Balancing Business Relationships

July 5, 2009 2:37 PM


Upon entering publishing some years back I remember receiving some wise counsel which I believe has relevance and broad application for most professionals regardless of industry.  

"Publishing is a relational business," my new boss stressed during our first one-on-one. A few days later over coffee my mentor and leadership team peer emphasized, "Ours is a business built upon a fragile ecosystem of relationships." So my marching orders were clear. Of highest priority and immediate need was getting relationships right: if broken, fix them; if weak, strengthen them; and if new, establish them. And while all relationships were important, some were of utmost importance. 

I liken it to juggling many balls of varying size and weight. Now some of these balls are made of rubber and bounce back when dropped while others are made of crystal and will shatter if allowed to fall. You must decide what your relationships are made of, then manage accordingly. 

My relationship philosophy is pretty simple... be fully engaged. One cannot afford to be passive. If you want a relationship to work, you must work at it. And if you're doing it right, for all the right reasons, then it shouldn't even feel like work. It's a little like what my wife, Stacy, and I remind our kids, "You want to have friends? Then you need to be a friend." 

Fortunately, I'm kind of a relational guy, a character trait that has proven instrumental for finding fulfillment, having fun, and making more than a few friends across a career spaning several service-oriented, customer-centric industries. 

Truth be told, I have heard on several occasions that I'd make an excellent greeter at Wal-Mart. Absolutely! "Hi. Welcome to Wal-Mart. Thanks for coming in. How y'all doing this morning?" Of course, it helps to use your best southern accent. And if you have to ask why southern, then you probably have not lived, worked, or spent enough time in places like Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee. Remember the welcome that the wife of young attorney Mitch McDeere received in Sydney Pollack's film adaptation of John Grisham's The Firm? "Abby this is the South, we encumber you with hospitality." Over the years this little saying has become the "gold standard" I set with my teams. If our clients, guests, partners, etc. don't feel "encumbered" by our hospitality, then we're not trying hard enough. 

Given all the challenges businesses face today, perhaps a little more attention to these "fragile ecosystems" is in order. A greater investment of time, energy, emotion, and empathy is guaranteed to pay dividends not always found on a balance sheet.   

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That is, of course, absolutely correct, especially in a business that can be somewhat subjective.(It's easy to prove you make a better X-47 Extrusion Press than the other guy; in marketing, it's not quite so easy.)

But after working at many places in several cities, I'm amazed at how that relationship thing comes so much more easily to some than others. At some places, the CEO/Managing Director couldn't say hello to a prospect without dollar signs radiating from his eyes. Yet in other cases, that top person exuded a warmth that said "I'm happy to be here, whether or not we ever do a lick of business."

I'm not sure how much this behavior can be "learned" but hopefully just realizing its importance is a start. So thanks for the reminder. I mean, much obliged, y'all.

Dear Bill,

No wonder your reputation proceeds you! What great advice, regardless of type of business genre.

Ukraine adoption is taking more time than expected - especially for my husband who's starting week 8 away from work, but end goal is being kept in sight, and God has been near - what more could we ask for?!

Great footage - the more people get used to seeing you around, the more they allow you to film.

Have you had a chance to review your footage yet? I'm looking forward to speaking with you upon my return - sometime early August.

Blessings from Izmail, Urkaine,
Kim de Blecourt

So the tag line for this post would be "Its the relationship, stupid!"? Jus-wonderin.

Love this Bill! Very nicely done. Particularly like the analogy of the juggling of the balls. Works so well on many levels -- 1. it begs for some some self assessment "which type of ball am I in my relationships with others? Do I break or do I bounce back?" and 2. it acknowledges that relationships are never static, but always in motion. Too often, we think if we haven't HURT the relationship, then it's in good shape. This analogy invites us to consider if we've HELPED the relationship (tossed the ball up) lately. I think it's terrific.

Many, today, consider reltaionships with others to = online social networks. And to some extent, that may be true, as those can help create and enhance some. But even in the online social world, it requires effort, engagement. Mere membership alone isn't enough. Real relationships - virtual or "real" - need nurturing. Online social sites can give your relationships visibility, but that can't give them vitality. In this era of social hype, it's nice to have a blog, by you Bill, that reminds us all of the true importance (and nature) of relationships. Thanks.

Brad Doan


This is something that I've been thinking about for some time. Especially considering all the work I do with trade associations. It appears to me that many people think that social networking can replace the relationship building that is done face to face. I beleive it can be the start of a business relationship and augment one, but never replace getting to know someone face to face. In order to really build a business relationship you must be able to look into someone's eyes, see their smile - is it real, is it forced, is it fake? What is the set of their shoulders, are they really listening? Technology -whether it's email,Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or whatever is coming our way next...none of it can replace sharing some face to face time. I do all the social networking, but it's in addition to meeting people "in person" as often as I can make it happen.

Thanks for raising the that I'm signed in, I'll be checking in more often...and by the way - coffee at Starbucks?



Great to hear of the update. Lots of work, much patience needed but still worth it wouldn't you say. Such a journey!

I do have some footage that I started to piece together in iMovie. Unfortunately, lost some work with my hard drive crash (but none of the footage).

Can't wait to reunite.


Very kind words. Thank you. Social media is a "give/get" environment requiring folks to engage with their friends, followers, connections, etc. I have been coaching clients on this (what would seem obvious) principle.

CYA at Starbucks (old school, I know).


Thanks for the comments. Appreciate your perspective. Let's grab some coffee soon... need my Julie fix.

Yeah, be fully engaged to what you are doing. You can not make things go smooth if you are doing it on and off. Set priority and concentrate to it.

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I've been trying to speak with my Natwest Business Account "relationship manager" since before Christmas only direct number to her is mobile, always on voicemail where she says she will endeavour to get back to me by the end of the day ha ha ha. The office number where I am assured that someone will be able to help me quickly tells me (when it is not constantly engaged) and I quote, that I will need to speak to "one of her little chums".

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