Business relationships are like marriages. The successful ones involve honest communication, compromise, patience, understanding and the willingness to "take one for the team" once in a while.
Relationships can be relatively easy to maintain during prosperous times. If there is plenty of money coming in to fund day-to-day operations and pursue new opportunities, maintaining a healthy, mutually rewarding relationship can be a snap.
When the money is flowing in, all affected parties feel secure.
However, all relationships are tested during times of stress and uncertainty. This is when sacrifices are made and new priorities come to the fore. Tough decisions and actions are necessary.
During such times, strong relationships tend to endure and weaker ones are likely to self-destruct.
We are currently experiencing a time of stress-inducing uncertainty. Our economy is hurting, and our entire country is feeling the pain.
Food costs are rising, home prices are falling; gas prices are up, the stock market is down. And some of you, as ISOs and merchant level salespeople, are feeling the pinch.
During boom times, business partners and customers are more patient and more forgiving of mistakes. They may be fine with waiting five or 10 minutes for you to arrive for a meeting; they may not mind if it takes you a day to return a phone call or e-mail.
But when stress levels peak, waiting for your attention can become a much larger issue.
Less than stellar service can be interpreted as disrespectful and selfish. Seemingly unimportant items can become much more significant.
The good news is that if you have been nurturing your relationships during the good times, your years of hard work will now pay off.
It may be difficult to recognize this if your business expenses are rising and your residual payments are stagnating. But it's true.
Today is your lucky day because you are retaining your clients and partners, while those who didn't bother to build strong relationships are losing business as their partners jump ship in search of someone who truly cares about their welfare.
This does not mean you can now take your merchants and key business partners for granted. In fact, you will have to work even harder to ensure that those you depend on for your prosperity stick with you through possible lean times ahead.
Look for ways to show merchants their money is being well spent on your services. Offer more than the minimum.
For example, if a customer asks you a question pertaining to a pressing problem, don't simply answer it; offer to help implement a solution. Follow up to make sure the issue is resolved, and don't forget to ask if you can help with anything else.
Be on the lookout for information that may be of use to your partners and clients, and share what you discover with them. Perhaps you have a customer who found an innovative way to save a few dollars. Share the idea with others and see if they can implement it as well.
And when you think you've done everything you can for your professional sphere, remember, you can always listen and show empathy.
Let merchants talk about their woes. And if you can't fix a particular problem, communicate that you understand, and convey that you would do something to help if you could. Sometimes being a good sounding board is the key to being an effective business partner.
All relationships have their ups and downs. So, hang in there like intrepid old-timers who live wisely and love deeply enough to dance at their golden wedding anniversaries.
When the economy improves, and it will, you and your partners will be poised to celebrate with your customers, help their businesses grow and provide the additional services that will be needed to meet their expanding needs.
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