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Professional Relationships: Leveraging Your Interpersonal Skills

Finance leaders need product and service providers who are true partners, and in the new subscription economy companies are actually offering more than lip service to the philosophy that customer is king. I recently found a webinar I delivered back in 2006, Treasury Services Relationships: Treat Each One Like a Marriage, that seems rather relevant in 2014. I will share a few highlights which I have updated, and welcome comments and suggestions.

Why bring the concept of marriage into professional relationship management? I have found that during my career, including communicating with CFOs for a living over the past 5 years, that many finance leaders may do well to bring their personal relationship skills to the table in managing professional relationships.

In terms of a customer perspective, it is important that you understand, and keep top of mind, the objectives of your product and/or service providers (suppliers).  For the sake of simplicity, I offer the following:

  • Design the optimal mix of products and services that custmers and potential customers want and need
    • Keep customers happy
  • Minimize costs
    • Product and Services Cost
    • Human Capital Cost
  • Maximize the quality of service offered while:
    • Limiting the number of service calls and e-mails
    • Efficiently resolving actual and perceived product and service issues

In terms of being a customer and getting what you want and deserve from suppliers, I always do my best to live by the following mantra:

  • Create a collaborative environment- make the suppliers feel as if they have personal accountability to my company.
  • Clearly communicate expectations, document them, track them, and talk about how they are, and are not, being met on a regular basis
  • Recognize the efforts and successes of my suppliers.
  • Be a good customer- do what needs to be done on my end to allow my suppliers to perform as effectively as possible. Ask providers what they need me from me and my colleagues to support them in serving my company’s needs, do it, and make sure all people in my organization who interact with them do it.

From the other side of the fence, in terms of being a strategic partner as a supplier:

  • Provide and service solutions that you know add value to a client. Know what you do best and do it.
  • Listen to your client- on this point I offer a blog of mine that contains some e-mail listening best practices which is an area where many people struggle.
  • Get to know your client well enough to identify their “hot” buttons and make sure anyone at your company who deals with your client knows them.  Ask your customer what they are, they will appreciate it.
  • Be Responsive- timely response shows a client you value their relationship
  • Be Honest- if you make a mistake the first thing to do is admit it, and work together with the client to mitigate the damage and share the root cause of the issue with the client
  • Live the motto “Customer is King” within reason.  Do not be afraid to offer advice that your customer needs to hear.  If you need to say “no” tell them why honestly.
  • Sacrifice/Compromise- let you clients when small battles in price to facilitate a long-term relationship. It is now about lifetime value of the customer and this means customer concessions and more than likely less rigid pricing policies
  • Be a champion for your customer internally- educate your colleagues on the importance of your customers so you are able to get your customers need when they need it
  • Be in it for the long term- in no way convey or act like any customer is simply a transaction. It is equally, if not more important, what happens after the sale as it is closing the sale. Make sure your clients are happy with every aspect of your relationship with them, and with every person with whom they interact with in your organization

With respect to bringing personal relationship skills to your job as a finance leader it is a three step process:

  1. Identify relationships where you leverage your interpersonal skills
  2. Identify specific skills
  3. Develop tactics to bring your strong interpersonal skills to the table, improve in areas of interpersonal skills that need work, and then add these skills to your professional relationship management toolbox.

Sources of interpersonal skills include:

  • Family relationships
    • Spouse
    • Children
    • Parents
    • Siblings
  • Professional relationships
    • Work Colleagues
    • Professional Network
    • Service Providers
  • Friendships

In terms of identifying specific skills, I will share what I have identified as my own interpersonal skills:

Strong Interpersonal skills

  • Honesty
  • Passion
  • Self-Awareness
  • Delivering Informed Opinions
  • Well Rounded Work Experience

Interpersonal skills that are works in progress:

  • Sensitivity
  • Delivery in Deliberative Conversations
  • Listening Patience
  • Honesty- opinions and commentary without enough of a filter at times

Applying your own interpersonal skills in professional conversations is more of an art than a science that requires practice and patience. You can identify specific situations in which you practice applying each skill, and then do a mental post conversation review of “how it went”. It takes work. Like many things you get out it what you put into it.

A marriage can be the most insightful relationship to leverage in improving your professional relationships. The following are parallels I have identified between a marriage and a professional relationship from the perspective of a customer:

Marriage Supplier Relationship
 Previous relationship baggage  Past relationships with other service providers
 Spousal family influence  Provider company employees
 Trust of Spouse affects quality of life  Actions of supplier impact your career path
 Communication is critical  Effective communication is critical for a healthy relationship
 Friendships impact relationship dynmaics  Other suppliers impact relationship dynamics

 

 

A CFO needs product and service providers who are true partners, and needs to ensure that his or her company is being a good customer to each and every supplier to succeed in defining and delivering the future of his or company as the Chief Future Officer.