12 Guiding Principles for Business Success – No.4 – Its about people and relationships


Number 4 in our series is in many ways a follow on to No.3, It’s all about Sales, but here we are recognising and acknowledging something a little deeper;

Understand that business is really about people and relationships.

  • Work on your people skills
  • Develop the skill of mentally putting yourself in the other persons shoes

Why it’s about people

In the vast majority of cases, any decision about buying your product or service is ultimately going to be made by a person, or maybe a group of people. Yes, there are many automated systems doing clever stuff like share trading, but they are still (thankfully) the exception rather than the rule.  And yes, technology, and in particular the internet, can massively aid the sales and marketing process, but in the vast majority of cases a real human being still needs to press the ‘buy’ button or sign the purchase order.

So in a time when we get excited about the great and clever stuff that technology can do, it can be all too easy to overlook the simple fact that we are still selling to people.  In business we are really seeking to influence the behavior of others, but it’s the uncertainty in this that makes sales and business relationships in general such an imprecise science, and why so much is written on the topic. People are these odd things that don’t always follow rules of logic, they have a tendency to apply strange things called ‘values’ to what they do and the way they behave. Worse, they have a habit of making value judgements about the way they perceive the behavior of others. Frankly, given all these uncertainties, it’s amazing that we get anything done! Fortunately, for the most part, people are social and co-operative beings who understand that a base level of social cooperation and interaction is necessary to make things happen.

Why it’s about relationships

To influence others you need to communicate with them, they need to be receptive to your message and take it on board and evaluate it, in fact you need to build a relationship with them, even if that relationship is at a distance. Modern ‘relationship’ and social media marketing is effectively founded on this tenet. The stronger and deeper you can forge a relationship, the better the chances of your being able to influence behavior through to the buy button or the purchase order.  The importance of forging relationships as a foundation to doing business is embodied in that old sales maxim ‘people buy people first’.

But people skills are about more than purely sales skills, virtually any business connection is effectively a relationship, be that supplier, staff member, shareholder, stakeholder, whatever. Being aware of what drives them and their motivations can help you make that relationship more effective and deliver better outcomes for all concerned. The modern day term is ‘emotional intelligence’ but these are not new ideas.  The original, and arguably still definitive work on the subject, is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence people. Although originally published in in 1936 it’s still a must read for anyone who values business relationships.

If you still doubt this then let me offer one little bit of additional anecdotal evidence. Over the years I have met a great many fairly successful business people, I am often struck by the fact that, for the most part, really successful people are also quite nice people.  I have come to the conclusion that there is a general correlation between success and possessing well developed people skills. OK, there is the odd exception I grant you, sometimes somebody has got to top by being a bloody minded so and so, but they seem to me to be more the exception than the rule. In a way this apparent correlation between people skills and success should come as no surprise, people who have enjoyed success probably discovered early on that the easiest and most effective way to get the best out of people is to build healthy and positive relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Indeed, maybe it’s a key component of that other elusive quality, leadership.

Negotiation skills

The rubber hits the road on all this when it comes to conducting negotiations. Now I have been lucky enough in my business career to have occasionally been complemented for being a ‘good negotiator’, but I have never really thought of myself that way. I do however like to think of myself as somebody who is reasonably adept at building relationships, taking the time to understand the position of the other party, going through the thought process of trying to ‘put yourself in their shoes’ and seeing things from their perspective. What benefit does this give? Hopefully it gives better insight, an increased understanding of where you can go in a negotiation that will get to the best outcome.

Now if this is all starting to sound a bit soft and mushy, let’s be clear, this is about getting business outcomes. So have I sometimes used these insights to squeeze the person selling to me for a better deal because I knew they were up against it for their quarters numbers – yes, you bet I did. Did I use it to close a sale at a premium price because I could detect that the client need was pressing – yes, you bet I did. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that gaining this level of understanding is about being soft or a pushover when it comes to negotiating, it’s about understanding people and relationships, because ultimately, that’s what drives business!

Oh, one final tip. None of this requires you to be particularly clever, you don’t need to be trained in psychology to do this stuff. Bottom line, if you want to know something about a person or their business situation, you could always try asking them – they just may tell you!  Asking nicely in the context of a positive relationship helps of course.

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