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One of my most satisfying, long-lasting business relationships began at a trade show organized by a new promoter. Year after year, we saw each other at the show and built an excellent relationship through good times and challenging periods. Today, we refer new business opportunities to each other all the time.
I can call that relationship a true friendship because it’s not all about business, and it’s not a transactional arrangement anymore; we don’t make referrals to get something in return, like taking turns picking up the check at lunch. We’ve come to know and trust each other over the years, so when someone needs help, we know whom to recommend. We know our most valued customers will be in good hands.
That’s the first rule of relationships in business: Help the other person without expecting anything in return.
Related: 4 Strategies for Building Deep Business Relationships
The more you give, the more you gain
Offer your support and resources from a sincere desire to help, not because your colleague will owe you something. I believe that the more you give and the more freely you give, the more you gain — a reputation for generosity and credibility as the “go-to” person for help and advice. In addition, customers you refer to other businesses may look at you more positively because you helped them in addition to helping the company you referred them to consider.
Take a cue from LinkedIn, the online business connection platform. Read the posted content, and you’ll notice that while many ask other members to do business with them, a large proportion simply offer helpful insights and information. They hope it will lead to new business, of course, but no such strings are attached.
Like LinkedIn connections, in-person business relationships begin by offering opportunities to help. Real, lasting business success comes from the relationships you nurture, person to person — and if you’re doing it right, it comes before your product or its price. Of course, you can’t dismiss product and price; your customers certainly won’t ignore them if they are significantly different from your competitors. But if you have established a solid relationship, it can get you through a lot. When there’s not much difference between your product or service and your competition’s, a good relationship can tip the customer’s decision in your favor.
Related: 7 Amazing Ways to Build Long-Term Relationships With Your Customers
5 tips for creating and nurturing relationships that matter
Check your attitude: It’s almost like falling in love. You must genuinely enjoy being with sales prospects or the people you work with. Get excited about what you offer them. Put on your most positive attitude, wear a smile on your face, and be able to laugh with them. If you show them how much you enjoy your work, they’ll want to feel the same way.
Find a connection: Finding a common interest with the other person helps. Learn what they need and want — but not what you can sell them (and you don’t have to be subtle about it. Just ask them; they’ll be flattered). Since I’ve traveled so much, I know interesting places to sightsee and good restaurants to try, so if a customer or colleague is visiting a place where I’ve been, I recommend the locations to them. It gives them a positive feeling about me, which they’ll remember.
Make gift-giving meaningful: I like to send a gift at Thanksgiving, as I have found that Christmas and New Year gifts can pile up, so yours may get lost in the stack. But I don’t just give during holidays. During the year, I will give books I have read and found worthwhile or send one of my own authored books with a personal note written inside.
Join a networking or lead-referral group: They’re excellent ways to connect with new businesses, especially if you find it hard to get out and meet prospects yourself. But remember, networking isn’t a contest you win by handing out the most business cards; it’s the starting point for new relationships (some people leave their cards behind, so they won’t be tempted to go on a card-dropping spree). Approach these events with the intent of finding contacts you can help, not people who can help you.
Relax: I’ll go back to the analogy of falling in love. It’s often said that love happens when you least expect it, and the harder and more intentionally you look, the less success you have. Whether you’re prospecting at a networking event or just chatting with customers, don’t make everything about you and your needs. Relax and get to know the other person authentically. If they think you’re only interested in them because of what you’ll get out of it, they’ll break up with you before your first date.
It all comes down to offering help with no expectations of payback. Just keep doing the right things, and eventually, a reciprocal relationship will grow. Many people have helped me in the past and never asked for anything in return. I remember each of them, and I will always look for opportunities to help them in the future. The key is knowing your customers better than you know your products or services.
Related: Want Strong Business Relationships? Avoid These 3 Mistakes.