When we think about the relationship between customers and their suppliers – there are several similarities with personal relationships that we can draw from.
Relationship Reciprocity in Business: The Core principles
Personal relationships work best when there is a degree of reciprocity. Unfortunately, relationships will never be completely equal. 50/50 never happens – at least not from your perspective, because after all, your perspective will be different from mine. Accepting that though, we can still agree that a relationship with a fair degree of reciprocity (somewhere in the 60/40 range) is better than one that is one-way or unbalanced. Some things are always true:
- Everyone wants to be treated fairly
- We all want and deserve respect
- Nobody likes being lied to
- Just because you can ignore someone never means that you should
- Being rude is not good
- My time is not more important than yours
- The more you listen, the more you understand
- What we get from the relationship is a function of what we both contribute
That’s how it is in personal relationships and also in the relationships between customers and their suppliers. The relationship cannot be valuable to either party without collaboration, respect, and trust. Sometimes, the complexity of the purchase and the organizational impact of its deployment obscures the truthfulness of this statement. But in every case, from when you are ordering a burger or a coffee to when you’re buying a new ERP system for your company, it is always a two way street.
Why Reciprocity in Business Relationships is Essential for Success
As a customer, you know this is true. When you are polite and respectful to the ticketing agent, you will encounter more flexibility when the flight is overbooked. When you don’t click your fingers at the waitress and acknowledge her helpful service, she is less likely to accidentally spill wine on your shirt! That’s not the reason to be respectful – but it just tends to work out that way.
As a supplier, there are times when the prospective customer does not treat you fairly. That might be the time to disengage and look for a different relationship or determine that you want a different type of relationship.
The bottom line for a supplier is that you should always look for reasonable reciprocity from the customer. The more ‘strategic’ the customer, the more this is required. If you are investing a lot in the relationship then you need the customer to hold up their end.
Let’s take an extreme example:
How Reciprocity Works in Executive Sponsor Programs
Executive Sponsor Programs marshal the company’s executive leadership to actively engage with your most important customers.
In most companies, Executive Sponsor Programs are only used at the highest strata of customers where both supplier and customer invest in the partnership for mutual benefit. But of course, the Executive Sponsor Program cannot be successful without customer collaboration. However, that will only happen when the customer sees the value of applying extra resources of their own to their engagement with you.
Of course, the invitation to participate in your Executive Sponsor Program should clearly describe the exclusive nature and value of the program, why they have been selected, and the benefits to their company. But if you expect reciprocity – as you should – you will need to call out what you need from the customer for the relationship to be optimally valuable to both parties.
Like all good relationships, we all need a little give and take. Whether you are a buyer or a seller, it is important to remember that you only get what you give.