Why is Relationship Building Important in Business?

March 22, 2010 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

Written by Esther Denn, CCAM, ARM

What I’ve learned to be my best sales strategy is to focus on building relationships.  Actually it has become a way of life for me.  I view relationship building as an investment of my time that pays off for years to come.  How have I accomplished this in today’s busy world with so many time constraints?  Technology only plays a small role; face-to-face networking is crucial to forming lasting bonds.  Networking is not about what you can do for me and how many business cards and marketing pieces I can pass out.  Relationship building is about making yourself available to help others; a mindset of “what can I do for you to assist in your needs?”  People do not like to be sold; they want to be heard and their needs addressed.  Once the door is opened through building a bond of trust, then you can ask for help with your own goals.  Practice paying it forward – it is good karma.

Hand out business cards

When I first started out in property management, I managed Camino Ruiz Square, a 160 unit affordable housing luxury apartment community in Camarillo, California.  I had a marketing budget of about $800 a year: a drop in the bucket to market and fill vacancies.  I had to brainstorm to come up with different ideas to meet the owner’s leasing and net operating income goals.  In the apartment business, it is all about increasing rents, filling vacancies and net operating income – the bottom line.  I made it a primary goal to carry and handout business cards everywhere because I knew “every opportunity to meet someone is a marketing opportunity.”

Join the Chamber of Commerce

I learned from prospect telephone calls that the Chamber of Commerce is the first place people contact for information when they are contemplating a move to any city.   I stopped by the local Chamber of Commerce office and introduced myself, dropped off brochures and business cards, and offered to do an annual mixer at the community for the Chamber.  To facilitate the mixer:

  1. I contacted local restaurants and asked them to sponsor the food as a marketing opportunity for them to reach residents as well as business owners in the community.
  2. I contacted my community vendors – the community landscaper, insurance agent, swimming pool technician, and janitorial service – asking them to participate in the Chamber Mixer by donating prizes for drawings.  I persuaded to them that this was a good opportunity to increase their marketing exposure.

As a result of hosting a Chamber mixer, I met the Mayor of Camarillo along with other City officials.  Soon after, the Mayor referred his daughter, who became a resident in my community.  The Chamber of Commerce has been a source of many business referrals over the years.

Anyone can be a customer

Every person you know or meet has the potential to refer you business or become a customer.

  • Family and friends have brought me referrals and customers as well as introduced me to new vendors.
  • I built relationships with my residents.  I find it easy to strike up a conversation with people and find that people will open up to you if you take the time to listen.  It only takes a few minutes out of your day.  I strived to be honest about what I could and could not do for them.  I took classes to hone my mediation skills in resolving resident as well as employee issues and attempted to make each interaction a win/win solution.
  • In addition, I built relationships with local law enforcement and had many police officers who moved into the community.  This was a good marketing tool, because if you are a criminal you don’t want to live where the police are always around.  I started community neighborhood watch programs for my residents, and they became cooperative with law enforcement in reporting crime to maintain a safe community.

Building relationships requires a lot of effort when you have work and family responsibilities that take priority.  However, when you set a few minutes aside each day to reach out to someone, it becomes second nature and your world expands.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories and challenges.    My career has presented me with the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and make lasting friendships in the process.  Relationship building made me successful in keeping my community 100% occupied with a waiting list.

Educate your customers

Along the way I realized that educating my customers of important changes would be crucial to retaining those customers.  The Camarillo community was approaching the end of a 10 year agreement with the City for affordable housing.  The status change to full market rents would amount to a 50% increase in rents.  I had a year to educate residents about the market rent increases.  With every opportunity I reminded residents so they could grow used to the idea and make plans about their housing situation if they could no longer afford the rents.  I offered options for alternative housing and helped them brainstorm.  As a result of my efforts, few residents moved when the community went to market rents because they had the time to resolve any issues.  During the time I worked at Camino Ruiz Square, the management company did not appreciate my marketing results because I made it seem effortless to fill vacancies.  However, once the rents jumped over 50% to market rents and retention remained high, my marketing efforts were recognized.  I was promoted to work at a luxury property in Los Angeles County and helped to assist other community managers with their marketing efforts.

