In life, they say, what goes around comes around. This is also true in business, or at least I like to think so. Most business people subscribe to the theory that client is king and do their utmost to ensure that their needs and expectations are not just met but exceeded. Fabulous; I used to have an old boss who called this ‘client cuddling’ which is quite a nice analogy is it not.
But how often do we engage in ‘supplier cuddling’, ‘colleague cuddling’ and even ‘competitor cuddling’? Some of you reading now may be spitting out your tea in disgust at the thought but is it really so outlandish an idea?
One of my mottos in life (I have several: one for every occasion!) is treat people as you wish to be treated yourself and this certainly has resonance with me in my working life. I wish to be treated with respect, politeness, honesty and professionalism and this is how I try to behave towards others. And yes, that includes suppliers, colleagues and competitors. I do this because I think that it’s the right thing to do and allows me to feel pretty good about myself and my moral fibre. I also do it because the cynic in me realises that you just never know when your good deeds and words will bear fruit at some point down the line and, by the same token, when the reverse will come back and bite you on the bum!
One of my bug bears is quoting for work, putting a lot of time and effort into a proposal, and then never getting a response. Nothing. Nada. Nish. I don’t expect to convert every proposal. I understand that often a client does not have the budget, didn’t understand what they really wanted, can’t commit the time or just decides to use another provider. I am a big girl, I can deal with this. What really gets my goat is when they don’t extend the professional courtesy of letting me know and giving me some kind of feedback. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask and that is why I always try and do this with my own suppliers. I have often had business back from providers, either first party or referrals, because I make an effort to build a good relationship with them. It also helps you maintain good prices and standards of service.
If those ‘non communicative’ prospective clients then come back to me some months later I would respectfully decline to quote for further work because it’s not all about the client choosing the provider: a good consultant will exercise choice and discretion over the clients they take on board in the same way a client does with a provider. Personally speaking I only want to work with clients who have respect for my time and expertise and who operate in a professional manner.
I had a rather snotty e-mail from a client recently which was very opinionated, quite rude and blatantly sent on the spur of the moment with little thought. The comments in the e-mail were ill deserved and yet I chose not to rise to it (although it nearly killed me not having the last word: one of my less appealing character traits!). I responded professionally and tried to deal with the points raised with my motto in mind. The situation was diffused and I even received an apology but I did wonder, would they have sent that e-mail to a client? Was it ok to be rude because I was ‘just a supplier’?
Now, don’t get me wrong; this caring sharing zen-like creature is no push over! As well as aiming for high standards myself I do expect the same from others. When things go wrong or I don’t feel that they are meeting these standards I will challenge them and be firm where necessary but always in a professional manner and always aim for an amicable solution if at all possible.
But competitors? Surely we don’t have to be nice to competitors do we? Actually yes we do. I recently pitched for a contract against 3 other consultants and I was unsuccessful. When I got my feedback I asked who the successful candidate was because this was obviously someone who was doing something really well. They told me and I approached them about meeting for a coffee and linking up in some way. My theory is that we have a common purpose, operate in the same field and just might be able to learn from each other. There might also be opportunities somewhere down the line to work together. She was very open to the idea and we’re hoping to meet up in the next couple of weeks.
So, back to my opening point – what goes around comes around. Business communities are small and you live on your reputation. You are much more likely to get work, and have a range of providers who will do a great job for you, if you do right by people. By putting those vibes out there: being nice, courteous and professional to everyone that you have contact with, you are spreading good business karma and one day my friend it will all come back to you.