By CEO/President Louisa Jaffe
Businesses thrive or fail on the strength of relationships. We must constantly nurture and tend to the relationships we have with our clients, employees, suppliers, and partners to make sure everyone is on the same page and heading toward the same goal. Investing time and effort in outreach and communications can have a positive multiplier effect on every other investment decision we make.
Often, important business opportunities emerge only through word-of-mouth, bubbling up from long-term relationships. This was how my company once learned of another small company that privately was available for acquisition. Ultimately, the seller selected TAPE over several other bidders in large part because of our culture of communication, our success at relationship building, and their belief that we would take care of their long-time employees who would change over to our company.
Completion of this acquisition placed us in the middle of a very desirable market and enhanced our capabilities, allowing us to bid on multimillion dollar contracts that would not have been open to us otherwise. Our investment in relationships not only led us to the opportunity, it was also the reason we were able to make the acquisition. And then we worked on strengthening internal relationships with this division and forging new external ones to win new work.
So how do we go about methodically building and maintaining relationships? I organize my efforts. I develop a call plan, prepare for visits and calls, and makes sure I document the results of my contacts through trip reports or other methods. My goal is to interact with all my key contacts—including my employees working at government sites—at least quarterly, more often if required. This gives me a chance to interact with customers and employees alike on a regular basis. Very often, helpful information emerges during my visits that would not have happened any other way.
Showing up is not enough, we must be prepared. I ensure I am pre-briefed by the relevant project manager before my visits. I review the client’s organizational chart so that I understand where my employees or teammates fit into the larger picture. I review biographic information for all people I will meet and brief myself on recent accomplishments and challenges at the site. I also find out about any issues that might come up during the visit.
Following up on these visits is equally important. I send handwritten thank you notes to clients whenever appropriate. I strive to handwrite birthday card messages to every single one of my employees. I also pass along any laudatory comments from a client to our employees with a “kudos” letter from me and a gift card.
Acknowledging discussions and accomplishments makes sure our clients and employees know we value their time and efforts. By keeping relationships strong and communication lines open, I have something to fall back on if I need help in dealing with a “sticky wicket.”
In addition to cultivating personal relationships, I work on building and strengthening my network. I volunteer for causes that are important to me, such as the Army Women’s Foundation and Women in Defense—both organizations help raise money for scholarships for women. My husband and I provide personal mentoring to many small business startup companies and do a lot of public speaking to give people ideas about how to be successful in their own businesses.
I also sat on the Executive Advisory Board of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA). In our industry, NCMA provides crucial information and training, and I am often able to connect people with questions to someone in the NCMA who can help them. By choosing causes that are important to me, I find that the work to cultivate these relationships is not only good business, it is personally rewarding.