Never discount a connection

Over the years, my focus on building relationships has been the catalyst for a successful marketing plan and sales strategy no matter who I was working for.  At one property management company I worked for, I was criticized for how quickly I went through a box of business cards, more than the marketing department.  A box only lasts me about three months when my coworkers’ cards lasted a year or more.  For me, every opportunity is a marketing opportunity.  Whether you meet the CEO, secretary, or janitor, I never discount any connections because you never know who knows whom.  You never know where a lead will come from, and that includes people you no longer do business with – so always part on a high note.

Make time for your service providers

Many property managers do not understand the importance of building relationships with their service providers.  Service providers stop by my office all the time and even though I am busy, I take the time to greet and listen.  Getting to know the service providers I do business with has been instrumental in getting a fair price and outstanding customer service for the communities I manage.  I am always open to adding new vendors to my list of experts, because you never know when you might need to call them to help you with a particular service issue.  Never discount a service provider because you don’t currently have a need.  File away the information for a rainy day and you will have it handy when the need arises.  Many managers complain that service providers do not return their calls or follow up on work requests and proposals.  I would propose that if they took the time to build a relationship with their service providers, they will not experience those types of problems.  Everyone likes to be appreciated.  Take the time to thank your service providers for their services by treating them to lunch on occasion, sending them a referral, introducing them to a connection or complimenting them for a job well done.

Volunteer

Last year, I was working for a property management company in Brea, California.  The owner decided to close their Brea office, but at the same time she offered me the opportunity to start my own property management business managing homeowner associations and rental communities.   Several service providers in the property management industry, who practice relationship building, heard I was closing the office and moving.  Unprompted they volunteered to help me pack and move the Brea office to my home office in Laguna Hills, California.

  1. Bobby Hong of LTS Lighting used his own truck to help with the move.  It is no wonder Bobby has major accounts such as Macys Stores.
  2. Chet Oshiro of Empire Painting, who has achieved his one million in sales goal, provided moving boxes, helped to pack and load, then treated us to lunch on moving day.
  3. Sara Raz of Draeger Construction, who lives in Los Angeles, helped pack and used her own truck on a Saturday to help with the move, not to mention bringing donuts and coffee the day before.
  4. Adam Mainer with Patrick Prendiville Insurance stopped by the day before the move during a busy schedule, to help pack boxes and take us to breakfast.
  5. Joel and Ran Tomaino with Andre Landscaping provided movers to assist.

These are all service providers who have achieved greatness in their respective industries.  Now I ask you, who do you want on the top of your service provider list?

Reach out to your Industry

I started a networking group for small property management companies in Orange County, California so that we could mentor and help each other grow our businesses by sharing resources and ideas.  The idea for forming this group came from Professional Community Management (PCM), the largest property management company in our area.  Back in the day when they were small, they helped mentor new startups. Rene Decker, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for PCM is gracious, kind and always willing to help share his expertise and knowledge.   Make friends with your industry.  Your industry contacts can be valuable resources in referring new business.  If for whatever reason an account leaves them or they can’t provide service to that account and you have built a relationship with them, they will remember you and refer potential new business to you.  The service providers in Orange County, California have also banded together to form networking groups to help each other market and share resources and expenses.  It is a great idea and one that bears consideration especially during economic downturns.

Focus on building relationships as a way of life.  View relationship building as an investment that will pay off as you build your marketing plan.  Make time in your busy schedule for face-to-face networking. Don’t forget to keep your customers informed.  Get involved with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Groups to build your network and learn new ideas. Be a good listener and make yourself available to others.  Ask “How can I help you?”  Don’t always look for a payback in return, just pay it forward.  Join me on the road to relationship building by subscribing to my blog and connecting with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

You can reach the service providers mentioned in this article at:

Bobby Hong of LTS Lighting bhong@ltsinc.net

Chet Oshiro of Empire Painting coshiro@empirepainting.com

Sara Raz of Draeger Construction sraz@draegerconstruction.com

Adam Mainer with Patrick Prendiville Insurance adam@prendivilleagency.com

Joel and Ran Tomaino with Andre Landscaping Ran@andrelandscape.com

You can reach the Chamber of Commerce at:

http://www.chamberofcommerce.com/

South Orange County Chamber of Commerce http://www.socchambers.com

Let them know Esther Denn sent you.

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