status of trust over the steps we have travelled together then it becomes even more self evident that this is indeed the bedrock:


  • Credibility:
  • Honesty
  • Confidence/Impact
  • Delivery as promised
  • Competence:
  • Knowledge/Expertise
  • Track record
  • Insightful Questioning

  • Compatibility:
  • Active listening
  • Genuine interest
  • Showing vulnerability
  • Adapting behaviour


All the above ingredients must be constantly carried out and applied over time in a consistent manner to not only achieve trust in the relationship but maintain and build on it.

So there we have it, yes my mate was off the mark with the record to start with, but with more of an understanding following some insightful questioning, he really did understand me and in fact came up with what I think is a brilliant analogy of building a professional business relationship and the courting process through to marriage and the YES which is the ultimate goal.

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