Having spent my entire career in the insurance industry, I’m not sure how much of an understanding I can claim for other industries. However, it’s hard for me to imagine an industry where the purchasing decision has historically been tied to the “relationship” as much as it is in ours.

As much as I want to believe that businesses have gotten beyond a decision making process more appropriate for choosing friends in middle school, I’m not sure that’s always the case. I mean, really, with the economic challenges we have faced over the last few years, wouldn’t you think that business owners would recognize the need to make the best business decision, every single time? Even if that means breaking a relationship with someone you could count on for a free lunch and an occasional round of golf?

But, the more I think about it, maybe the relationship isn’t mutually exclusive of good business decisions. Maybe the timing is just out of order. Think about your personal relationships. Who are you most committed to in your personal life? It likely isn’t the friend of convenience who comes around once in a while to take you out to lunch. You know, the one who you can’t really enjoy the lunch with because you know they wouldn’t have asked if there wasn’t something in it for them?

No, your best relationships are with those friends and family members who you know always have your best interest in mind. It’s the people who will drop what they are doing to help you with a moment’s notice. It’s the people who tell you the honest truth because you need to hear it. It’s the people who help you see what is special about you and help you take advantage of those traits. It’s the people who make you a better person because you spend time with them. It’s the people who you naturally seek out in times of both need and victory.

Relationships in business aren’t a thing of the past, but I do think there has been a paradigm shift.  Relationships can no longer just happen up front. They can’t be built by a little glad-handing, big personalities, or a self-serving lunch.  No, relationships have to be earned in the same way you earn trust and true love. 

- Take a genuine interest in your client.
- Be completely honest, even when it may not be easy.
- Give the best advice, even when it has nothing to do with you.
- Make them stronger as a business.
- Focus on their needs over yours.
- Help them take advantage of their strengths.

Do so without expectations and you will likely see that the end result is a relationship that will be almost impossible to break.

Who knows, they may even be the one who picks up the tab the next time you go out to lunch.

Trokey is president and chief executive of St. Louis-based Benefits Growth Network, a consulting firm for benefits agencies. He can be reached at kevin@benefitsgrowthnetwork.com.

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